Contest Marketing Strategy: A Guide to Boosting Your Brand with Social

Who doesn’t love a good sweepstakes?

While your brand might not garner The Price Is Right levels of enthusiasm from customers, it certainly can use contest marketing to its benefit.

An effective contest marketing strategy can drive brand awareness, promote your products and services, do market research, and get new leads into your pipeline using social competition.

Is your brand taking advantage of promotional contests to engage with its audience?

Leveraged by some of the most successful social media marketers for brands and companies of all sizes, contests are a popular marketing tactic used by brands to gain new customers and re-engage with old customers. They can also help drive awareness about a brand and its products and services. Contests are great for advertising purposes, improving customer engagement, and gathering information for market research.

In a digital environment that’s getting more saturated by the day with different brands trying to promote themselves, contests are a fresh and creative way to interact with audiences and stand out from the crowd.

Contest Marketing Strategies Can Vary

Contest Marketing Strategies Can Vary

The purpose of your contest marketing campaigns will vary, as will their structure.

Here’s a quick sampling of contest marketing campaign types that you might consider for boosting your brand:

Event-Based Contests are centered around specific occasions that occur throughout the year, such as holidays or special events. Holidays such as Halloween or Valentine’s Day and days with cultural significance (popular movie releases, Black Friday, etc) are good opportunities to run event-focused contests.

Polls allow you to present several options which the customer can choose from. This is great for gaining information by asking simple multiple-choice questions that customers answer in pursuit of a prize. This type of contest can be combined with a “pick a prize” option where contestants choose from a list of prizes they want to receive, doubling as a good market research tool.

Giveaways are a very simple contest marketing option where you simply choose who to give a free prize to, often through a random method of selection. Make sure customers meet some basic requirements for the giveaway as a method for driving engagement and even sales.

Quiz or Trivia contests offer your audience an opportunity to answer questions, have a little fun, and potential win a prize. People love feeling smart and accomplished, so make sure to have a mix of easy and hard questions to really engage customers. You can even use this type of contest to gain user insights about your customers’ level of knowledge on specific brand-related questions.

Photo competitions encourage audiences to post their own photos in order to enter a competition and are especially powerful in promoting user-generated content. In the Instagram era, contests like this have the potential to truly scale your brand’s footprint. Many customers trust posts and reviews from people in their network, and a little visual aid always helps!

How Contest Marketing Can Boost Your Brand

Improve Promotion

One of the primary benefits of contest marketing is the promotional benefits.

45% of respondents to a Buzzstream poll said they’ll unfollow brands on social media that spend too much time promoting and talking about their products.

Improve Promotion

Contests are a unique way to drive brand awareness and audience engagement without directly promoting yourself—they offer a fun and interactive way for people to engage with your brand. In other words, contest marketing is a less “sales-y” way to promote your organization.

Contests can drive lots of user-generated content and word-of-mouth advertising so your audience promotes your brand for you. This is especially important with social media since you can amplify and spread your message much more effectively when your audience is doing it with you.

Conduct Audience Research

Contests are great for learning more about your customer base. They allow you to collect lots of valuable information on audiences at scale.


People are more willing to share information and answer questions when there’s a chance to win a prize. Take advantage of the moment to conduct some user research.

At a basic level, you can collect important information like email addresses and other contact information that you’ll use to reach customers.

You can also ask questions about audience interests and habits that will feed nicely into your marketing and outreach strategies. Some consumer information gathered from contests can even be used to optimize a product or service offering.

Think of contests as a tool not only to engage your audience, but also to learn from and about them.

Lower Marketing Costs

Great news! Contest marketing can be done on the cheap.

Compared to other marketing methods, contests can offer great value. They often bring exposure and value to your brand for just the cost of a single prize and a bit of your team’s time. That’s a small price to pay for a good amount of quality brand awareness.

At the same time, don’t assume that every contest will wind up being inexpensive. Remember to look closely at the amount of research, execution, and promotion you’ll need to put into the contest itself. Weigh those costs against the projected benefits before you launch.

Build Your Fan Base

Running a contest is a powerful tool for building your fan and audience base. According to Hubspot, brands that ran contest marketing campaigns gained an average of 34% new fans per campaign.

Creating a basic enter-to-win event that’s easy to join can provide a significant amount of followers, likes, and engagement on social media. Beyond engagement, you’re also collecting important customer information to help broaden your customer base.

Boost Audience Engagement

One of the things that sets contests apart are their ability to engage an audience.

A contest is often distinct from the typical content that brands put out. It pushes people to interact with your brand because they anticipate fun and gain the chance to win something of value.

Contests also promote and multiply user-generated content that gets customers more involved and makes your brand more memorable to them and people in their networks.

Activate Your Fans

Contests give you the chance to motivate your customer base. Think of how quickly people jump at the chance to respond to polls shared on social media. Using contest marketing tools like polls to expand your reach will have a real impact.

The key here is to get your audience responding and creating. As long as they are generating some form of positive content related to your brand, your brand is winning and expanding its reach.

A Comprehensive Guide to Effective Contest Marketing Strategy

Guide to Effective Contest Marketing

A lot of the work you need to do to successfully run an online contest is done in the planning and pre-launch stage. Getting everything set up properly is key.

Each task along the way has potential challenges, so let’s walk through how to create a successful contest marketing campaign, step-by-step.

1. Choose contest objectives

Before you decide what kind of contest you want to run, you should decide your contest objectives.

Some potential objectives you might include:

  • Brand awareness: Improving the visibility of your brand
  • Attracting new customers: Making an actual sale to new individuals or gaining information about them to close a sale later
  • Loyalty: Rewarding current users and customers with some type of offer or discount
  • Promoting a product: Publicizing a new product or service offering
  • Increasing social media followers: Getting new followers on social media who you can make a part of the contest (e.g. customers must be following your brand to enter or win).
  • Market research: Contests are a good opportunity to ask specific questions of your audience and discover interests or opinions they have to improve your ideal customer profiles or audience personas.

2. Define your audience

This is one of the most crucial aspects of running a successful contest.

Take some time to think about your ideal customer demographic and how you can tailor the campaign to them. Your campaign should be built to attract and serve this slice of your customer profile.

Based on the data you have about your customers, you’ll want to select contest types, prizes, and guidelines that are well-aligned to the particular group you’re looking to target.

3. Pick a type of contest

Consider which kind of contest you want to run:

  • Event-Based Contests
  • Polls
  • Giveaways
  • Quiz or Trivia Contests
  • Photo Competitions

Consider how much work your contest requires of your audience. The easier it is to enter a contest, the more sign-ups you’ll get. Be mindful of any barriers-to-entry for the type of contest you want to run.

In selecting your contest type, you’ll also need to decide how much money you want to spend, how much time, and how many employee resources you’ll need to prepare for and administer the campaign.

You’ll have to consider not only the cost of the prizes you’ll be distributing but also the ad budget if you’re going to run any paid ads online.

4. Determine contest rules (by platform)

Depending on the cost of the prize you’re offering, you might have to consider limitations and taxes on it.

In addition, different social networks have their own rules and regulations regarding contests. Here are a few examples:

Facebook contest guidelines
Twitter contest guidelines
Instagram contest guidelines

Lastly, be mindful of the fact that you’ll be collecting private information from individuals. Make sure you’re following any data privacy laws that apply to you (e.g. GDPR for European customers).

5. Qualify your participants

You can avoid wasting time and energy on people who aren’t likely to become customers by using qualifiers in your entry process.

Go deeper than just basic demographic information and ask questions that eliminate people that don’t fit into your ideal customer profile. Try to tap into their willingness to engage with your brand, share information within their social networks, and even their likelihood of making an actual purchase.

6. Set goals and metrics

Set some benchmarks that you want to achieve with your campaign. This should tie back to your contest objective and involve metrics that are clearly quantifiable.

Your goal should be something you can measure, such as new social media followers, email list subscriptions, number of shares, discount code redemptions, or the number of contest entrants.

Identify the most important metrics you want to track beforehand. You’ll want to be prepared to measure the success of your contest before the campaign launches so you can track the relevant data as soon as it starts rolling in once you launch your contest.

7. Select contest prizes

The prize itself is crucial to the success of a contest campaign. It will directly influence how incentivized people are to join the contest and thus, how well the contest does.

It should excite people, get them engaged, and motivate them to take the required steps to enter the contest.

This will tie back to your budget and how expensive a prize you want to offer to attract quality leads and audience engagement. Depending on the type of contest you’re running, you’ll want to consider how the prize value correlates to the difficulty of winning the contest.

One option is to offer tiered prizes based on varying levels of engagement, as this will differ significantly across different customer segments. This strategy allows you to gain insights about your customers without nudging them to opt-out earlier than desired.

Be sure to align your prize to your product or service. One simple way to do this is by choosing a product or service you already offer as a prize. Alternatively, you can think about analogous products or services that would appeal to your ideal customer and use those as prizes.

8. Build urgency

After you launch your contest, you’ll want to follow up with contest applicants as soon as possible. Let people know how the contest is progressing and make offers to the people who didn’t win as a concession to keep them in your customer base (e.g. think temporary discount codes or limited time consultations).

Generate a unique offer that’s time-sensitive and motivates them to act right away. Customers should feel like they’re missing out on something valuable if they don’t take up the offer immediately.

9. Monitor, track, and test

Take the time to measure those results. You’ve worked hard.

When your metrics tie back to your contest objectives, you should have a good sense of whether you’ve met your key goals at the end of the contest. Don’t hesitate to dig into the data for more insights.

What you learn from one marketing contest should feed into your larger branding strategy and inform how you run future contests.

How to Make Contest Marketing Work For Your Brand

It’s all about the goods.

Not just the prizes but the good value your brand gets from contest marketing is what makes it an excellent strategy.

From heightened brand awareness and increased customer engagement to low-cost promotion and insight about your users, contest marketing boasts many benefits for your brand.

To get contest marketing right, you need modern contest management software like Submittable that empowers you to run contests without any headaches. With the right platform, you can boost your brand and reach your desired audience without wasting those valuable marketing dollars.

Paul Perry
Paul Perry

Paul Perry is a writer and former educator with significant experience in nonprofit management. He has a soft spot for grant-seekers striving to make the world a better, more just place.