How to Create a Contest Marketing Strategy That Generates Qualified Leads All Year Round

Learn how to create a successful contest marketing strategy that aligns with your business goals and maximizes lead generation.

By Will Blunt ・8 min read
Best Practices
Business & Marketing Strategy
Customer Data & Engagement

Are you using contests, sweepstakes, or giveaways to generate leads for your business? From traditional offline car raffles at your local mall to viral Instagram photo contests and beyond, this form of marketing has been used by businesses of all shapes and sizes for as long as any of us can remember.The sustained popularity of contest marketing comes from a proven psychological formula for success:

  • They give away free stuff. A concept that increases our oxytocin levels and makes us feel happy.
  • They leverage the power of urgency to persuade action and satisfy our need for instant gratification.
  • They create an environment that taps into our strong desire to win.

But despite the undeniable power of contests, a lot of brands are approaching them all wrong.

The wrong way to approach contest marketing

You need leads… contests get you leads… so you run a contest.This is how most brands approach contest marketing. You think of contests in isolation. As a separate entity from the rest of your marketing strategy. You choose a platform, pick a prize, come up with some rules, the leads start rolling in, and brand exposure spikes.But what happens to those leads once they enter your competition? Have you used the contest to qualify them? How does all of this tie into your other marketing activity and lead nurturing?Instead of running social media contests in isolation, think about creating a 12-month contest-marketing strategy that aligns with your greater business and marketing plan.

Why create a contest-marketing strategy?

A contest marketing strategy isn’t just about contests… It’s more than that.This strategy brings together a succinct definition of your audience. It establishes goals, boundaries, and resource allocation. It maps out a timeline of events that neatly integrates with your social media, content, SEO, email, and advertising strategy.

A well-crafted contest marketing strategy understands the entire journey of your customer and it aims to impact the important milestones along that journey.

Here are some benefits of creating a contest-marketing strategy, rather than diving headfirst into running social contests:

  • It creates alignment between your contests and the rest of your marketing activity, helping your team visualize the greater contribution it is making to the business.
  • It gives your team a sense of direction and holds them accountable.
  • It ensures you track the performance of your contests and can adjust budget allocation accordingly.
  • It improves the efficiency of your contest execution by documenting a set of actions and steps.

So, creating a contest marketing strategy is important … how do you do it?

How to create a contest-marketing strategy

Step 1 - Define your audience

It’s essential that your contests are designed to attract your ideal customers, not just contest entrants.Creating a contest that gets lots of entrants is fairly easy, but thinking strategically about how you can find and engage with those people who will actually buy from you is much harder.By taking the time to research and define your target audience you increase your chance of success.One way to define your audience is to create a customer avatar or buyer persona. Marketing to avatars is 2-5 times more effective than targeting a generalist population.Your audience definition should be built using real data about your current customers - their demographics, problems, goals, interests, and online activity.Below is an example of a contest that spells out exactly who their target audience is on the registration page:

Step 2 - Establish goals, budget and resource allocation

If you don’t have something to work toward you’ll never know if your contest marketing strategy has been successful. These are your goals.A clear and quantifiable goal, combined with a set of boundaries, helps your team make better decisions as they plan and deliver your strategy so things stay on track.How will you define success? What metrics matter? Is it more about the number of entrants to your contests, traffic to your website, leads for your sales team, followers on social media, or something else?You also need constraints - for your budget and resources - to make sure you and your team stay between the flags.When it comes to budget and resource allocation, how much will you invest in your contest-marketing strategy? What costs are involved? Who from your team will execute this strategy and what are they accountable for?

Is it more about the number of entrants to your contests, traffic to your website, leads for your sales team, followers on social media, or something else?

Step 3 - Plan ahead

Once you have a definition of your audience, your strategy constraints, and a goal to work towards, you can start to plan ahead.For this step of the process we recommend planning your contest marketing strategy for a minimum of six months, but preferably 12 months in advance. Taking a holistic view of your strategy allows you to better align it with your overall marketing activity and how contests can fit into that ecosystem to aid the growth of your business.Planning ahead also helps you identify key events throughout the year that may be prime opportunities for running contests. For example, if you have a new product launching in August, use a contest to accompany the launch phase for that product and generate early sales. Or, let’s say your customers have a particular interest in an event like Valentine’s Day, this would be another great opportunity to customize a contest and create a spike in interest at a specific time of the year.See below a contest that used Father’s Day to engage with their customers:

Father's Day giveaway

Built with ShortStack's Earn Extra Points template View and Create Your Own We have found that quarterly contests are a good cadence. They are spread out just enough so that your customers don’t get contest-overload and disengage, and they are close enough together so that you maximize the lead generation and sales growth for the year.

Step 4 - Ideate contest offers

Let’s say you decide to run four contests over a 12-month period - once a quarter. The next step is to come up with relevant offers you can promote for these contests. What are your entrants going to get excited about?Ideating contest offers is a balancing act. You want something of high perceived value with your customers, but it also needs to capture the essence of the contest concept or event, as well as aligning with the product or service you are trying to sell.One interesting approach to choosing an offer for your contest is to give entrants a choice. This is called a “Pick a Prize” contest:

Practical Parenting's Pick a Prize contest

This was built using ShortStack's Pick a Prize Template View and Create Your Own If you are looking for some inspiration, check out this massive list of contest offers here: 106 Creative Prize Ideas for Your Next Contest

Step 5 - Choose your contest types

Cool, you’ve got your contest offers all ready to go. Now you need to decide which type of contest is going to complement your offer and encourage the most signups.When choosing your contest types, consider your audience. Where are they most active online? What content do they engage with? What sparks their curiosity?Here are some contest types to choose from:

  • Photo contest. Below is an example photo contest from a jewelry brand that also leveraged Valentine’s Day:
Valentine's Photo Upload and Vote Contest

Built with ShortStack's Photo Contest template View and Create Your Own

  • Video contest
  • Comment or photo caption
  • Short essay
  • Giveaway. Here’s a cool Giveaway from the entertainment industry:

Built with ShortStack's Giveaway template View and Create Your Own

  • Quiz
  • Poll or Survey
  • Calculators, tests or votes. This interactive voting quiz uses an element of event-based interest combined with multi-day engagement:
Multi-Day Giveaway Calendar - Santa's Grotto

Built with ShortStack's Multi-Day Giveaway Calendar template View and Create Your Own

  • Instant-win contests

Step 6 - Establish contest guidelines

Social media contests are tightly regulated. So if you want to make sure you don’t have your contest shut down or end up in legal trouble, it’s best to establish contest guidelines or rules.We’ve spoken about best practices for writing contest rules before, and even provided a comprehensive and up-to-date template for creating your own rules, so I won’t go into great detail about how to do that here. But it’s important to note that when creating your contest marketing strategy you establish a set of guidelines for your contests, adapt them to each individual contest, and make them readily available to your entrants.

Step 7 - Strategize contest promotion and distribution

A common mistake we see brands make when running contests is assuming that if they create a great contest then the rest will take care of itself. The best-performing contests are strategically promoted across multiple platforms.Promoting your contests is more than just sending out a few tweets, it’s a systematic and repeatable process that generates fast and sustained engagement throughout the duration of the contest.When creating your contest marketing strategy, identifying this process of promoting your contests is a critical element to consider.Given the steady decline of organic reach on Facebook and other social media platforms, we strongly recommend embedding your contest on your website and then promoting it on social media. Not the other way around!Here are some tips for promoting your contests that you can include in your strategy:

  • Email distribution. Make the most of your current database by distributing your contests in email broadcasts. Check out this creative contest email campaign from Design Within Reach:

View Email

  • Organic social media. Even though organic reach has declined, it’s still worth pre-scheduling a number of visually beautiful social media posts and pinning them to your profile pages during the contest. You can even redesign your social media hero images for the duration of the contest.
  • Paid ads. People love entering contests as they scroll through their Facebook feed, which is why social media advertising, especially on Facebook, is fundamental to your contest promotion strategy.
  • Influencer marketing. Identify influential people in your industry using tools such as BuzzSumo or Lefty, and collaborate with them to promote your contests.
  • Built-in virality. The power of social media contests is that they almost always have an element of virality already built in. For example, when running a sweepstake you can give entrants additional entries for every other person they encourage to sign up. All they need to do is share it on social media with a unique link and they’re away! Just like the example below:

Built with ShortStack's Refer-a-Friend Giveaway template View and Create Your Own

Step 8 - Put metrics tracking in place

The metrics you track should provide a pathway toward achieving the goals you set in Step 2 of this strategy development. The key is to identify a core group of important metrics that essentially “add up” to equal the outcome you are trying to achieve.For example, if you want to get 50 sales meetings from your contests, how many entrants do you need to hit that number? Then, based on your conversion rates, how many page visitors do you need to attract to get that many entrants? So on, and so forth.By setting a baseline for these metrics and then tracking them over time, you are able to improve and optimize each component of your contest.The ShortStack Analytics platform provides tons of valuable data - such as traffic sources, entries, and view breakdowns - that will help with this. Here is a behind-the-scenes video:


There you have it, an 8-step process for creating a contest marketing strategy for your business.If you are investing in social media contests, make sure you do it right. Managed in the right way, contests tap into the essence of powerful marketing psychology and persuade your prospects to take action.But in isolation, your results will vary. A holistic contest marketing strategy that integrates and aligns with the rest of your marketing agenda will provide systematic leads all year round, rather than peaks and troughs. What’s stopping you from tapping into the power of contests?

Create your first contest now

Get Started Today. It’s free and we don’t need your credit card.

About the author

By Will Blunt ・8 min read

Will Blunt is the founder of Sidekick Digital by Will Blunt - B2B Marketing Expert - Sidekick Digital, a publishing business that launches, manages, and grows brands with content marketing.

Get marketing tips straight to your inbox

Thank you!
Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
We’ll email you 1-3 times per week—and never share your info.