How to Run an Invite-Only Contest (And Why You Should)

Learn how to nurture your most important relationships by running invite-only contests to reward loyal customers and employees.

By Will Blunt ・4 min read
Campaign & Contest Ideas
ShortStack Tips & Tricks

When’s the last time you rewarded your loyal customers or employees?We often get so caught up in the idea of growth, lead gen, and customer acquisition, that we neglect the most important stakeholders we interact with.It’s far easier (and more cost-effective) convincing a current customer to buy from you again or advocate for your brand than it is to start from scratch with a cold prospect. The same goes for employees. The cost of recruiting and upskilling a new staff member significantly outweighs retaining a loyal one.To help our users nurture their most important relationships, we released an invite-only landing page feature with the ShortStack S2 server update. This feature allows you to create a landing page that can only be accessed by those that receive an invitation link via email.What does this mean?Now you can run an invite-only contest with your customers and employees to grow advocacy and reward them for their loyalty.

What is an invite-only contest?

ShortStack's Invite-Only Giveaway template.Available on S2View and Create Your Own The concept of an invite-only contest is simple, by limiting access to the entry page to a specific group of people, you restrict those that can enter. So, while a traditional contest would be open to the public and used for lead generation, invite-only contests are designed to provide rewards and exclusivity to customers or important stakeholders.You could, for example, run a customer appreciation giveaway which rewards your loyal customers with a prize or the opportunity to attend an exclusive event or Q&A. You could even turn this into a recurring contest where you reward one lucky customer every month and give them kudos and exposure to your audience.Another group of people that could benefit from an invite-only contest are your employees. What better way to give back to your staff than by offering up prizes, additional holiday leave, or bonuses in exchange for a submitted entry of some sort.Make it known that the contest is “exclusive” so that entrants feel appreciated.

Why would you run an invite-only contest?

There are three primary reasons you would run an exclusive invite-only contest:

  • Loyalty. Both staff and customer loyalty are big on the agenda of any brand and invite-only contests can foster it in spades. Loyalty is more than positive reviews and employee satisfaction surveys - it’s when stakeholders are so loyal that they have an emotional connection to your brand and will go above and beyond to support and promote it.
  • Preferences. In this day and age, you are expected to recognize your customers’ and employees’ preferences for a variety of interactions - from products to rewards, and benefits. An invite-only contest enables you to capture critical preferences from these individuals that you can use for future loyalty programs or product development. For example, Tootsie Pops ran a contest giving entrants a chance to become a taste tester and shape the development of a new product line:
Enter For A Chance To Be A Toothsie Taste Tester Invite-Only Contest

Collecting customer preferences with a contest

  • Data. Invite-only contests can give you valuable profiling information on your customers or employees. Everything from preferences, to interests, demographics, and common problems or concerns helps you shape a better relationship with these stakeholders. A personality quiz, for example, is an interactive way to engage with your stakeholders and collect data at the same time:
Rebel Girls Describe Yourself Invite-Only Contest

Using a personality quiz to capture dataInvite-only landing pages can also be used to manage live streaming events, interviews, training programs, or anything else that requires exclusive access.

How do you run an invite-only contest?

Running an invite-only contest is fairly similar to any other online giveaway. You need a target audience, some goals, a reward, the campaign collateral, and a way to track success. Of course, there are some subtle differences.Here’s a simple 4-step process for launching an invite-only contest:

Step 1 - Identify the target market and ideal outcome

Which group of people is your invite-only contest for? Your customers? Your employees? Or is it another stakeholder?Identifying the target market for this campaign will help you determine what success looks like. For example, if you are looking to engage with customers, what’s the real outcome you want? Is it data, preferences, feedback, or simply increased loyalty? How will you measure whether the campaign has been successful?

Step 2 - Select a reward

Based on the target for your campaign, what makes for an attractive reward?Invite-only contest prizes vary significantly to prizes that are used for lead generation campaigns. Lead gen campaigns typically come with prizes that educate a buyer about your business, such as a free product, whereas invite-only contests don’t require this type of education.Instead, you’ll need to identify a prize, reward, or perk that aligns with your goals for the campaign and the motivations of participants. For employees, holiday benefits, extra holiday leave, or personalized bonuses may be appropriate. For customers, exclusive events, discounts, and behind-the-scenes access could work well.

Step 3 - Build the campaign elements

The key elements of your invite-only campaign include:

  • A private landing page that can only be accessed by those that are invited.
  • An invitation email to drive targeted traffic to the landing page.
  • Follow up emails for once people enter the contest.
  • Other design collateral, such as banners or ads if you plan on running highly targeted remarketing campaigns.

Just because your contest is going to be private and invite-only, doesn’t mean you should undervalue the branding opportunities. Be sure to align all of your promotional assets with consistent messaging, colors, fonts, and other branding to reinforce the benefits of connecting with an exclusive group.

Step 4 Track and report on activity

As always, you should track metrics such as landing page views, form submissions, customer preferences, email interaction, and other activity metrics that not only determine the success of the campaign but will help you improve for next time.All of this data is available with ShortStack Analytics in real-time.


One thing is for sure, loyalty (from customers, employees, and other stakeholders) is an irreplaceable asset for brands of all shapes and sizes. You simply can’t put a price on the intangible value of goodwill and advocacy.Invite-only contests are a unique way to engage with your loyal stakeholders or to turn idle stakeholders into advocates. They also help you collect meaningful data, preferences, and insights that will aid your marketing and sales efforts in the future.Be sure to exaggerate the exclusivity of your invite-only campaign, offer exciting rewards, and track important metrics to ensure you get the most bang for your buck.

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About the author

By Will Blunt ・4 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.

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