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Email is proven to be one of the most effective communication channels you can leverage, and one of your tasks as a marketer is to keep your list of email subscribers constantly growing.

However, people are guarding their email addresses tighter than ever these days, which means you need to be offering them something amazing in order to convince them to hand it over.

Employing contests to build your email list might be one way to achieve that goal.

In this post, we’ll discuss why contests are an effective way to build your list and show you actionable tips & tools you can use to run a successful contest that builds your email list.

Why you should use contests to help build your email list

As humans, we have an innately competitive urge and are motivated to win prizes. It’s the reason the U.S. lottery sold $78 billion worth of tickets in 2012.

But you’re not the lottery, and you probably can’t afford to give away $656 million in prize money. So can contests still help you build your email list?

Research from Unbounce would suggest so. They recently did a study on the effect including a contest had on 100 of their customers’ landing pages. They analyzed the results from more than 3 million visitors and found that landing pages with a contest gathered 700% more email subscribers than those without a contest option.

The 3 key elements of a successful contest

So we know that contests work, but how do you know what prize to offer? And how do you promote it to capture as many email addresses as possible?

There are three key aspects of a successful contest: the premise, the prize, and the promotion. By getting each of these areas right, you’ll be able to create a contest that resonates with your audience, encourages thousands of entries and builds your email list.

Part One: The Premise

The premise is the foundation of your contest. It helps you define what you are asking your users to submit as an entry to the contest.

Some example premises include:

  • A video contest where entrants submit their best skating trick
  • A photo contest where people submit their cutest pet photo
  • A text contest where people enter their best joke, poem or short story.
  • A sweepstakes contest where people only enter their email address to win

The premise of your contest is extremely important, and before you decide what your premise is it’s worth understanding the best practices:

Easy for participants to enter

If you are asking people to submit content to enter your contest (video, photo, story, etc.), then ease of content creation is a critical factor in the success of your contest.

While the popularity of smartphones such as the iPhone have made it easier for people to create content, you can boost the volume of entries you receive by tapping into areas where people already have a lot of content created

A good example of this is a Cutest Baby Moment campaign, which taps into the huge amount of photos and videos proud parents already have of their kids and makes it easy for them to enter your contest.

Highly shareable content

People put a lot of thought into the content they choose to share over their social networks. A New York Times study on sharing motivations found that 94% of people carefully consider how the content they share will be useful to others, while 68% of people consider what that piece of content will say about them when they share it.

So when deciding on your premise, ask yourself whether the content you are asking people to submit is the kind of content that you’d be happy to share on your social media channels with your own friends and family.

If you’re not happy to share the content on your own social networks, then chances are entrants and visitors won’t be either, and you’re missing out on a huge organic promotional channel that will drive new entrants and build your email list without costing you a cent.


Part Two: The Prize

It’s easy to offer a simple cash prize to your contest participants and cash certainly has a widespread appeal, but there are certain advantages to offering a prize that speaks to your niche. Here are a few ideas for creating prizes that are remarkable and highly relevant to your audience:

Appeal to your target demographic

While big cash prizes are great, they often draw the attention of people outside your target market who you probably don’t want on your email list anyway. They’ll likely never open your email and will cost you more to have in your list than they are worth.

Instead, you could be much better served by choosing a targeted prize that is both less expensive and more appealing to the kind of people you want to attract.

For example, Glee Gum conducted an online contest to help raise awareness for their new flavour and build their email list. The prize: Each participant got a free sample of the new flavor. Whilst it might not sound appealing to you, their main promotion method was people who already followed them on social media and liked their product, so the chance to get an inside preview of the new flavour was a scoop. The result? Glee Gum received 5,000 new email addresses within the first hour.

So rather than trying to go too big, think more about the kind of things you can offer that would really appeal to your target market and to your target market only. Doing so could save you some money and attract more of the kind of people you want on your list.

Be unique

More often than not, a unique prize will gain more attention than a big, cash prize. This is true not just for your target audience but for media coverage as well.

For instance, Queensland Tourism’s “Best Job in the World” campaign offered the winner a job as the ‘Caretaker’ of the Great Barrier Reef, which essentially involved touring the reef and its associated islands and blogging about it for a year. This unique, money-can’t-buy prize not only attracted over 34,000 entries but also secured an estimated $150 million worth of media coverage, being covered by CNN, Time and BBC to name just a few.

So when deciding on your prize, consider the things you could offer beyond just cash and iPads. Training sessions with athletes, celebrity meetings and backstage passes are all great examples of money-can’t-buy prizes that really appeal to people.

Use supplementary or shared prizes

Supplementary or shared prizes are a great way of encouraging entrants to spread the word to their friends and family. Consider these ideas:

  • Random Draw Prize – Conduct random draw prizes whereby you give a prize to random entrants throughout the contest, and promote it heavily. This helps break down the ‘I’ll never win’ barrier that exists around contests and encourages more participants.
  • Bonus Prizes – Aside from having a major prize for the winner, offer a number of bonus prizes for others who enter. This gives people incentive to share the contest with their friends & family in the hope that they can win some of the bonus prizes as well.
  • Shared Prizes – Consider offering a prize that can be shared amongst friends, like multiple backstage passes or holidays for several people. This helps increase word of mouth as entrants tell their friends to enter so they can have multiple chances of winning the prize.

Part Three: The Promotion

Now that you’ve established the premise and prize, it’s time to promote your contest to get as many entries (and email address submissions) as possible.

Try promoting your contest by:

  • Notifying your current email subscribers: Your email subscribers are some of the most engaged and easy to reach potential entrants around. So send out an email campaign notifying your current subscribers of the contest. Although you might already have their email address, if you’ve established a great premise and prize then chances are they’ll share their entry over social networks and help get the submissions flowing.
  • Placing it on your website: Your website is a great, inexpensive way to promote your contest to people who are clearly in your target market and interested in your company, so try placing it in a popup or scrolling header bar to grab visitor’s attention and drive entries.
  • Promoting through social media outlets: If your business has a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (or any other social media accounts), be sure to share it on those platforms to encourage entrants and convert those fans and followers into email subscribers.
  • Collaborating with influencers: Reach out to relevant voices and influencers in your industry to see if they would be interested in either partnering with you for the contest or are interested in simply helping promote a valuable prize.
  • Getting placed on directory sites: Based on the contest type, there are a number of directory sites that can help you get some exposure. For instance, if you require your users to submit a video upon entry then you can add your contest to to garner some attention and entries from their community.
  • Contacting traditional media outlets: Write a press release and reach out to relevant newspapers, radio stations, television stations, and other more traditional mass media outlets to help spread the word.
  • Putting it on your packaging materials: If your business delivers any physical products, your packaging is another opportunity to encourage participation in the contest. Add a sticker, a note, or an attention-grabbing insert that makes your buyers aware of the contest.

How to run your contest

There are a huge range of tools and platforms out there that will help you run a contest and build your email list. The best one to choose largely depends on the kind of contest you want to run and we’ve listed a few of our favourites here:


If you want to run a simple sweepstakes competition where people only need to submit their email address to enter, then KingSumo Giveaways is a great tool to use.

KingSumo is a WordPress plugin so it integrates natively into your WordPress site. Once you’ve installed it, you simply enter the details of your contest into the admin interface (start and end date, prize, rules, etc) and launch the contest on your website.

When people arrive at your website, they’ll see the contest window and be able to submit their email to enter. KingSumo also contains a great virality feature that presents entrants with their own unique link to share with their friends and family, and gives them an extra entry in the contest for anybody else they manage to sign up.

Once the contest finishes, KingSumo chooses a winner at random (important for complying with competition laws) and then you can download all the email addresses you collected as a CSV and upload them into your email marketing software.

In terms of cost, a personal license is $198 and allows you to use it on one site forever. A developer option is available for unlimited sites as well. They also offer a 60-day guilt free trial so if you’re not happy, you can get a full refund!

Photo Contests

If you want to run a contest where people submit a photo to enter, then check out Strutta’s contest builder.

Using Strutta’s DIY contest builder you can quickly create and launch your own photo contest as part of your website, as a separate campaign microsite, or even as an application on your Facebook page.

Once setup, people can create an account and upload a photo to enter and there are a number of community features like social sharing & comments to get more people engaged in your contest.

You can manage everything from Strutta’s administration interface and once the contest has finished you can easily download all entrants and their email addresses and upload it as a CSV file to your chosen email marketing software.

Video Contests

If you’re interesting in running a video contest where people submit videos to enter, then check out the Launchpad6 video contest platform.

With Launchpad6, you can setup your video contest as part of your website, as a separate campaign microsite, or even as an application on your Facebook page.

Once launched, people can create an account and upload a video to enter before sharing that video with friends & family in order to gain votes and win the contest.

You can manage everything from the administration interface, including moderating videos, managing comments and more. When the contest is over, you can easily download all entrants and their email addresses and upload it as a CSV file to your chosen email marketing software.

In terms of cost, packages begin at $250 per month.

Other contest types

If you are interested in running other types of contests & promotions, such as coupon giveaways or instant win competitions then Woobox may be your best bet.

Woobox allows you to create a variety of contest types with forms that gather valuable lead information (including email addresses). At the end of your campaign, you simply download your data and import the email addresses you’ve collected into your chosen email marketing software.

Pricing begins at $15/month and goes up from there depending on usage.

In Conclusion

By following the best practices around premise, prize and promotion outlined above, you can create a highly appealing contest that builds your email list without needing to offer up big cash prizes that’ll cost your business more than it’s worth.

Your turn: Have you ever tried a contest as a way to grow your list of email subscribers? If not, what questions do you have about getting a contest up and running?

Ultimate guide to building your email list

Learn the 2-part formula for building your email list and discover 20+ tools and methods that can help you start capturing new subscribers today.

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Ultimate guide to building your email list Learn the 2-part formula for building your email list and discover the best tools to start capturing new subscribers today. GET THE FREE GUIDE
This blog provides general information and discussion about email marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.
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