9 Marketing Lessons Learned from a Sweepstake Campaign

Sweepstakes - giveaway Cheese Companions

Photo taken in our studio.

In 2017, we developed a marketing campaign of three sweepstakes to increase awareness of our products, Cheese Companions, as well as increase email subscribers and social media followers.

For those giveaways, we partnered with ten local Vermont cheesemakers and offered amazing cheese plates, each worth $225-250. We used a service called ViralSweep, a viral marketing platform with tools to create sweepstakes, contests, and giveaways.

As with any “experiment,” we gained tons of new knowledge, and I am happy to share the nine marketing lessons we learned from running those sweepstakes.

We had over 14,000 people participating in the three sweepstakes.
We increased our email list by over 8,000 and gained thousands of social media followers.

But will I do it again? Surprisingly, no!

The Impressive Results

When we started this campaign, we had no email subscribers and no social media followers.

The table below shows you the number of participants to each of the three sweepstakes.

Each participant was automatically added to our email list (with their consent), so we increased our email list of over 8,000 people. Additionally, participants were encouraged to connect with us on social media. We experienced significant increases in followers on Instagram (over 2,500) and other social media and our partners did as well.

Number of contestants – Giveaway 1 Number of contestants – Giveaway 2 Number of contestants – Giveaway 3
Just entered the giveaway 2,550 1,648 2,875
Entered the giveaway and got 1-2 bonus entries (follow one or two partners on social media) but did not share 1,720 1,269 229
Entered the giveaway and got 3 or more bonus entries (followed several partners) but did not share 1,240 1,232 1,013
Entered the giveaway and shared (referral entry points) 280 189 168
Total participants 5,790  4,338  4,285

The Marketing Lessons We Learned

Let’s see what we learned.

1- Choosing a sweepstake platform: ViralSweep is a well-designed platform, with excellent tutorials. They provide useful tips to ensure that you will see the right participation level. But some of their advice will attract “professional” giveaways participants, which is a significant issue (more on that later.)

2- Setting up goals: It is crucial to know what your goals are, to determine if your sweepstake campaign is a success. Understanding what the right goals are, is also vital: getting participants to “like” you on Facebook for “bonus” entries might not be the right thing to push for when only 2% of Facebook followers will see your posts in the future. For each giveaway, our goal was to reach 1,500 entries, which meant increasing our email list by 4,500 in total, for future promotions. We far exceeded those numbers.

3- Understanding what drives participation: The ViralSweep tutorials are informative on that aspect. The giveaway must be of an attractive $ value, and participants must be rewarded (with “bonus” entries) for sharing the sweepstakes on their social media or to their friends by email. That’s what creates the “viral” effect. We just need to encourage the behavior, which will have the most impact on our business.

4- Having partners to broaden reach and impact: As a small food business, you may not have a broad base of followers on social media or an extensive email list. And you may not be ready to spend $500 for a prize. With partners, you have the opportunity to reach out to more people (their followers) and to offer a prize that will get more attention. Our partners had tens of thousands of Facebook followers. We were able to have two winners per giveaway, each prize worth $250. However, you must have pre-existing relationships and established credibility with those partners. Otherwise, they won’t accept to partner with you, as their reputation is at stake. In our case, we had relationships, and partners had seen our products on the retailers’ shelves. It is not something you can do if you are a brand-new start-up.

5- Understanding the time investment: All marketing tactics take time, and running a giveaway is no exception. Even without partners, there is a lot to coordinate:

  • defining the prizes,
  • defining your goals,
  • setting up the sweepstake on the ViralSweep platform,
  • taking photography of the prizes,
  • designing the visuals (different formats for each social media),
  • coordinating the reach out to the audience,
  • setting up Facebook ads,
  • following up with blogger influencers to mention the giveaway,
  • monitoring participation and tracking results,
  • informing participants of the winners and,
  • shipping the prizes to the two winners.

With partners, it takes even much more time to coordinate – a considerable amount of time, indeed. You must reach out to many partners, to see which one is interested in participating, understand which prize they want to give, getting these prizes from them, following up to get everyone to promote the giveaway, and more. There is no doubt that time versus money is often the trade when it comes to running a small food business!

6- Experimenting with ads: Running a giveaway is an excellent opportunity to experiment with some Facebook ads (or other social media). For the first giveaway, we spent $14 to reach 1,000 people over 48 hours on Facebook, carefully targeting them for their interest in cheese, and we were able to compare the effectiveness of different images and the interest level of different target groups. It is not a high investment to reach 1,000 people!

7- Understanding total campaign costs: In addition to the time expense, there are several out-of-pocket costs to run the campaign. As an example, here are our out-of-pocket costs for the first sweepstake:

Our products for the two winners $20
Facebook ads $20
Photography In-house studio
ViralSweep platform (one-month subscription) $50
Shipment to the two winners (packages 18 lbs each) $110
Total cost for one giveaway $200

8- Analyzing results: It is essential to spend some time to analyze the giveaway results, to understand better how engaged were the participants, how many started following partners on social media, and how many shared the giveaway. We can also use the various sub-groups to segment our future communications (e-newsletters) and to understand their long-term engagement with our brand. In our case, almost half of the participants simply entered the giveaway, and only a minority shared it!

9- Understanding the downside: You cannot control the sweepstake going viral. There is a good reason why the platform is called ViralSweep. The success of those campaigns comes from your sweepstake becoming viral, i.e., each participant is sharing it with several others. Just like a real virus (yes, COVID-19!), the growth in participants quickly becomes exponential! But there is a definitive downside: even if you don’t list your giveaway on sweepstakes directories, someone ultimately will. And that will attract “professional” sweepstakes participants, who have no interest in your brand. During our first campaign, one blogger influencer used the hashtag #giveaway when sharing it on social media, and it went viral! We even found out that a participant listed it on a sweepstakes directory and was able to get over 6,000 bonus points that way.  Collecting thousands of email addresses is not worth much, if subscribers immediately opt out when you send your first email, or even worse, flag your email as spam.

In conclusion

A carefully crafted giveaway campaign can be a great way to increase awareness for your brand rapidly and increase your email list (crucial). To implement such tactic requires a lot of efforts in time (and some money) to make it attractive for people to participate.

However, the number of people who stay on your list (don’t quickly opt-out) or continue to follow you on social media, as well as the growth in your online sales, defines the ultimate success.

Our experience is that, because “professional” sweepstakes participants get involved, even though those giveaways can be highly successful in terms of participants, you may experience poor results in terms of customers’ long-term engagement with the brand. They can even be detrimental when it comes to your email list. Many respondents will unsubscribe later or tag you as spam.

Consequently, it is not a tactic I would recommend, and I will not use it again.

Below, a photo of our third giveaway, that we also took in our studio.

sweepstakes - giveaway Cheese Companions

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