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Growing Your List with Giveaways

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Eight years ago, Ben wrote a piece for Practical Ecommerce about using contests to grow email lists. But eight years is a long time (especially on the internet), and a lot has changed. We decided it was a good time for an update, so our research team spent the last few weeks reaching out to some of our e-commerce users to better understand how they gain subscribers with contests.

We learned a lot, including that most of our e-comm folks seem to agree that contests are worth the work. A few even go so far as to say they’re the best way to get more subscribers. By following a few simple guidelines, you can effectively use contests and giveaways to grow your email list and ultimately sell more stuff online. Today, we’ll go over why contests are worth it, and a couple ways you can approach them. Next week, we’ll follow up with some key considerations and the steps you should take after your contest ends.

Are contest subscribers worth it?

Notebook and stationery company May Designs says that even though they’ve noticed that contest list subscribers have a higher attrition rate, contests are still a valuable method for growth.

“For a giveaway valued at $30, we can expect up to 500 new emails,” May Designs marketing director Steve Miller explains. “It’s a lot cheaper than placing a Facebook ad, which ends up costing us about $1-1.50 per new email.”

Our data science team performed their own evaluation by studying list performance from more than 1,000 users who have a contest list in addition to an active “organic” (non-contest) list. They found that, perhaps unsurprisingly, contest folks are only about 25% as likely to buy something as non-contest folks. But when they do buy, they spend almost as much as non-contest subscribers.

As with most business initiatives, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” strategy. Success depends on having a clear goal in mind, balancing priorities, and experimenting to find what works best for your business and your audience. Is your goal getting more social followers? Increasing engagement with current customers? Adding new people to your list? Decide this beforehand so you can determine success after.

Should you partner up?

If you’re focused on growing your email list, partnering with a likeminded brand can be very successful. You’ll share the contest with your subscribers and followers and your partners will do the same. This gets the word out beyond those who already know you, and if you’re a smaller, growing business, you can enjoy the benefits of the expanded reach and reputation of other brands—particularly if they’re larger and more established.

The key is finding the right partner(s). You want to work with companies who are responsive and cooperative, with similar goals and brand aesthetics, and have access to the markets you want to reach. Getting several partners involved is great, but remember that everyone needs to agree on the plan—and the more people you involve, the harder it can become.

Here’s how The Normal Brand did it:

The Normal Brand partnered with Jack Mason to run a month-long contest.  TNB has a custom entry page on their site and showcases the prize package with original photography.

Or go it alone?

On the other hand, running a contest solo means you can move more quickly and have greater control over the entire process. Your reach may be limited, but you can focus on increasing engagement with those who already know you. For example, allow contest entry for following you on different social media channels or signing up to your email list (for those who only follow you on social). You can make it a true contest by asking followers to post a photo that tags or mentions your brand, and then choose the best photo as the winner.

The folks at May Designs regularly do quick contests on their own. The Friday before Easter, they decided to do a weekend giveaway and got it running in just a day. People entered by following May Designs on Instagram, tagging a friend in the comments, and then following a link in their profile to enter the contest on a landing page. Participants entered their email and Instagram handle so May Designs could verify the post. They announced the winner on Monday. Boom. Done.

A link in May Designs’ Instagram profile directed to the entry form on their site.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. Today we focused mainly on defining your goals and partnering, but next week, we’ll cover some more specific things to think through—like choosing a prize, promoting the contest, and incorporating new subscribers, to name a few. Stay tuned!

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