Successful growth in eCommerce is an art form.

Doubt it? You can find thousands of sites out there that are perfectly competent when it comes to what they sell and how they operate, but they fail to find the magic key that opens the door to sales success.

The difference, in many cases, comes down to failing to capture the imagination of would-be customers. Building a brand comes by making an impression. One approach that has helped many brands get past this challenge is the use of viral giveaway campaigns.

A viral giveaway campaign is when a brand uses its social platforms to, well, giveaway a promotional item to select participants, often  requiring social engagement and/or a participants contact information. You know those fishbowls at checkout counters that collect business cards for a free item? It’s a digital version of that. Viral giveaway campaigns can do wonders for building your customer list — if they are executed in a smart and disciplined way. Outgrow reports on a number of impressive results tied to these campaigns in 2021 alone, such as promotions that cost just 18 cents per click, contestants spending 2 minutes plus on the contest app and more than 62% sharing the contest with at least one friend.

That all sounds great, but viral giveaways have been around for a few years now, meaning there’s enough known to show there are right ways and wrong ways to go about this process. In the rest of this blog, we’ll explore what has been learned.

Building Brand Through Giveaways

The operational pieces in creating a successful viral giveaway campaign should be built on two principles:

  1. Make participation for the customer as simple as possible
  2. Make desirability of the contest align with the customers you are seeking

No matter how compelling your offer, it is always going to have to compete in a marketplace teeming with content vying for people’s attention. Once you are fortunate enough to grab that interest, you need to make action steps as simple as possible, and the benefit those actions could lead to as desirable as possible.

Giveaways can take many different forms. For the vast majority of eCommerce sites, the scope of viral giveaway you will be considering will be modest. The total value of prizes being offered could be in the range of $1,000 or less. Even at that level, you can still produce great returns from your campaign in terms of growing your customer base. Key factors which will play into the chances for success are if the promotion of the giveaway is creatively appealing (i.e. not the “same old same old” that every other contest is pushing), if it has elements which make it fun to participate in and if the appeal of the giveaway is genuine enough that people will feel good about sharing it with their friends. You want your giveaway promotions to be easily shareable.

The site Startup Bonsai offers a very good observation that you should keep in mind as you conceive of how your viral giveaway could work: People don’t necessarily like buying from brands, they like buying from personal recommendations. That is a key part of the appeal to consider in how you can make your giveaway a viral experience.

If your giveaway has a gamification aspect — that is, people’s participation is incentivized so their chances of winning grow by becoming more involved in the giveaway — you may consider creating a social share site for users. They can track their progress and see how they are faring as they pursue rewards that are part of the giveaway.

Another aspect that has proven value as viral giveaway strategies have matured is the use of a deadline element to drive participant action. You can keep prospective customers thinking about your brand longer if the appeal of the giveaway offer has hit home with them, but they also know that they only have a limited amount of time to act.

One other good point to keep in mind — don’t think just because your viral giveaway is designed for your social channels that you shouldn’t also be supporting it through your more conventional assets. Promote the giveaway through your email contact with existing customers — it still produces the best percentage in response rates of any outreach. You also need to consider the best ways to promote the giveaway to visitors landing at your site. A pop-up welcome mat message is a tactic that many companies use.

Tips for Deciding on the Right Offer

A successful viral giveaway will have at its heart an intriguing prize offer. Deciphering what this will be for your giveaway is a true make-or-break decision in how you will succeed in connecting with the customers you most desire.

Designing a giveaway is really an opportunity to demonstrate to  targeted customers that you understand what they are looking for. This is how brands connect with customers. From your perspective, it is a prime opportunity to identify interested potential customers that you know will have a specific area of interest that could be developed into a buying opportunity. From the customer’s perspective yours is a fresh voice whose potential lies in offering a product that will solve their problems in a responsible way.

An important point to consider as you think about how your viral giveaway will be structured is that the contest is not necessarily limited to only what you offer. Exciting and creative offerings often come in the form of a package of products centered around a theme. Think in terms of partners who offer related products to what you sell. You may already have existing relationships with some of those brands, or it could be a matter of reaching out to a company that you feel has this element of commonality.

It can also pay to think creatively when envisioning partnership possibilities. These case studies can give you some ideas on just how effective thinking creatively can be in generating exceptional amounts of response to your campaign.

Along with who else you might try and partner with, you are also going to have to make some decisions about what social channels are right for your offer. Here’s an article and accompanying infographic that gives you an overview of how other companies are deploying viral giveaway techniques as they go down this same road.

Do Something With the Data

Once you reach the end of your viral giveaway, you are going to be sitting on a pile of results generated by the contest. Don’t just assume all of it is equal. Contests are going to produce returns that are mixed in quality. You’ll need to take the right steps to make sure you are getting out of the process what you hoped for going in when it comes to adding on to your customer base.

Screening for returns with fake data, such as a bogus email address, will be a must. Plenty of guidance is out there already in terms of best practices for eCommerce merchants to make sure they are dealing with actual verifiable customers. You also will want a screening process in place to make sure you are not just adding duplicate emails that are already in your database. Applying the same kind of guidelines you use for keeping your existing list healthy makes sense for the new data churned up by your viral giveaway.

A few final points for closing the loop when it comes to your contest is following up with offers of discounts and other benefits to those new potential customers you’ve just gained. You know something specific now about where their interests may be directed. For instance, one of our favorite formats we’ve seen for viral giveaways is known as the wish list format — that is creating a contest where those who enter will be choosing among a series of products to tell you exactly what they are most interested in. That’s the kind of opening you were hoping for when you started down the road of creating a giveaway. Be active, be persistent and be creative in trying to court these new potential sources of business. 

Just like all endeavors you need to protect your company from any legal issues when running a viral contest campaign. There is a lot of grey area and you need to make sure that any contest you host isn’t going to put you in the crosshairs of any regulatory group. We recommend working with a legal or marketing company that has familiarity with this world and can best set you up for success long-term. 

Viral giveaways are a path for creating new business that go hand-in-hand with eCommerce. People who are seeing your offer are already engaged in accessing that information through some kind of electronic device. They are in your realm. Come up with a great offer with true appeal for them, and the returns could be just the catalyst that drives your sales results to the next level.

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