Keep Your Eye on the . . . uh . . .

ImageIf you’re a marketer, you have probably been tempted to try to get attention and “engagement” from your target customers by inviting them to participate in a contest. If you have an email address, you have probably received emails saying “Win an iPad by taking our survey” or “Spend 30 minutes with us and receive a $25 Amazon gift card.” If, like me, your parents were raised during the Depression and you have to remind yourself not to tuck the extra Sweet-n-Low packs into your purse after breakfast, you’ve probably taken the survey, spent the 30 minutes – even if you already have an iPad and don’t shop Amazon.

Here is why I think these contests stink.

  1. They’re insulting. When my son attended the otherwise fantastic Gentle Dragon preschool, a substitute teacher put a little rubber bear into a jar every time one of the children did something kind. When the jar was full, the teacher made the class a big cake. The message? Do the right thing not for its own sake, but because you’re going to get all sugared up. If you don’t think it’s possible to sound overly condescending to a roomful of preschoolers, give me a holler and I’ll do my impression of this teacher talking about the jar full of bears.
    Customers want to provide feedback on their experience when they have something to say. I’ll promote your Etsy page if you’re my friend. (My friends can promote my beaded jewelry right here!) What does it tell you about how important my own priorities are if I’ll suspend them to try and chase an iPad or a gift card?
  2. They promote dishonesty and reinforce class-based “perks.” The technicians where I work clock in at 8 and clock out at 4:30, with a half hour lunch break that’s enough to microwave and consume 500 calories. They assemble wind measurement instruments all day. They’re not paid to chase butterflies or participate in marketing surveys. I already enjoy more flexibility in my work schedule than they do. Now I’m being tempted to spend 30 minutes of my employer’s time — arguably valued higher than $25 — to try and get a $25 gift certificate? I may be old-fashioned, but this seems like stealing to me.
  3. They “engage” the wrong people. Do the people who ultimately will make the decision about whether to buy your service or product  have time to chase a gift card? I hope not!
  4. They take the “you” out of “thank-you.” Two years ago I heard the visionary entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk speak about the value of saying “thank-you.” Cue Roberta Flack soundtrack: in 45 profanity-laced minutes, Gary Vee expressed my feelings perfectly. The value of saying “thank you” is one of the most important things an entrepreneur can learn. It’s a personal effort and there are no shortcuts. (My keyword-laced link to Gary’s website is my small thank-you for the inspiration).
  5. You don’t get the prize! I admit it — in spite of my feelings against these contests, I’ve been tempted, and, yea, have participated. I’ve tweeted for prizes, I’ve responded to emails offering gift cards in exchange for surveys . . .
    So my desk drawer must be filled with gift cards and I must have at least one iPad, right? No way. I’ve only ever received one prize. (Taza chocolates from the fabulous Caitlin Jewell — the creative genius behind one of Boston’s best design studios and now the extraordinary microbrewery Slumbrew. This plug was really not influenced by chocolate and beer – okay, maybe a little.) The other contests, sad to say, were promoted by social media and marketing automation companies.
    In other words – hard as it  may be to believe – I actually did what the marketers wanted me to, and then I didn’t get what they had promised me!

If you’re a marketer and you’re tempted to conduct a contest, please take this final piece of advice. Make sure that the “execution phase” is well defined. That is, make sure you send out the prizes and don’t let that go into your “maybe someday” file. If you won’t be the one sending out the prizes, get a commitment from the person who will be, and define a process to get it done. Then monitor it. Conducting that iPad lottery or sending out that Amazon gift card is just as important as shipping a product that’s been paid for.

Otherwise, you’re going to “engage people” all right — by ticking them off. In other words, keep your eye on the . . . uh . . .

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