PHOTO: Denise Baker

Who doesn’t love a good giveaway?

Well, besides the head of a pool and spa retail store who just spent thousands of dollars and months of legwork — including constant notifications via Facebook and Twitter — on a campaign that yielded six entrants?

Unfortunately, this scenario has become all too familiar. But there is hope.

In order to avoid the fate of our fictional small business owner,those in the know offer a few recommendations to help orchestrate a successful online giveaway campaign

Why to giveaway

The first step in everyone’s process should be to figure out what you want the contest to accomplish.

Is the idea to bring more customers to a store or Website, or is the focus on collecting more email addresses to assist with an online marketing program?

“The critical thing for us is to get customers to buy more, or buy early in order to generate cash flow before the season to get us started,” says Blair Lynch, director of operations at Mermaid Pool, Spa & Patio in Anderson, Ind., whose company has promoted two contests online in the past year.

In fact, there really is no “correct” goal, experts say. It largely depends on the individual business’s needs.

Dan Harrison has been orchestrating online giveaways for several years as a third party. His most successful ones, he says, always begin with a clear objective.

“It should be to expose [new] people to your product through either the manufacturer’s Website or the dealer’s Website,” says the owner of Las Vegas-based, an online retail store. “If the goal is to get email addresses, then optimize that page for search engines and ask for email addresses. If your goal is to get people to like your Facebook page, then you do it that way.

“Even if you run a contest,” he adds, “and maybe the person doesn’t ultimately enter the contest, they’re still going to go to the site and know that the manufacturer has a new product and it’s the best thing in the world.”

This month, Glen Cove, N.Y.-based Pleatco launched a campaign aimed at promoting healthy living through clean water. “Smile and Say Pleatco” invites consumers to submit their favorite photo taken at a pool or spa. Entries, which are accepted through September, are then posted online, where the public can vote for the best one.

“We look toward these contests to cultivate a substantial database and industry information that will allow us to make intelligent, strategic marketing decisions in the future,” says Nick Magiera, marketing manager at Pleatco. 

What to giveaway

Simply put, the right prize should be an item the retailer wants to promote.

“Don’t give away a TV if you’re selling pool covers,” Harrison says.

“Look, there’s no end-game to a TV or iPad,” he explains. “Think media impressions. The reason to have a contest is not because you’re so wonderful that you just want someone, somewhere to have a hot tub. You’re doing it to expose 8 million people to what you have to sell.”

So, it’s important to make the prize something that is available in your store.

In addition, make sure it has broad appeal to your target demographic. An item that takes up too much space (like a swim-spa) is likely to discourage some people from entering. An aboveground pool kit, similarly, will only appeal to those with backyards, and may not be the best choice in a heavily urban area.

The prize must be compelling — and tangible — enough to bring attention. Chemicals may be too narrow, for instance, while store credit may be too vague, and lack a certain ‘wow’ factor.

That said, a portable hot tub is considered among the best prizes because it satisfies several key criteria, experts say. It is a product many industry retailers carry already; it provides a good opportunity to pick up additional business via service and/or accessory sales; and it appeals to consumers who own their homes, or at least are in a long-term living situation.

In Pleatco’s case, the top vote-getter wins a hot tub from Master Spas valued at $10,000.

“The prize was decided on as an important valuable luxury item that people aspire to own, but not all can afford, as well as a strategic alliance to cross-promote [brands and products],” Magiera says.

How to giveaway

There are several ways to go about launching and operating a contest online.

Dealers may either go it alone or partner with a manufacturer. The latter scenario often will involve multiple dealers, so the cost is minimal. Granted, that also means it’s less exclusive, since someone who enters through a given store, or its Website, may not win.

Bullfrog Spas runs two 90-day giveaways each year. This allows enough time for dealers to promote it, but provides a short enough window so consumers don’t forget about it, says Jake Ricks, marketing manager at the Salt Lake City-based company. Any contest longer than 6 months grows stale, he explains, and entries drop off, so dealers typically stop promoting it.

Retailers can support Bullfrog’s contest themselves or in concert with the manufacturer’s promotional materials, which include Web-ready graphics, in-store point-of-purchase posters and sign-up forms.

“The dealers that are most successful use it in-store, at off-site events and online,” Ricks says. “And people certainly should promote it through their Website and Facebook. Requiring someone to like your page to enter on Facebook gives you the opportunity to continue a dialogue with the customer. It’s as good as collecting an email.”

However, he adds that the more information you ask for, the fewer number of entries you’re likely to get. Ricks advises requiring a name, email and ZIP code — so it’s not too personal, and you can easily determine if the customer is really in your market.

Pleatco’s current campaign asks entrants to answer four questions about pool and spa filtration, as well as what channels they used to arrive at the promotion, Magiera says. Making it “no purchase necessary” further simplifies the entry process, and frees the company from any associated liability, he adds.  

For even more promotional traction, Harrison recommends dealers investigate advertising on one or more of the hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of Websites that specialize in sweepstakes and contests. Some are free; others are pay-to-play.

But what trips up so many dealers, he says, is a tendency to run the contest solely through social media.

“Not a lot of new people are going to see [a contest] on a dealer’s Facebook page,” he explains. “Use your Website first, and then use social media to augment that.

“Facebook people are very ad-blind,” he adds, “so if you’re too promotional or too self-serving, Facebook and Twitter people will run from you. It’s not a bad medium if you’re trying to take over Syria or run for president of the United States, but for a pool and spa company? You already have these beautiful, epic Websites — why re-do it on Facebook? Just promote it like you would anything else.”