What get’s you more excited than hearing the words: “And the winner is…” followed by a drumroll?


Nothing right?

People love competitions because it get’s them excited and gives them hope that they will win and get a prize.

There are competitions for pretty much everything, so why not use competitions to grow your email list as well?

An email is a small price to pay to enter a competition as long as the prize has great value, so there’s huge potential for you to collect a ton of leads through a competition.

Even more so if your competition goes viral. Viral competitions will not only generate lots of leads for your business, but also create a lot of brand awareness, and increase traffic to your website.

In this post, I’ll give you my very best tips and tricks to how you create an effective lead generating competition that has the potential to go viral.

Let’s begin!

Want to get started right away?

We’ve boiled this post into a simple to-do list including how-to guides for running an email marketing contest so you can get started immediately.

Free Downloadable Bonus: Download your to-do list now and create your most effective competition to date.

What should your prize be?

Finding a prize for your competition is the first step in creating a successful competition. It’s the thing that will convince people to give you their email address.

The most common prizes used are those which have great monetary value. These span from $50 gift certificate to brand new cars. There are no boundaries for what you can offer your audience as long as it’s relevant to your business.

A monetary prize always has a specific price tag on it and people know exactly what it’s worth.

The gift certificate

Gift certificates are very popular to use as prizes because they offer people a chance to win “money” to use in your store. A gift certificate will also have value to your business as it can only be spent on your products.

Moreover, there’s a chance the winner will find a product or several products where the price ends up succeeding the amount on the gift certificate. In that case, you’ll even get a profit from it.

Here’s an example from Africa Safari.


They offer their website visitors a chance to win a £250 travel voucher. This prize is relatively small compared to the prices of their product which are safari trips.

However, they generate a lot of leads because people love to dream. If a visitor is already on this site, they are obviously interested in safaris but they might only be in the exploring/dreaming stage of the process. Chances of them becoming a customer are very slim here if they’re just left alone.

When visitors in this process are offered a chance to win a gift certificate they are much more inclined to accept, because it takes them closer to their dream vacation without costing them anything besides their email address.

Once the competition has ended, there’s a real chance the winner will use the gift certificate and buy a trip that they otherwise wouldn’t have bought.

In this specific case, the winner might need some additional convincing to take the final step. Send them a few emails where you offer a meeting to help them find their dream vacation. Send them a packing list with the things you need on a safari. Send them a safari guide with all the other things they can explore while on safari.

The possibilities are endless. Depending on what you sell, there are always small valuable tips and tricks you can offer people that won’t cost you or them anything, while you build a relationship with them.


  • Offer a gift certificate for your own store to potentially increase revenue.
  • Focus on the value of the gift certificate – what could it be spent on. Exemplify with images.
  • Follow up on the competition winner (and all other subscribers) to help them make a purchase.

The product

Another option is to offer your audience a chance to win one of your products. If you run an e-commerce with make-up, your prize could be your brand new line of make-up. This is also a great way to promote new products.


Eva Solo has done this perfectly. Their prize is a saucepan from their newest collection of kitchenware.

When you offer people a chance to win one of your products, there’s a chance that people will fall in love with the product in their expectation to win it, and then if they don’t win it, they will be more inclined to purchase it.

Moreover, when you offer a product that is part of a collection, you also increase the chance of the winner being tempted to buy more products from the collection to match the product they won.

You could increase that chance even more, by sending all the participants who didn’t win an email where you tell them that unfortunately they didn’t win, but you don’t want them to miss out, so here’s a discount code you can use towards a product from that collection.

If your product is subscription based you can offer a year’s free subscription and also send all those who didn’t win an email where you offer them 3 months free if they buy an annual subscription.

Your prize has to be relevant to your business. There’s no point in offering your visitors a chance to win a gift certificate to a hair salon if your product is sports equipment. People will have a hard time believing that this competition is real because it doesn’t have anything to do with your business.

Besides generating lots of leads, you want to place your business and your products in the subconsciousness of consumers, so they’ll think of your business next time they need something in your product category. And you won’t do that if your prizes are irrelevant to what you normally offer.


  • The product you offer should always be relevant to your business.
  • Choose a product that you sell on the website, so people can buy it if they don’t win.
  • The product should have value to your visitors. A pack of $5 hairbands won’t do the trick.
  • Again, you should do follow-ups on email.

Lastly, there’s the prize with emotional value so to speak.

The emotional prize

The emotional prize is one where the “prize” is given to those in need and there is no actual winner.

You might argue that this is not a competition in its true sense, and I agree. However, I think it belongs in this post, as it has the exact same purpose as the regular competition, and the means are the same.

An example of such a “competition” could be the Good Mood Mission from Oscar Mayer. They set out to collect stories from people all around America, and for every Good Mood Moment they received, a pound of food was donated to the hunger-relief organization Feeding America.

Such a campaign has huge potential to go viral and generate a lot of awareness towards your brand.

If we should focus a bit more on the list building aspect, there are a few simple things we could change about this type of competition.

You could start a campaign where you ask people to share their story and enter their email address to be kept updated on the campaign.

For instance, if your e-commerce sells pet products, you could start a campaign where you offer to donate a certain amount of money to an animal rescue organization for every rescue story people send to you.

To do this, you could create an opt-in form for your site where you add a comment field where people can type their story, and then an input field where they enter their email address.

Here’s an example of what that could look like.


If you want to create such a campaign, you should find an organization that is relevant to your business which can be a bit more difficult depending on what kind of e-commerce you run.

Find one that you know will resonate with your audience so you have a higher chance of them signing up and sharing their stories or whatever you choose to base your donations on.

The key to finding the right prize is knowing your audience. What would they like to win? What are their needs and wishes? And how can your prize solve those needs and fulfill those wishes?

Value, value, value! I can’t say enough how important it is in all your marketing efforts. It’s all about providing value to your audience and establish a relationship where you can convert them into repeat customers.


  • This type of competition needs a bit more planning and resources than other types.
  • They have the potential to generate a lot of leads, but you need to be willing to pay the price.
  • Keep subscribers informed of the status of the competition. How many stories have you gotten, and how much money does that mean you’ll be donating.
  • Get people to share the competition on all channels to get more subscribers.

Discover how Airtame converts 3,8% of all visits to email subscribers and how you can, too.. Learn more

What to consider when creating a competition?

Now that we’ve covered the types of competitions you can run, we should have a look at some best practices to ensure your competition are successful.

Set an end date

When you create a competition you should always specify an end date. Writing an end date on your competition will create an urgency that gets people into a scarcity mindset, making them more likely to take action.

You can even add a countdown timer that counts the minutes until the end of the competition in real time. This pressures people to sign up even more.

Haven’t you ever tricked your smaller siblings into getting you something (candy, a glass of juice, toys, etc.) by telling them that they only had 10 seconds to go get it? Maybe I was a complete tyrant child but my baby sister would always fall for this trick.

The countdown simply works. The urgency of the countdown timer is exciting and it will undoubtedly increase your conversion rate.

Also, it decreases the risk of them wanting to “save it for later” and possibly forgetting all about it.


B&O Play knows how important this is. They have their new product, Beoplay A1, featured on their front page along with a form offering visitors a chance to win the new speaker if they sign up for their newsletter.

In the opt-in they’ve added: “Sign up to the newsletter and join the competition, ending October 23rd, 2016 at 10.00 CET.” It’s not a countdown timer, but it’s still a lot more effective than not having a specific end date.

In this form, I would add the input fields directly in the opt-in instead of directing visitors to a different landing page, to make it even easier to sign up.

Also, once a visitor has signed up, I would show a thank you message that says that they’ve successfully entered the competition, a thank you, and that the winner will be notified directly via email at a specific date and time.

Then visitors know when they have to check their email to see if they’ve won. Here’s an example of what the thank you box could look like.



  • Setting an end date will increase your number of signups.
  • Use a countdown timer to show how much time is left of the competition.
  • Always include a thank you box, where you specify when and how the winner will be notified.


How you choose to label your competition also has an effect on how successful it will be.

Consider your headline and the words you put in it.

Among our customers, we’ve seen that the competitions including the word “win” have the highest conversion rates.

This brings me to the CTA in your competition. Whether or not you decide to have a big button or just plain text, you should always have one final phrase that will push people to sign up.

Now, many choose to use the CTA “sign up now”, which I think is the worst CTA. No one signs up for your competition to receive your newsletter – they sign up to win!

Thus, your CTA should focus on supporting that “I want to win” mindset.


In this example from GetInspired, they have added the “Win” to their CTA which is great.

However, they still have the “sign up” as well, which I think is unnecessary. They already mention the newsletter in the text above, so there’s no reason to add it to the CTA button. They could just have written “Yes – I want to win” to have it be all about the chance of winning the gift certificate.

If you want to get even more tips and tricks to create the perfect CTA, you can check out this CTA guide.


  • Test which words are effective in your headline. They make a huge difference.
  • Focus on the value in your CTA. Connect it to your chosen word in your headline.
  • Make it simple and clear why they should sign up.


Your opt-in form should always include images. In our experience, forms with images convert 100% better than those without.

The reason images work so well is that we process images 60,000 times faster than we process text.

Let me tell you a story about Tom and Rosa…


Now, did I really need to say anything? No. The images told the whole story in a matter of seconds, whereas it would have taken you much longer if you had to read the story.

You have very little time to convince your visitors to join your competition and sign up for your newsletter. Thus, you should focus on adding a supporting image to your form instead of writing a novel about why people should sign up.

Your images have to be relevant to your message and support it. For instance, if you offer people a chance to win a pair of sneakers, your image should be of those sneakers. If you offer a gift certificate, you could add images of some of your products to exemplify what they could buy with that gift certificate.

You should also include your brand name somewhere on the form. This could be a small logo or you could incorporate it into the copy of your form.

The more people see your brand name or logo, the more likely they’ll be to think of your brand the next time they’re looking to buy something you sell.

Go viral!

To make the most of your competition, you should try to make it go viral. A viral competition will attract a much larger audience and increase your conversion rate significantly.

It’s not just up to you to make your competition go viral and it’s not an easy thing to do. It depends very much on what you offer in your competition and how well you distribute it, and what you do both during and after your competition.

First, you need to set specific goals for your competition. You can take a look at your social media accounts and see on which of these you have the largest following.

Then you know that this is where the majority of your audience is (besides your website) and you should put extra effort into trying to convert these people with your competition.

However, you shouldn’t forget about your other channels. If you want your competition to go viral, you need to distribute it through all your channels.

The next thing is to get people to share it. The more people who share your competition the more viral it will be.

You can tell people that by completing certain actions, they can earn additional entries. For instance, you can post your competition on Twitter, and tell people to invite their friends to join via a unique link.

Then they’ll get an extra entry for each of their friends who join. Here’s an example from Sleek Makeup.


Sleek Makeup wants to increase their Twitter following and uses a competition to do so. They tell people to follow and retweet this post to enter the competition.

This makes the competition reach a larger audience and increase the number of followers. As you can see the competition has been retweeted 1,800 times in just 13 hours.

There are countless examples of competitions on social media where brands tell people to “tag a friend who should have a chance to win too”, and then this friend will tag a new friend, and so on.

It starts a snowball effect which can make your competition go viral in minutes.

Even though they don’t collect email leads through this competition, it illustrates how you can get people to share your competition on social media.

You should also stay engaged with your audience throughout the length of the competition. Tell them what to do if they want additional entries, or tell them how much time is left of the competition.

You can even repost the competition with a new message such as “ Only 4 hours till the competition ends! Enter now if you want to win XX.”

Lastly, you can partner up with celebrities and influencers to help you distribute your competition and increase the chances of it going viral.

Depending on your business and what you offer in your competition, celebrities and influencers can be great endorsers for you. If you already have an established relationship with an influencer, you can easily reach out to them and ask if they want to help distribute your competition.

As mentioned earlier, the word “giveaway” is very effective when running a competition. You can also partner up with influencers to run a joint giveaway where your brand is mentioned multiple times.

This will not only increase your number of subscribers, but it’s also a great branding method to help increase your brand awareness.

Their involvement will act as a stamp of approval for people who might not know your business but know the influencer. The same goes for celebrities.

Many people look up to celebrities, especially in the fashion and sports industry. So if you run an ecommerce with football shoes, you could try to get a professional football player to distribute your competition.

Before you reach out to celebrities or influencers for help, you need to have engaged with them before. Not many celebrities or influencers will say yes unless they are familiar with your brand and you have engaged with them beforehand.


If you’re interested in establishing a relationship with an influencer or celebrity you can start out by following them on social media, and engage with their content.

We’ve had a chat with Ashley Zeckman who’s an expert on working with influencers. Here are the main points from the interview:

  • Find the right mix of influencers. They shouldn’t all be celebrities or all customers. Balance is vital.
  • It is a good idea to approach less known and up-and-coming influencers as they will make an extra effort in cooperating with you, and they will add more to your credibility than a famous influencer who promotes just about anything.
  • Stay in touch with your influencers after an ended project. You can ask them smaller questions, send them little things you know they like, or ask them for their opinion on certain topics to maintain the relationship.

How to

As I mentioned earlier, you should distribute your competition through various channels. In this chapter I’ll tell you how you create competitions on different sites and channels.

Your website

Whenever you host a competition it should always be included on your website. Your website has the most relevant pool of potential subscribers that you should always try to convert whether that be through a competition or other incentive.

Landing pages that include competitions collect 700% more email subscribers than the pages that don’t.

The best way to show your competition on your website and collect leads is through an opt-in form.

An opt-in form can be added to all your pages if you want to, and it will show to every single visitor you want to see it.

Here’s an example from Molo.


They’ve added a popup to their site to promote their competition and increase signups.

To add a form to your website you simply:

1. Create an account on Sleeknote.com


2. Create newsletter sleeknote with competition based on the above mentioned best practices.


3. Set a timed trigger (we recommend 7 seconds) and exclude existing newsletter subscribers.


4. Activate sleeknote.


Once you’ve created your first form, you can create a split test where you test different versions to see which performs best. This way, you’ll ensure that you always have your highest performing opt-ins on your site.

Convert abandoning visitors into subscribers and customers? Yes, it’s possible. Here’s how Livingshop (Ecommerce) collected 35,000 email subscribers. Learn more


Your Twitter page is a great place to share your competition. As of 2016, Twitter has 317 million monthly active users all waiting to enter your competition – or maybe not all 317 million, but let’s stay positive!

To create a competition on Twitter, you can create a Twitter lead gen card where people can sign up for your newsletter directly through Twitter.

I’ve already created a how to guide for Twitter lead gen card that you can check out here (the guide is at the bottom of the post).

Many businesses already use Twitter for competitions. They ask people to retweet and follow, but forget that Twitter can also be used for lead generation.

In the end, an email lead has much more value than a Twitter follower. And if your brand is already active on Twitter and provides value to people through your posts, followers will come automatically.

So when you put a lot of focus on creating a competition, you should use it to collect valuable email leads and increase revenue instead of getting more followers.

I would still recommend that you encourage people to retweet your competition as it will reach a much larger audience and get you more subscribers.


If you’re not already on Facebook it’s about time! Just to throw some more stats at you, Facebook has more than 1.79 billion monthly active users making it the most popular social media in the World.

With that many people, your competition is guaranteed to get you more signups. There are two ways in which you can collect leads through Facebook.

You can use Facebook lead ads, where you target ads towards specific user segments on Facebook.

When you create a Facebook lead ad with a competition, you should always remember that you get most leads when people have the possibility to sign up directly on Facebook without having to be redirected to your website.


If you want to ensure that everyone has the option to sign up for your competition and your newsletter, you should in addition to the lead ad, post the competition on your Facebook page.

Tell people that in order to enter the competition, they should click the link to your website where they will end on a landing page with a simple signup form.

This landing page should include nothing but your signup form and a link they can use to share the competition. Remove your top or side menu, so they don’t have the option to do anything but sign up.

Some people will get confused if there are multiple options, and they will end up closing the browser window because they don’t know what to do.

Right below the form you can write that if they share the competition via this unique link, they can get an extra entry in the competition. This way, you’ll get even more people to see your competition and potentially sign up.

In store

Creating a competition in store is super simple, even though there are many ways to do it. You can create a competition where you offer visitors a chance to win a gift certificate for your store if they sign up for your newsletter.

Getting people to sign up for your newsletter in your store is easier than doing it online because you can convince people to sign up face to face.

However, your online efforts will reach a much larger audience, so I would always recommend that you combine both online and offline competitions.

Tell people that you’ll both draw an online winner and an offline winner (or as many winners as you’d like).


Have a jar on your store counter with a sign that says “Want to win a $150 gift certificate? Sign up for awesome insights, new trends, and great offers, and enter the competition.” Then you just have a stack of small notes where people give you their name and email address and throw it in the jar.

You can read much more about offline list building right here.

It’s important that you let them know that you will notify the winner by email. This does not only count for offline competitions but also all your online competitions. That way you ensure that you don’t receive a lot of fake email addresses.

Want to get started right away?

We’ve boiled this post into a simple to-do list including how-to guides for running an email marketing contest so you can get started immediately.

Free Downloadable Bonus: Download your to-do list now and create your most effective competition to date.

Wrap up

Creating competitions might take some time and resources but when done right you’ll end up with an email list bursting with new leads and potential customers.

Your prize doesn’t have to be incredibly expensive, it just has to have value to your audience. And then it’s all about how you “sell” it.

Use visual aids, compelling copywriting, and influencers or celebrities to maximize conversion on your competitions.

There’s not much to say other than… Go start a viral competition and watch how your email list grows with every minute.

Rikke Thomsen
Rikke is Head of Email Marketing here at Sleeknote. Her expertise lies within copywriting, content marketing, and email marketing. When she’s not busy wearing down the keys on her keyboard, she loves getting creative in the kitchen, binging on Netflix series, and skiing in the Alps.

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