KickoffLabs Blog:

How to Run a Contest that Grows Your Email List

By Josh Ledgard

Dec 6th, 2016


Everyone says it: the money’s in the list. If you really, truly want to build your business in the 21st century, you’ve got to create and maintain an active email list.

That’s because having an email list of engaged subscribers allows you to nurture leads into customers and turn customers into rockstar referrers.

It’s permission-based marketing at its finest: People sign up to get relevant, exclusive news (and especially coupons) from you. You get their attention and a chance to market your product. Everyone gets something out of the deal.

But you’re not here for me to share with you the virtues of building an email list, right? You already know all that. What you need to know is how to build one quickly and efficiently. I’ve got you covered. My answer is “run a contest”.

Contest marketing is an incredibly easy and effective way to grow your list with warm, relevant… Click To Tweet

If you’ve never thought of running a contest before or you have but think that it’s too hard to conceive and manage, you’ll be happy to know this: Contest marketing is an incredibly easy and effective way to grow your list with warm, relevant leads. Let’s talk about the whys and hows now.

Here’s a list of emails to send when running your list building contest.

Why Run a Contest?

Everyone wants to be a winner. There’s something within human nature that makes us crave winning, or even the splendid idea of winning. From scratch off tickets, restaurant raffles, jackpot lotteries, spelling bees, to pie prizes at the state fair– every one of us has participated in at least some type of contest or sweepstakes, even if the odds of winning were astronomically low.

Some of us gave a business card, some of us gave a dollar, and some of us spent our entire childhoods studying dictionaries and Greek root words only to place first runner up. But all of us have participated.


Image Courtesy of Giphy

When you run a contest, you trigger that incessant need within your audience to win. And if you keep the barrier to entry low, you’ll be able to build your email list in no time.

Contests are a great way to create word-of-mouth marketing. These days, enthusiastic, social media-fluent individuals do most of the hard work for you. You’ll set up the contest (and a minimal marketing strategy) and watch it gain momentum. I love contests as a tool for advertising your brand or services while also exciting people to action.

I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t this kinda scammy? Don’t people just sign up for contests only to win the prize, and once the contest is over, they’ll unsubscribe?

No and no. It’s not scammy because you’re being completely upfront. You’re giving them the option to sign up for your email list. You’re also implementing a double opt-in so that the new subscriber knows what they’ve signed up for.

Also, the people attracted to your contest are the very same people you’re trying to attract as customers. For reasons we’ll discuss later on this post, these new subscribers happen to be people who are actually interested in what you offer. If you create a strong email marketing campaign to keep them hooked, they won’t go anywhere after the contest is over.

Contests incentivize immediate action. There’s a sense of urgency (sprinkled with fear of missing out) that proves irresistible to the average audience member. This is especially true if you make your contest easy to enter.

What Type of Contest to Run

So, the next obvious question you’ve got to ask and answer is, What type of contest should you run?

Before we get into that, let’s take a moment and discuss the difference between contests and sweepstakes. We often use them interchangeably, but allow me to clearly define the two in this post so we’re all the same page.


In a contest, a winner is chosen by a judge or panel of judges based on a skill.


In a sweepstakes, the winner is chosen at random. Here’s an excellent resource for learning more about sweepstakes.

And finally, there’s lottery, which is when participants must pay for entry. Running a lottery is highly regulated, and you can get into hot water if you do it incorrectly. Because it can easily veer into “illegal” territory, we’re steering clear of lotteries.


Image Courtesy of Imgur

For now, we’re focusing on how to create a contest. But keep in mind that you can absolutely run a successful sweepstakes, and build your email list that way. In fact, you can apply most of what we’ll discuss in this post to sweepstakes giveaways, too.

Now, back to the question of what type of contest to run. Here are a few ideas to get the wheels turning:

Photo Contest – Participants post a photo enter

Video Contest – Participants submit a video

Essay Contest – Participants pen an essay to compete

Caption Contest – Participants must write a caption and the one with the most votes wins

Have a Specific Goal

Obviously, your goal is to grow your email list– but by how many? 50, 500, 5000? What would success look like for you? Be realistic based on your current email subscriber base, the length of your contest, and your willingness to hustle.

The reason I recommend assigning a number here is so that you can have a defined target and celebrate when you hit that target.

What Type of Prize to Give Away

Don’t just be specific about your goals. You also need to be specific with the type of people you hope to attract with your contest.

Repeat after me: I will not give away a free iPad or a trip to Cancun.

Here’s why: these high value but hopelessly generic prizes appeal to way too many folks. Sure, you’ll attract people who will be your customers, but you’ll also attract people who haven’t even stopped to notice your business name.


Image Courtesy of Reaction Gifs

To remedy this, give away your service or product as the prize. Not everyone will want it, and that’s the beauty of it. Only those who truly need your service/ product will enter.

How Long to Run the Contest

There’s no one size fits all answer here. However, when the goal is to build your email list, I recommend running short and quick contests. Consider running a contest each month.

How to Set Up the Contest

First things first, you’ll need to set up a landing page for your contest. You need a landing page to send interested visitors to, so you can inform about your contest.

On your landing page, include the following:

  • An attention-grabbing headline (I recommend leading with the benefits.)
    • A photo of the prize

    • Information about the prize

    • Information about the contest

    • Entry form

    • Social media share options

    Use KickoffLabs to create a contest for free. We offer feature-rich contest marketing tools that you can try for free now. Start free now.

    How to Promote Your Contest

    Now, let’s dive into promoting your contest. There are a lot of great ways to market your contest. We also go into 12 No Brainer Ways to Promote Your Contest here, so be sure to check that out.

    On your website

    Be sure to actively promote your contest on your website. Pop-ups are a great way to engage site visitors.

    Also, I recommend writing a blog post on your contest to capture search engine traffic.

    On social media

    Don’t forget to use your social media channels to get the word out about your contest. By the way, don’t make these social media mistakes.

    On other websites

    Write a guest post on someone else’s blog. This will increase your exposure. Here’s more information about guest posts.

    Through paid social media

    Use paid ads on social media to target specific groups. Here’s how to get started with paid ads on Facebook.

    Through influencer marketing

    Get the word out with the help of influencers to spread your message. Here’s how to get started with influencer marketing.

    Additional Resources

    Before you go, here are a few additional resources to check out:

  • Step-by-Step Guide on How To Run Successful Contests
  • How to Grow Your Email List With Mini-Contests
  • 7 Essential Ingredients For Making Your Contests Go Viral
  • Don’t forget to download this list of emails to send when running a list building contest.

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