More and more companies are turning to their customers and others to help with their marketing messages. One of the more recently popular vehicles is to hold a contest for the best commercial. Doritos has successfully held a contest for the past several Super Bowls. Other consumer-based (B2C) examples include contests from Heinz Ketchup, Dibbs ice cream, Klondike bars and Brighter Planet.
Using customers and others to help with marketing efforts is an example of crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing is a term first coined by Jeff Howe in 2006 in a Wired magazine article. The Wikipedia link for crowdsourcing lists many examples of how organizations are using this new technique for their benefit.
However, not many companies have tried commercial contests in the B2B space. In my former job, one of my projects was to develop and manage a B2B user-generated commercial contest for a software company and I wanted to share some of the tips and tricks I learned along the way.
My Contest Background – The contest I ran was for a company called iRise where I was Senior Manager of Strategic Projects. iRise is an LA-based software company that sells a rapid prototyping/visualization solution for companies who want to accelerate their software development process. In March 2008, Mitch Bishop, the CMO, came up with the idea of hosting a video contest to stoke the creativity of our user base and drive awareness and demand for our product, and I was assigned to develop and manage the project. The only guidelines that I was given were that the prize total should be $20,000 and that the contest should be over by the end of the second quarter. So, I had 3 weeks to research and develop the project before launching in early April.
The bottom line is that running a commercial contest involves many different skill sets including “sales”, social media marketing, guerilla and viral marketing, writing, business development, technical web development, market research, marketing analysis and project management. These skills could be wrapped up in one person or spread across a team. In my case, I performed all of the skills except for the technical website development.
Developing the Rules – I started out by research user-generated contests and checked out many different options. There are companies that will actually host contests for you (like Votigo, memelabs and online video contests ), but I didn’t want to lose control and didn’t have the budget to do. I ultimately patterned most of our contest process and rules after the Heinz commercial contest mentioned above.
Our contest was based on two phases. In the first phase, people would upload their 30-60 second video to YouTube, register for an account on the video contest website and then submit the YouTube URL to us. An internal committee would then review the submitted entries and select 10 semi-finalist videos for phase 2. The criteria for selecting the semi-finalists would be based on:
- #1) Originality (40%)
- (#2) Overall appeal (30%)
- (#3) Likelihood to motivate people to buy or try iRise (30%)
In the second phase which lasted 2 weeks, public voting would determine the final winners. People were allowed to vote for one video during each 24-hour period and the video with the most votes would win the overall prize.
Creating the Website – The key with setting up the website is to have a very talented web jockey and your own URL. For the iRise contest, we set up a URL for the “Visualize the Prize” contest at http://irisevideo.com/ and I was very fortunate to have the iRise Webmaster Ray Walker as a resource. Ray likes to experiment and he came up with some very clever ways to run the site and voting using off-the-shelf open source tools. While Ray could set up the website infrastructure, there was still a lot of content to develop for the site. Ray even wrote a Facebook application to display the final 15 video entries from within Facebook.
iRise Visualize the Prize Contest
Getting the Word Out – I spent the better part of the first week promoting the contest in as many outlets as possible. I joined a number of Yahoo Groups, Facebook Film and Video groups, and other online forums and groups so I could post messages in different forums. I didn’t keep count, but I probably posted in at least 100 forums or groups and re-visited some of the sites to post reminders. I also bought ads on Facebook targeted at people with film and video interests and set up ads on Google. I tried contacting the top film schools to announce the contest to starving film students, but didn’t have much success with that path. Since I wasn’t sure which of my guerilla marketing efforts would pay off, it seemed like I was just praying and spraying – but in the end, it all worked out for us.
In addition to the guerilla marketing, we issued a press release on the contest and I wrote a couple of blog entries on the iRise corporate blog and for the Catalyze community. I posted a link to the post on Twitter and several of my Twitter contacts spread the links and wrote their own blog posts. I was also frequently blogging on the video contest site in order to keep the content fresh.
Waiting for Entries – The most frustrating part was waiting for entries to get submitted. The contest was launched on April 10th with a submission deadline of June 4th. I knew we wouldn’t get any entries for the first couple of weeks, so all I could do was to track traffic on the contest website and post blog entries discussing the contest. I also created and uploaded 2 videos of my own to “prime the pump”. We were averaging 50-75 visits per day, so I knew we were getting some attention. Our first contest entry came in with 4 weeks left in the contest and with 3 weeks left, we had just 3 rather mediocre entries. The big flood of entries started arriving with 5 days before the end of the contest and we ended up with 44 total entries. I liken the final influx of entries to an eBay auction – all of the action is going to come in the last few days, so just stay calm and let the process take care of itself.
Judging and Selecting the Winners – Our contest rules were set up that an internal committee from iRise would select the top 10 videos from all of the entries and then let public voting decide the overall winners. We set up the voting so people could only vote once per day. We ultimately selected 15 videos for the last phase of the contest.
The Results – Overall, the contest was a brand awareness success and the jury is still out on whether iRise will be able to attribute any revenue to the contest. During the contest, we had over 16,000 visitors to the contest website who looked at 57,000 pages and the videos received more than 30,000 views on YouTube. Most of the submitted videos were not from iRise customers or partners, but we did have a handful of videos submitted from ‘friends of iRise’. The majority of the entries were submitted by people who first had to figure out the iRise product and message, and come up with an idea for a 30-second spot.
The contest also generated a bunch of residual content on the contest website and on YouTube. Longer term, success should be measured by actual sales which could take several quarters or more to play out. It also remains to be seen how iRise can leverage the video content in the future.
And here is the winning video:
Keys to Success – I believe that there were 3 keys to our success.
Obviously, the first key was that we set the contest prizes at a high enough level to garner interest. The first prize of $15,000 was enticing enough to induce some people with professional expertise to submit entries. In fact, we had trouble selecting the top 10 videos for the final voting and decided to expand the final voting to 15 entries. I think we may have overpaid in that we probably could have gotten away with prizes of $6,000, $3,000 and $1,000 – and would have gotten the same number of quality entries. Besides the top 3 prizes, we also passed out $100 Amazon gift certificates to the 12 entries that didn’t take home any of the cash rewards which hopefully took some of the sting out of not winning.
The second key was to have a great website that allowed us to showcase each of the video submissions and to capture the final voting.
Thirdly, our guerilla marketing efforts got the word out to enough people who were interested in submitting their work.
Overall, I had a great time and learned a lot about running video contests. Feel free to drop me a line if you have any other questions or add a comment below with your own experiences.