Emergency Surgery: What to Do When Your Promotion Isn’t Working

Posted in: Digital marketingLast update: 24/08/22

Online competitions and promotions are an ideal way to develop relationships with your audience. You can use them to grow your social media profiles, your email list, or get more traffic to your website. All of these things will ultimately place you in a prime position to generate higher profits.

That is, if the competition works out…

Unfortunately, not all competitions and promotions are successful. There is any number of reasons why a contest might fail. It could be the result of poor planning, an uninspiring prize, or maybe it’s a factor that’s completely out of your control. With that said, if your competition is still live there is time to turn things around. Let me show you how.

Focus on What Went Wrong

The first step in turning your competition around is identifying what is going wrong. In the heat of the moment, it’s all too easy to skip the analysis and rush towards an inappropriate solution that just makes matters worse. Instead of rushing about you need to calm down and analyze the problem.

Luckily, even though there are numerous factors that can impact a competition, most problems can be broken down into three overarching categories. Follow the steps below to analyze your competition.

Step One – Review The Competition Funnel

You should start your analysis by answering a very simple, and rather obvious question:

How many people have visited the competition page?

If your competition is failing and you are not getting traffic to your marketing funnel you have a problem with your marketing. If, on the other hand, you are getting lots of visitors to your landing page but they are not converting you have an issue with the conversion rate on your funnel.

It could be that you actually have both of these problems. I hope this is not the case. For the moment, I’m going to work on the assumption that you are getting a decent volume of traffic to your competition page.

There are a couple of ways you can optimize a funnel for conversions:

  1. Experience the funnel for yourself. By going through the funnel you can see what a participant would experience and hopefully identify and solve the problem. The issue with this approach is that you were probably so involved in creating the funnel it’s hard to see the wood from the trees.
  2. Ask someone who fits the demographic you are targeting to join the competition and watch what happens over their shoulder. This will help you identify pain points. However, people don’t act naturally when they are being watched so be aware this might skew your results.
  3. Setup funnel visualization tools so you can track what actual participants of the competition are doing. You can use heatmap tools or even Google Analytics to do this. Unfortunately setting up tracking takes time and if your competition doesn’t have many contestants your insights will be based on limited data.

Now you’ve probably gathered from what I’ve shared that while each of these approaches will provide you with insights, they do have limitations. This is why you should, if possible, use a combination of your own insight, with information gained from third parties and actual participants using tools like Google Analytics.

Funnel visualization is a great way to show where along a funnel you’re losing most visitors. There are lots of tools for funnel visualization and you can even use Google Analytics for it. The resulting report gives you a great visual indicator of where visitors drop out of your funnel.

Funnel visualization in flow chart form. The top level of the chart shows 44,850 landing page visitors. 2721 visitors proceed to product details, accept terms and conditions, and complete their conversion.

You can imagine how you could combine the insights gained from this type of report with the information provided by a third party to discover that the copy on your competition page is rather boring. On the other hand, you could combine a funnel visualization with heatmap data to discover a user experience issue on the page.

The trick here is to try and get as much information as possible before you draw a conclusion.

Following on from what I mentioned earlier, if you ask someone to join your competition and look over their shoulder, don’t tell them at the outset that you’re looking for feedback on problems. Telling a person that there are issues will put them on the lookout for them. For exactly the same reason you should avoid asking leading questions.

Step Two – Assess Your Prize

A lot of the time the reason a competition fails is the prize. For example, if I told you now all you had to do to get the chance of winning a Ferrari is give me your email address and share the competition on Twitter you’d fight through the boring copy and poor user experience to achieve the task.

That’s because I created desire.

The problem you’re having with your competition might be very simple indeed. It could boil down to just one thing; the prize you’re offering. The question you need to ask yourself is whether that prize is desirable enough.

Taking a step back and thinking about what online contests are all about is helpful here. As a business you want potential customers to follow you on social media or to sign up to an email list. If they do so, it gives you more ways to reach them and convert them into actual customers. People, in general, aren’t interested in opening themselves to more marketing from a firm.

The prize, then, is key.

It has to be desirable enough to motivate people to give you what you want. Moreover, it needs to appeal specifically to your target audience. It also needs to fit with the channel you’re using for your competition. Some prizes work better for some platforms than others.

Screenshots from an Easypromos promotion, advertizing a holiday experience in Sri Lanka.
An example of what works. The most popular promo on the Easypromos website

It’s worth trying to make your prize as unique and brand-specific as possible. People are more likely to be interested in a prize they’ve never seen before, than something run of the mill.

Keep in mind that you really want more than one prize. The more prizes you can offer the more engaged each contestant is going to be. For example, if you have a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prize there are three positions to fight over.

Positions 1-4 are likely to contest first place. Meanwhile positions 3-7 will likely contest third place.

In addition to this, it’s worth having a prize in place that everyone can access if they perform a certain number of tasks. For example, you could provide a prize to anyone who refers 50 new entrants to the competition. What you are looking to do is create a competition that engages as many people as possible.

Step Three – Evaluating Your Marketing Material

So you’ve now looked at two of the main elements of your promotion. Now it’s time to review your marketing material. This is the most important thing, well maybe the second most important thing to focus on if you’re not getting enough traffic to your funnel.

The starting point of your analysis is a review of the marketing channels you are using to promote the contest. You’ll want to assess the ROI you’re getting from each channel you have used.

This means analyzing what you’ve spent on the campaign against the results it’s delivered via each channel. Such an assessment could reap significant rewards. A channel you’ve invested in heavily might be delivering very little. One which you used but didn’t put much finance behind, meanwhile, may be proving more successful.

The other thing to look at is the copy used in the marketing materials. When thinking about how you might improve that copy, there are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Does it grab the attention?
  • Is it pitched correctly for your target audience?
  • Are you ‘selling’ the prize as well as you can?
  • Does it create a sense of urgency?

If your answer to any of those questions is ‘no’, you should think about tweaking your copy to make it more impactful. If and when you have, you’re ready to move forward to the next stage of our process. Putting the information you’ve discovered to work, to turn your promotion into a success.

How to Turn Around a Failing Competition

Now that you’ve put your promotion under a microscope, you should have identified where your problems lie. Once you have addressed these issues it’s time to focus on making your competition a success. This is not quite the same as launching a competition for the first time, but there are quite a few similarities.

Step One – Leverage Current Participants

If you have made updates to the prize or made changes to the scope of the competition, you need to contact your existing contestants. Messaging them is a chance to share the news about the changes you made, but also an opportunity to reinvigorate your promotion.

Make sure that the message you share clearly explains the changes you’ve made that they are going to care about. To achieve this you’ll need to create some targeted messages.

For example, if you’re running a leaderboard or points based competition, tell the top 20 people about the new prizes on offer for the winner. Then send a message to everyone else emphasizing the fact they could win a prize for sending a certain number of referrals to the competition and subsequently tell them about the new top prizes.

Ensuring that the messaging is relevant will increase the chance of people reacting to your message.

A great way to incentivize people to engage in taking the actions you want people to take a part of the contest. For example, participants who share certain updates about the contest can be given extra points. That will help them move up the league.

Step Two – Target The Best Channels

After connecting with your most engaged audience you need to generate more traffic to your competition page. You should focus on the marketing channels that you identified which had the highest ROI.

Screenshot of an analysis of different promotions' success on social media.

One method of leveraging a specific channel is to reach out to an influencer who’s active on that channel. If they’re relevant to your business’s niche, all the better. If you already have a relationship with such an influencer, this could offer a quick and notable win. Keep in mind this strategy is unlikely to get many replies from people you are contacting for the first time.

There are two ways that you can overcome this:

  1. Offer to pay them or give them a gift in exchange for their support
  2. Contact LOTS of people knowing that a few of them will help you

Time constraints are a significant limitation with this strategy. Agreeing on a partnership with an influencer can take time. It’s still an avenue worth exploring.

Step Three – Allocate More Budget

Paid advertising is one of the quickest ways to reach a large audience. If you have the budget this will probably be the best way to get your competition going, or at the very least test if the changes you made had any impact.

When running paid advertising it is important to do it in a sensible and controlled way. Don’t view plunging more money into a campaign as a silver bullet. Up your budget in increments and test whether doing so delivers the results you want.

If the conversions are there to make it worthwhile, you can continue to scale your budget. It should also create the all-important organic momentum to get your competition going.

You’ll also want to incorporate retargeting campaigns into your budget. This will help remind people to share the content so they can get rewards or better prizes. Just like your messaging, the more targeted your PPC ads are the more likely you are to get a positive result.

Step Four – End Strong

The most important parts of any contest or promotion are the beginning and the end. Just because your beginning didn’t go to plan, doesn’t mean you can’t finish strong. As your competition is drawing to a close, you need to give it even more time and attention.

You should put the most emphasis on the closing day of your competition. This is an opportunity for you to create a sense of urgency that can work wonders in getting people involved (especially if there is a fight over places on the leaderboard).

As a contest’s final day progresses, keep posting, telling people how far away the end of the competition is. You might start by saying they have 24 hours left to enter. Then update your post and say it’s 18 and then 12 and so on. As the end of your competition approaches, the gaps between your posts can narrow to increase the tension. You can use this approach across email and social media.


It’s an unfortunate fact that things can go wrong when you run a promotion. If they do, you’re the only person in a position to turn it around. Nobody else is going to ride in on a white horse and fix things for you. Rather than be dispirited when the competition you are running doesn’t start as you hoped, try to view it as an opportunity.

With that attitude and by following our simple steps, you can turn a failing contest into a real winner. What’s more, the experience of troubleshooting and turning the promotion around will help you in the future. It will provide you with the know how to improve the outcome of future competitions.

Nick Brown

Co-founder of Accelerate Agency, a SEO agency based in Bristol. He has over 12 years of experience and a successful career in digital marketing. He is the founder and CEO of Accelerate Agency, which works with large companies advising them on SEO, CRO, and content marketing.

Publication date: 2019-07-16