You’ve Grown Your Email List With a Contest. Now What?

Mike Arsenault
July 21, 2021
minute read

Contests and giveaways are good ways to grow your email list. Contests incentivize a lot of customers to subscribe to your email list for the cost of a few prizes. And you can run contests in conjunction with other brands.

If you have the resources to run a contest to grow your email list, you should.

However, do you know what to do with the emails you collected through the contest?

Customers who signed up to be part of a giveaway didn’t have the same motivation to subscribe to your list as a customer who signed up through an email capture form on your website. So your contest subscribers may not want to immediately start getting your newsletter and regular marketing emails.

Which leaves you with the question of how to best engage your new subscribers.

Also, there are a few email deliverability pitfalls to avoid when you rapidly build a new email list.

In short, utilizing emails that you’ve collected through a contest must be handled with care.

This post will help you maximize the value of your newly grown email list and avoid some common mistakes that companies make when they run contests to grow their email lists.

Why you need to be careful with contest email lists

When the contest first wraps up, you’ll have this whole list of shiny new email addresses. And it’s only natural that you’d be eager to start sending emails.

But sending email blasts to a whole list of brand new email addresses comes with some deliverability hurdles. If you’re not careful, you could damage your domain reputation badly enough that it negatively impacts your other marketing campaigns.

Here’s why you should avoid sending a mass email broadcast to a new list that you build using a contest:

  • The list hasn’t been quality controlled.

It’s very common for people to use bots to sign up for email contests to maximize the chances of winning. Sending marketing emails to bot email addresses is bad for deliverability. And if you send enough emails to bots, it can damage your email sender reputation.

So you need to clean contest email lists before you use them.

  • You haven’t built a relationship with these new subscribers.

One of the difficult things about using contests to collect email addresses is that most of the participants will lose the contest. And people will often forget who was running the contest.

Or, if you ran the contest in cooperation with another brand, new subscribers may not realize that they signed up for your email list, because they entered the contest on the other company’s website.

In short, new subscribers on contest email lists are more likely not to recognize your brand. That means they’re more likely to immediately unsubscribe or even mark your emails as spam, both of which are bad for your sender reputation and email deliverability.

  • Insensitive messaging in emails.

As we just mentioned, almost all of the new subscribers from your email contest are contest losers. Immediately sending a newsletter or marketing email is a bit insensitive to the fact that these subscribers just lost a contest.

It may not seem like a big deal—after all, it’s just a contest. But put yourself on the other end.

A marketing email after losing a contest sounds like, “Ah, you lost. Better luck next time! Want to buy some stuff?”

It’s not a good look. And people are more likely to unsubscribe or mark your emails as spam if you’re not mindful of the position they’re in.

As you can see, the thing that’s most at stake here is your email reputation. And that’s a pretty big deal. It’s very difficult to repair your sender reputation once you’ve damaged it.

But the profitability of this new email list is also at stake.

How to make the most (money) from your contest email lists

Here’s what to do—and what order to do things in—to protect your sender reputation and ensure that you make money from running your email contest.

Step One: Clean your contest email list

We already covered that email contests are notorious for receiving bot submissions to game the system. So you need to get rid of those bad email addresses before you start using your new list.

Fortunately, cleaning email lists is pretty simple.

These are a few email validation services that remove known spam traps, invalid email addresses, catchall email addresses, and other unusable email addresses from your list:

Step Two: Segment your contest email list

This step is technically optional. But it’s still a good idea.

However, segmenting your email list is an especially good idea if the list is very large in comparison to the number of emails on your current email lists. Here’s what we mean:

If your existing email list has 100,000 emails on it, adding another 5,000 emails won’t have much effect on your sender reputation. Therefore, the potential impact to your overall email channel is low.

However, if you have 5,000 emails on your current list, adding another 100,000 emails could devastate your sender reputation if you start getting a lot of spam complaints and unsubscribes. In that case, your overall email revenue could flatline if all your marketing emails start going into the spam folder.

So, again, this step is technically optional. But you should weigh the risks of broadcasting to the entire list without segmentation.

Here’s how to segment your list to protect your email reputation:

Select a small portion of the list that represents the whole list in terms of email service providers (Gmail, Yahoo!, Microsoft email, etc.). This portion can be about a quarter of the total list.

Send your contest follow-up email to this small portion of the list and check the engagement, spam complaint rate, unsubscribe rate, etc. before you send your email to the entire list (this is also known as seed list testing).

That way, if there is an issue with your follow up email, it won’t have a huge impact on your sender reputation. And you can make changes and correct the issue before sending to the entire list.

Step Three: Send a contest follow-up email

Notice that this is a follow-up email, not a marketing email. This email helps establish a relationship with new subscribers before you start sending them regular emails.

These are the elements that your contest follow-up email needs to have:

  • Co-branding for any other participating brands

It’s incredibly important that new subscribers understand that they’re receiving this email because they signed up for a contest.

So include logos from all the brands that cooperated to put on the contest. That way the subscriber knows which contest your email is associated with, regardless of who’s website they used to sign up for the contest.

It’s also good practice to give all your partner brands credit where credit is due.

  • Messaging to remind them of the contest they signed up for

The brand logos alone may not be enough. So include some copy to remind new subscribers which contest they signed up for and be honest about how you got their email address.

If they signed up for the contest through one of your partner brands, let them know that you got their email address through your partnership with that brand.

  • Coupon or offer to thank them for participating

This is optional. But it’s a nice gesture to console those who didn’t win. And it’s a good way to entice people to click-through to your website and see what they might buy with their complimentary discount.

Kind gestures go a long way in generating sales. So it’s a good idea to take advantage of this opportunity to make a kind gesture.

  • A call-to-action to subscribe to your email list

This might seem counterintuitive. Didn’t they subscribe to your email list when they signed up for the contest?

Not exactly. In the customer’s mind, they signed up for the contest. But they didn’t ask for any marketing emails.

So it’s important that you use your contest follow-up email to entice contest participants to opt-in to further emails.

This will reduce your spam complaint rate and unsubscribe rate. It also ensures that you only have engaged subscribers on your email lists.

Remember, this is a call-to-action. Use some copywriting to highlight the benefits of subscribing to your email list: offers, exclusive access to product launches, subscriber content, and any other goodies that you send to your subscribers.

Ideally, clicking the CTA button should be all new subscribers need to do. Let them know that you’ll handle everything else.

A quality email service provider like Rejoiner will have tools to help you start collecting behavioral data and send the most relevant emails to new subscribers.

  • A clear statement that if the contest participant doesn’t opt-in, they won’t get any more emails

Again, this might seem counterintuitive.

But, if somebody doesn’t want emails from you, you don’t want to send emails to them.

You only want engaged subscribers on your list. Inactive subscribers just ignore your emails. Or, at worst, they mark them as spam without even unsubscribing.

Having a large email address for the sake of having a large email address is a vanity metric. And a large list of disengaged subscribers drives your email ROI down.

So leave people alone if they don’t want to hear from you.

That’s a lot to think about. Here’s an excellent contest follow-up email from Big Chill Appliances and Caulipower that includes all these elements to help you visualize how your contest email might look:

Once you’ve sent your contest follow-up email, you can add the subscribers that opted-in to your email lists. Then you can start sending them lifecycle marketing emails.

It might seem like a lot of work to run a contest when not all of the contest entrants will become true email subscribers. But not everyone who signs up for a contest is a good fit to be on your email list, anyway.

Leaving people off your list if they don’t want your emails really is the most profitable way to grow your email list with contests.

If you send a great contest follow-up email, you’ll get the most new subscribers from your contests. And those new subscribers will be most likely to turn into long-term customers.

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Mike Arsenault

Founder & CEO

For the last 10 years, Mike has worked with brands like Moosejaw, Hydroflask, Peak Design, Triumph, Hearst & Guthy Renker to provide the strategy & technology with which they use email to drive revenue growth. He's also the Founder of Rejoiner, a SaaS marketing platform built for ecommerce businesses.

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