How to Choose the Right Prize for Your Contest or Sweepstakes


Why do people register for contests?

Unless they really like filling out registration forms, the motivation, as you might have guessed, is the grand prize.

I see you rolling your eyes at the screen. I know it seems obvious. But it is important to note.

Choosing the right prizing is one of the most important decisions you’ll make during the planning process for contest or sweepstakes promotions.

It’s easy to say “let’s give away a trip” or “$5000” or (worst of all) “a free iPad.”  But unless those prizes are aligned with your brand and target audience, they aren’t going to drive real results.

Choosing prizing has to be a strategic decision.

After all, you don’t want just anyone registering for your contest or sweepstakes. You want people that you can market to after your promotion ends. People that are interested in your products or services. People that are qualified leads.

And that requires strategic prizing aligned with your brand and target audience.

Here are three steps to help you choose more strategic prizes for your next contest or sweepstakes promotion.

Step One: Identify Your Target Audience

To attract the right people to your promotion, you need to understand who exactly you are targeting. That requires doing some research to understand your customer.

Here are some key qualities to be on the lookout for:


Look at basic information like their age, gender, and marital status. While this info is very general, it helps you begin to narrow down ideas. Just make sure you look at other information about them (like their location and interests), otherwise you risk choosing prizes based on stereotypes and not actual data.


This may not seem that important, especially when you’re targeting consumers country wide, but keep in mind consumers who live in specific areas are going to find different things appealing.

For example, an all inclusive vacation to the Caribbean is going to be more appealing to customers who live somewhere cold during the winter than customers who live in areas that are warm all year round.

Interests and Hobbies

This is probably one of the most important aspects of understanding your target audience. Their interest and hobbies are the things that directly appeal to them and you can use this data to look for overlap with your own offering.

Again, make sure you base this off of actual data and not generalizations, otherwise you risk alienating your customers, showing them you don’t really understand them at all.

Step Two: Brainstorm Prize Ideas

Now that you have an idea of your target audience it’s time to brainstorm prize ideas. You want to be strategic about this: offering too general a prize can result in high registration rates, but ultimately leave you with a list of prize hunters not qualified leads.

Your prizing should be appealing to your target audience (based off what you know about their interests, demographic, and location) and relate to your products and brand. This way you can appeal to your current customers and bring in new consumers who might find your products interesting.

Things to Consider:

  1. What are key characteristics and interests of my target customer?

  2. How do those overlap with my brand and product offering?

  3. What would be appealing to my target customer AND relate to my brand?


Example: Barb’s Beauty Bar

For example, say a beauty company called Barb’s Beauty Bar wants to run a contest to drive loyalty membership. They sell organic, cruelty free beauty products to trendy 15-30 year old women in North America.

A Good Prize Example: Barb’s Beauty Bar decides to offer a Trip to NY Fashion Week as a prize in their next promotion.

Not-As-Good Prize Example: Barb’s Beauty Bar decides to offer a trip to Paris as a prize in their next promotion.

While a trip to Paris is definitely an appealing prize, it doesn’t have anything to do with what Barb’s Beauty Bar sells. It’s likely to attract people who want to go to Paris, but not necessarily people who are interested in their products.

The Trip to NY Fashion Week is a better prize because it’s something that Barb’s Beauty Bar’s current customers (trendy 15-30 year old women) will want. And it will generate qualified leads from other consumers who sign up to win. After all, if they want to go to NY Fashion Week, they are definitely interested in fashion and would likely be interested in Barb’s Beauty Bar’s fashion focused products.

Step Three: Refine Options

Now that you have a list of strategic prize options, it’s time to narrow down your list of prize ideas.

The refinement stage is where you start to think about value. Your grand prize needs to worth the amount of effort to engage with your contest.

No one is going to fill out a form for the chance to win a $10 gift card. Customers may want the gift card. But they aren’t willing to do much to get it.

Instant win prizes on the other hand can have less value. It’s the potential and immediacy of winning that is appealing. So decide if your prize idea would be better suited to a instant win prize (less value, but could be immediately available) or a grand prize (high value, but awarded later).  

This is also when you need to consider the reality of budget. Can you afford to offer that prize? If your budget is tight, look for opportunities to work with a Prize Partner. They can be a great way to reduce the cost of prizing and cross promote your contest.


  1. Is my prize valuable enough to drive registrations?

  2. OR is it appealing enough to drive repetitive engagement?

  3. Can I afford to offer it OR is there an opportunity to work with a prize partner?


The Bottom Line

Because your prizing is what motivates consumers to register for your promotion, it can have significant impact on your ROI. The best prizes are both:

  1. Appealing to your consumers and make engaging worth their time (ie not a $10 gift card)

  2. Related to your business and attract the type of consumers you want to target

It’s time to let those “free iPad” contests die.  Choose strategic prizes and attract qualified leads with your contest or sweepstakes.