How to Design Promotions That Change Consumer Behaviour


Running a sales promotion is a tried and true sale-boosting strategy — especially around the holidays. And a sweepstakes or contest is a classic.

But sometimes in the crunch before the holidays, we can end up running a promotion just to have one in-market.

Which is probably why I see so many enter-to-win contests & sweepstakes every year, even though they can’t be driving that great of a return for marketers.

Enter-to-wins are fine if you only want to increase brand awareness.

But great sales promotions do more. They actively prompt consumers to take an action (like, buy a product).

And combining brand awareness campaigns with promotions that prompt action not only improves the efficacy of your brand awareness campaign — it ties your promotion to a measurable ROI. 

Awareness vs Action

Campaigns that prompt action typically do it by offering a reward or incentive to act. The strategy we use here at Launchfire is typically called “game-based marketing” — a type of sales promotion strategy that combines the extrinsic motivation of prizes with the intrinsic motivation of games.

time on site game based vs enter to win sweepstakes.png

Game-based marketing has a few obvious benefits — like increasing the likelihood consumers will take action (ie buy your stuff). But it also improves the efficacy of the brand awareness portion of your campaign.

Just look at the difference in terms of average time-on-site between a regular enter-to-win promotion, and a game-based one that promotes action.

Consumers spend longer engaged with game-based promotions because there is a reason to stick around (it’s fun).  

This incentive to spend more time engaged is also at the heart of how game-based promotions can target and change specific consumer behaviour, to support a wide range of marketing goals.

Designing to Change Behaviour

Just adding a game to a promotion doesn’t instantly change behaviour.  It’s the way you implement those mechanisms that matters.

There are three main questions you need to answer to successfully change behaviour:

  1. What behaviour are you trying to change?

  2. What’s the barrier to entry?

  3. How can you lower that barrier to entry?

1. What behaviour are you trying to change?

The first thing you need to identify is the specific behaviour you want to change. This behaviour will undoubtedly relate to your marketing goals, but you need to dig a bit deeper to identify the related consumer action.

For example, if your main goal for the promotion is to drive a sales lift — what behaviour do you need to change to achieve that? Do you need customers to buy more frequently? Buy more? Try different products?

All of these are different behaviours, which require different strategies to change.

2. What’s the barrier to entry?

Different actions have different barriers to entry.

What is stopping customers from behaving in the way you want? How willing are they to change?

It’s important to understand how difficult it will be to get customers to act in the way you want, so you can better decide how to get them to change.

3. How can you lower the barrier to entry?

Once you know what the barrier to entry is, you can look at how you can either lower it or make it more appealing to change.

Higher barriers to entry require higher levels of compensation.

In other words, if customers are more likely to be resistant to change, you have to increase the level of reward for changing.

Changing Specific Behaviours: Some Examples

Let’s quickly delve into the science behind consumer behaviour.  According to Kotler & Armstrong (2007), there are 4 factors that influence behaviour, and thus increase or decrease the barrier to entry:

  1. Psychological (biological needs, self-esteem, belonging, personal beliefs, etc)

  2. Social (influence of families, co-workers, friends, social status, etc)

  3. Cultural (consumer values, beliefs, social class, etc)

  4. Personal (age, occupation, economic situation, personality, lifestyle, etc)

It can be challenging to identify which factors are influencing your consumers behaviour. The simplest way I’ve found is to look at the decision you’re asking customers to make, then brainstorm a list of reasons why they may NOT want to do it.

Example 1: Sharing on Social

Say you wanted to increase your social presence and expand your audience base. The behaviour you’d want to change is “post about the brand on social” or “share with friends & family.”

Some factors impacting that decision to share might be:

  • What will people think about the fact that I like this brand?

  • Will other people think it’s lame that I shared something from a contest?

  • Do I want to be affiliated with what this brand stands for?


These factors are all related to the consumer’s perception of themselves (psychological) and how they want others to perceive them (social).

If we dig a bit deeper you can also see there are some demographic factors that influence willingness to share branded content.

Looking at these results, you’d conclude that there are many factors that could influence this decision — thus the barrier to entry on this action is fairly high.

Example 2: Joining an Email List

If you want to build your email list, the behaviour you’ll need to change is getting people to sign up for a newsletter. Again, ask yourself why WOULDN’T someone sign up for your newsletter?

A few factors influencing this decision might be:

  • Do I really like / care about this brand?

  • Do I want to hear from them regularly?

In this case, the main factors influencing the consumer’s decision are just psychological — dependant on how strongly a consumer feels about your brand.

We could conclude that the barrier to entry on this action is much lower than getting customers to share, because there are less factors influencing the decision.

Sweetening the Pot: Overcoming Barriers to Entry

Once you understand the obstacles influencing consumer behaviour, there are two main ways to reduce them:

  1. Lower the barrier to entry. Reduce or eliminate some of the factors affecting the decision. For example, to reduce the barrier to entry on joining a newsletter, you could offer subscribers an option to set the frequency of communication.

  2. Increase the reward for action. You can also reward consumers for taking an action. This helps offset the barrier to entry without eliminating it. This is especially useful when you can’t eliminate barriers to entry — like the social factors around sharing on social.

Game-based marketing in most cases makes use of the “increase reward for action” strategy.  The key to making this strategy effective is to match the level of reward to the level of obstacle.

For example, you would set the reward for sharing on social higher than you would the reward for joining your newsletter. The higher reward helps persuade consumers to complete the actions they would otherwise be less willing to do.

The Bottom Line

As marketers we don’t run promotions just to give away prizes. Our job is to sell stuff.

By understanding the behaviour that will lead to increasing sales (or any other marketing goal) we can build promotions that better target our goals and change/influence consumer behaviour.