Marketers could win big with online video contests

There's a lot to gain from online video contests. It's not just the cash, gadgets and prizes that are up for grabs. Marketers, too, can win big, raking in publicity, glowing testimonials and large numbers of e-marketing opt-ins-even new customers. And, of course, one cannot underestimate the power of contest entries going viral, thereby rocketing marketing messages through cyberspace and beyond.

"Video contests are great because they ...trigger an emotion that naturally lends itself to viral propagation," said Thierry Daher, CEO of Vanksen Group USA, a leading buzz, blog marketing and viral marketing agency. "You want to promote your video, and you're probably going to reach out to everybody you know to come in and vote. It is a very powerful leverage."

For this reason, online video contests have recently been used by organizations as diverse as the 3M Corp., American Honda Motor Corp., Century 21 Real Estate, Dunkin' Donuts and the Republican National Committee. There have been plenty of small and midsize business users with highly targeted audiences as well.

Ani Matson, online communications director for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), a Washington, D.C.-based trade group, said some marketers might assume video contests come with a big price tag. But NFIB employed a do-it-yourself approach to its Why Does Small Business Work for America? contest in April and May of this year, which cut the budget dramatically.

NFIB used YouTube to host entries, but did all of the legwork to promote the contest internally. Instead of a high-profile listing on YouTube's contest Web page, it relied on e-mail marketing campaigns, pay-per-click advertising and blog engagement to generate exposure.

"I communicated with YouTube back and forth, and took some best practices from the way they do contests," Matson said. "We got people to go into the site, and start chatting about it and then submitting. It turned out very well."

Matson said the video contest, which aimed to generate buzz among entrepreneurs about NFIB and its National Small Business Summit, received many entries. Just 21 were selected by NFIB to be featured on its YouTube contest page. The winning video has received more than 3,500 views to date. But Matson said the campaign cannot be judged by views alone.

"Buzz is hard to measure, but you can measure the number of blogs that mentioned it and the ones that continue to have a relationship with you that you can use in the future," said Matson. "I think we opened doors with this campaign."

For FNBO Direct, an online bank operated by First National Bank of Omaha, a video contest was the perfect way to encourage viral spread and media coverage of the company's "Pay Yourself First" marketing campaign.

According to Dan Harley, FNBO Direct VP-marketing and product development, the bank invited consumers to describe their savings goals in one-minute videos. Individuals responsible for the top five videos will compete for prizes in a "reality TV-like" challenge, where they share their saving journeys with the world through blogging, podcasts and expert online reviews.

The campaign, which debuted in May, is ongoing. But Harley said FNBO Direct has seen an increase in new account openings in the past month, and media interest is considerable. He added that the viral spread of the video entries has been "quite a phenomenon."

"Friends of our group will rate and repost the video on their pages and within other social networks or blogs they belong to or are associated with," Harley said.

The viral spread of videos can take on a life of its own. But marketers do need to get things started by promoting contests to target audiences and capturing consumers' interest in the first place.

"We explore and discover like-minded users. We talk to blog leaders. We send invitations to join our group to others who have similar content. Each message is personalized and the content specific to the users," Harley continued. "This type of outreach does take longer than executing traditional media buys."

By Amy Syracuse

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