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Need to Get People Paying Attention to Your Brand? Hold a Contest. But follow some simple strategies to make sure it hits your target audience and multiplies the number of leads.

By Todd Giannattasio

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

vchal | Getty Images

Many entrepreneurs are looking for creative ways to build their email list, generate leads and increase brand awareness, all in one shot. It might be time to take a look at implementing a viral contest.

If you're starting from scratch, a viral contest is one of the most efficient ways to quickly build up an email list and pipeline with a very high ROI of your advertising dollars, with costs as low as $50 to $100. If you have an existing audience, then you'll usually see even more exponential growth.

When done right, contests can fill your sales pipeline with opportunities and create a viral network effect, further building your reach and your audience. When done poorly, they can waste time, money and energy. And worse, when they don't work, they leave you believing they never will. Many entrepreneurs leave a great growth channel on the table for the rest of their careers. Here is what you need to do to make sure you are in the best position for success with your contest.

What a successful contest can do for your business.

Let's first define success. Success is growing an email list of qualified, potential customers so that you can then build a relationship with them and earn their business after the contest ends. So the primary objective is to grow your email list with qualified leads.

Here are a few examples we've seen for small businesses running contests. No, these are not exaggerated numbers you might see from one-in-a-million campaigns, ones where they don't tell you how many losses it took before they found success or ones from big companies spending big bucks that you don't have.

Related: 9 Low-Budget Marketing Strategies Every Startup Can Afford

These are real numbers that real businesses achieve. Plus, keep in mind the scale of the efforts. These were campaigns with about $100 in budget, with an actual range from $22 to $300. If you have a higher budget, then you'll see higher numbers. A photography business I worked with received 199 email signups for $154. That's 78 cents per lead. While a local candy shop gathered 2,474 total signups for $101.08 spent. That's .04 cents per email signup.

The candy shop followed up with another contest, with no paid promotion at all, just using the email list from previous contest and organic Facebook posts, earning a total of 3,795 email signups, meaning 1,550 new ones. A sports app garnered 274 email signups, costing $1.10 each. And lastly, an ecommerce cookware company got 385 signups from a total budget of $22.94, which is .06 cents per email signup.

Choose the right prize.

Your prize has to align with your business so that you get relevant signups. If you give away something generic then you are going to get a ton of people on your list that are completely irrelevant to your business. An example how not to do it might be a photographer giving away an iPad. It would be far better if the photographer were giving away a photo shoot session.

The prize for your giveaway has to be something that your audience already wants and knows about. If you are launching a new product or are trying to reach a new audience (and you have no brand recognition yet), then running a giveaway for your product is not going to be as enticing to them.

Now that's not to say it's impossible, it just takes more convincing. But if the goal is to drive awareness and build your list, then pushing your product should not be part of the equation, unless it's something that already has mass desire in the marketplace.

People don't like things that are too good to be true, even if they are. We've actually had failing campaigns in the past because we gave away too much in the offer.

Related: If it Sounds Too Good to Be True, it Probably Is

Our lower performing contests are actually the ones where we're giving away "free money" with things like gift cards. If you don't have brand recognition and a name that everyone in your audience already knows, likes and trusts, then you will have a harder time giving away something that seems too generous.

So make sure that whatever prize you choose, it's something people aren't going to be skeptical about. A brand new ecommerce cookware site that is giving away a $1,000 Amazon gift card is greeted more skeptically than the same site giving away a free cookbook, baking sheet, blender, or small kitchen appliance.

Target the right audience.

Matching the message to the market is the most important factor in all of business growth, in my humble opinion. This is what makes growth "easy" -- though that's a relative term. It's what makes your conversion rates go up, your customer acquisition cost go down, and your life a lot less stressful.

The conversion rates for the contest pages cited above were between 65 and 95 percent. To give you some context, most lead generation pages are happy breaking 20 percent.

You want to match your audience with the contest. Also make sure that alignment follows through to those who will best match your follow-up offer -- and ultimately your company's main offers. This means knowing what their pains and desires are and solving those needs.

Increase your reach without spending more money.

This is where the real magic happens. Yes, you will promote your contest directly, and that will drive initial signups. But where things really takeoff is with your viral loop. Make sure that your contest tool allows for a "share for more entries" option. So they enter their email address to get one chance to win, then for every friend they refer they also get more entries.

This is how you can spread within a target audience quickly. Here are some "viral proof" numbers from previous contests. The candy shop received 623 signups directly from an ad campaign that cost $101.08. But there was a total of 2,474 signups. That means that 1,851 came via a referral by someone. For the ecommerce cookware contest, there were 72 clicks on the ad, but a total of 385 signups! Therefore we can conclude that a referral option creates a massive multiplier effect on the performance of your contest.

Related: How a Contest or Giveaway Can Attract Business Prospects

With this game plan in place, you have what you need to run a successful viral contest that will help you increase your brand reach and grow your email list in a scalable, cost effective way.

Todd Giannattasio

Founder of Tresnic Media

Todd Giannattasio founded Tresnic Media to help companies build their brands, generate leads and drive sales.

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