Using rewards and incentives to grow your audience
Some people buy their friends; online publishers should consider buying their audience, or at least offering rewards and incentives to draw traffic to their websites and build their customer database.
Thomson Reuters’ West division met the challenge of combining education with promotion by imagining the needs of time-challenged law students and creating an incentive system that provides value by encouraging them to become more efficient researchers.
Law students receive free access to Thomson Reuters' online legal research database Westlaw. To encourage them to learn how to use the information-dense system, Westlaw uses a points system that students can redeem for rewards.
Points may be earned daily by looking up cases, completing site navigation tutorials, participating in daily legal trivia and, of course, by purchasing books or other West resources. The goal is to generate engagement with Westlaw, as well as a generation of new lawyers hooked on the service. (Once they become associates at a firm, the access fees run at around $20 per minute.)
“We have learned that users are motivated to learn and participate, but programs have to be relevant to them,” says Melissa Hanson, West’s marketing director. “Our users are too busy and their time is too valuable to engage in programs without substance.”
The program has paid off for West by increasing user engagement with the Westlaw site, while providing Thomson Reuters with a better understanding of and connection with law students, she says.
Regardless of the industry or consumer segment served, publishers can offer a variety of incentives in exchange for certain online activities. They can learn some winning techniques by looking not just at publishers such as Thomson Reuters, but at companies outside of their industry. Here are two examples.
Use your existing database...
E-commerce sites frequently use incentives to attract potential customers. Pharmaceutical company Apothecus, for example, has captured more than 85,000 registrations over the past three years for an online coupon redeemable for a free contraceptive sample, according to spokesman Nathan McKelvey. Apothecus is now launching a Facebook fan page to engage that list of registrants further by offering 100 free units of the contraceptive in exchange for submitting a video testimonial.
“The reason for the fan page is to allow customers to contact us after they have tried the product. The sample coupon page allows them to measure the entry point, but then the information flow stops,” says McKelvey. “The idea for the fan page is to collect information on what happens next, connect with customers who use the product and find out what they like about it.” While the fan page is brand new, it already contains two user-generated video testimonials, thanks to the incentive.
...or build one out
Sometimes, building a database of qualified leads is the impetus for an incentive program. Multibillion-dollar foodservice company Simplot, which sells prepared foods in order to reduce professional kitchen prep work, launched ToHellWithPrep.com—a website geared toward busy kitchen workers. The site is highly interactive, with the goal of convincing foodservice professionals that buying Simplot's products is more efficient than preparing the ingredients in-house.
The site launched in October 2009 with a sweepstakes for a trip to New York's Hell's Kitchen. Visitors register for the contest using an online entry form on ToHellWithPrep.com, providing Simplot with a database of potential customers.
Company spokesman Tony Harrison admits that comparative metrics are not available since the site launched with the sweepstakes included. If you want to measure the boost in traffic from an incentive in addition to building out your database, be sure to create a baseline traffic metric before you launch the incentive.
Better to outsource your incentive programs?
Whatever your motivation for considering an incentive program, remember to factor in the time and resources necessary to execute a campaign. Already stretched too thin? Find a promotions company offering turnkey solutions that can be integrated into your website.
For example, Promotional Currency offers music, skins and mobile downloads as incentives to your visitors and will factor the odds of usage and underwrite your promotion.
Here's an idea: According to mobile promotions company Smash Rewards, 80 percent of Americans use mobile devices. If you have a list of your visitors' mobile numbers, you might use Smash Rewards to send SMS incentive offers directly to your audience's mobile phones—viral incentives they can share with their network to grow your audience.