April 18, 2013
Case Study

Viral Marketing: Month-long sweepstakes generates 1,170% ROI and 488% lift in email subscribers

SUMMARY: Contests and sweepstakes are a great way to promote a new product and grow email subscriber lists. Utilizing an existing audience to reach new prospects through email and social sharing is a tactic that expands the reach of an entire campaign.

This case study details how November Bicycles achieved a 488% increase in its email subscriber list, and generated 1,170% ROI from a month-long sweepstakes campaign built around a new product release.

by David Kirkpatrick, Senior Reporter


November Bicycles, a specialty bicycle retailer, faced a familiar consumer marketing issue. It was offering a new line of products and needed to find an audience for those products.

Mike May, Co-founder, November Bicycles, said he knew the new products would appeal to parts of the company's existing customer base, but from a marketing standpoint, he wanted to find an audience specifically interested in the new specialty bicycle.

To meet this challenge, the team put together a sweepstakes promotion combining social media and email. The sweepstakes generated a large amount of social activity, increased website traffic and grew the email list by 488%. Most importantly, sales attributed to the campaign surpassed expenses and led to a return-on-investment of 1,170%.

This case study covers the steps November Bicycles took to achieve those impressive results.


"The reason we wanted to run the campaign," May said, "was that we were introducing a new line of products. We had an audience with our existing line and knew there would be some overlaps with the new line, but we also wanted to aggregate an audience that would expressly be interested in this new product line."

He added the total expenses for the promotion were limited to the costs of the prizes offered in the sweepstakes.

Step #1. Tie the promotion to the brand

For November Bicycles, connecting the sweepstakes promotion to the new product brand centered on the name of the new product.

The new product line was a bicycle created for a sport called "cyclocross," a hybrid mountain and road bike built for racing on a combination road, dirt, mud and obstacles.

May said the team noticed other brands with a product that transcends one category — car manufacturers with sport utility vehicles, for example — emphasize either the word "cross" or simply an "x" in the branding. This included manufacturers of cyclocross bicycles.

"What we did with this bike is instead of coming up with a name that has 'cross' in it, we instead came up with a name where you would expect cross and conspicuously left it out," May said.

In result, the team examined the term "hot cross buns," took the word "cross" out and named the new bike "HOT BUNS."

To use the brand name in the contest and continue the baking imagery, the team called the sweepstakes, the "HOT BUNS Rising Dough Sweepstakes."

For every entrant, the value of the prize was boosted by $1. If only 20 people entered the contest, the prize was capped at $20 and was going to be a November Bicycles logo cap. 89 entries would produce a November Bicycles riding jersey for the prize.

No matter how many entries came in, the prize was capped at 2,345 entries, the price of a HOT BUNS complete bicycle.

May explained the prize structure, "We crafted the prize list and rules specifically to promote the prices of a number of different products as it underscores our value positioning. We want everyone to know our prices because they are amazing."

Step #2. Determine if the sweepstakes is legal

Determining if the content was legal was a small, but key, step in this entire effort. Anytime you run a sweepstakes promotion, it’s important to make sure the rules are legal in all jurisdictions where the contest is run.

"We went through the proper channels to figure out the legality around a grand prize with a changing value," May said. "[It is] fine, except in Canada. And, we had to include something in the terms and conditions, and disclaimer, to make it so everybody understands [the rules]."

Step #3. Create the entry process

To enter the contest, people would visit the November Bicycles website and go to an entry page with a button leading to a form asking for a name and email address.

The form page communicated to entrants they were opting into an email list, and included an authentication process of asking entrants a question about the promotion appearing on the entry page to ensure people weren't just filling out the entry form without what May described as, "taking a look at what it is we were doing."

To drive the initial entries, the team used email and social media to reach out to November Bicycles' current subscriber base and social media fans and followers.

Step #4. Encourage sharing to amplify the message

May said getting entrants to amplify the sweepstakes promotion was a key aspect of the campaign.

He explained the challenge of marketing to existing customers and prospects: "All you end up getting [to enter the contest] are the people you already have a relationship with. We wanted this to be an acquisition strategy as well."

To achieve this, once someone entered the sweepstakes, they were taken to a confirmation page.

On that page, entrants were encouraged to share through email, Facebook and Twitter, with links to pre-populated shareable content optimized for each channel.

The confirmation page also encouraged sharing by reminding entrants the more people who enter, the larger the sweepstakes prize becomes.

"Now you really ought to go tell your minions to pump up the prize value. Unless you're OK with winning a $20 cap instead of a $2,345 bike. Totally your call," he explained.

Step #5. Re-amplify social sharing

May said the team used their own internal resources to continue to amplify the shares generated by the confirmation page, with Twitter being the most effective platform for amplification.

"Whenever we saw somebody was sharing on Twitter, we would reply to the person who was sharing and we would retweet it," May said.

He continued, "At first we would retweet everything, and then they just came in so thick and fast our Twitter feed was clogged with it. So, we decided to reply to people in batches of three to five and they would end up retweeting us."

May said tracking email sharing was a challenge, as was Facebook. When the team found someone referencing the sweepstakes on Facebook they would amplify that "chatter" through November Bicycles' social channels.

Step #6. Retarget entrants with a drip email campaign

Because part of the entry form included email, each entrant was placed in a drip email campaign with three emails.

The drip email "from" field was "November Bicycles," and the subject line was, "Have you made your HOT BUNS dough rise?"

The drip frequency included:
  • First email 24 hours after sweepstakes entry

  • Second email one week later

  • Final email two weeks after entry

The frequency remained the same regardless of when someone entered the contest, so anyone filling an entry form within two weeks of the prize drawing did not receive all three drip emails.

Each email had similar messaging — "Have you made the dough rise?" — to encourage sharing and help amplify the sweepstakes promotion.
The messaging also reminded entrants the prize value went up as more people entered the contest.

May said because the drip emails were sent based on when each person entered the contest, it was difficult to track the sharing impact of any individual send within the retargeting campaign.

Step #7. Include contest promotion in other marketing efforts

May said November Bicycles usually focuses on a particular product or initiative for one or two months at a time with its marketing strategy. For the month the sweepstakes ran, it was the focus of the team’s marketing.

At the same time, the team was engaged in email marketing and on Facebook and Twitter. During the month of the sweepstakes initiative, that messaging was added to marketing pieces that did not directly address the sweepstakes.

Step #8. Complete the contest and give the prize away

At the end of the sweepstakes month, the entry level did not reach 2,345, so a new HOT BUNS bike was not the prize. But, entries did almost get to 1,500, adding many contacts to November Bicycles' email database.

The prize drawing was conducted via a live Twitter chat accessed through a hashtag the team used throughout the promotion.

At the time of the announcement, November Bicycles added ten more prizes from down the prize list. These additional prizes were previously unannounced.


Because the main goal of the entire sweepstakes promotion was acquiring new prospects, the most important metric from the campaign was a 488% increase in November Bicycles' house list.

Other key metrics include:
  • Weekly website visits during the promotion increased more than 100%

  • New visitors jumped from 29% before the promotion to 42% during, a 44.8% lift

May said the long-term ROI and value of contacts include:
  • Of the entrants, 56% remain subscribed to the email list

  • 86% of that group were new contacts

  • Contest expenses were limited to the cost of the prizes, and sales attributed to the campaign generated an ROI of 1,170%

He added that one goal was to achieve less than 50% attrition on the email list from entrants, and that goal was met.

May described November Bicycles' marketing philosophy as focused on integrity, not changing the message from product to product and not losing track of a long-term brand view in pursuit of short-term gains.

This campaign provided the team with insight into the brand.

"We have a brand that is socially scalable. It is very word-of-mouth friendly. And, asking people to spread the word about [it], in a way that actually adds value, it is something we are looking for new ways to do," May concluded.

Creative Samples

  1. Sweepstakes webpage

  2. Sweepstakes prize list

  3. Confirmation page

  4. Email-optimized share

  5. Facebook-optimized share

  6. Twitter-optimized share

  7. Drip email copy


November Bicycles

Related Resources

HOT BUNS Sweep Show Live! (blog post from November Bicycles)

Social Marketing: Twitter contest boosts followers 43%

Social Email Marketing: Contest adds 200% more Pinterest followers and engagement

Social Media Marketing: 7 steps for using contests and sweepstakes to promote your brand

Monthly Contest Doubles Email List Size: 4 Steps to Attract Names that Convert

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