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Finding success with games and contests


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The Greene Turtle, a Baltimore-based sports bar and grill with 37 restaurants, has plenty of customers interested in games. But this year, the chain is turning spectators into participants.

For less than $100,000, it launched a mobile app where players can predict winners of various sporting matchups. Customers who pick five out of five winners correctly earn a $10 Turtle Reward they can use for food or drinks at the restaurant. According to Marketing Director Nick Kegg, the app is driving engagement throughout the system.

 “You drive past a billboard and that creates awareness,” Kegg says, “but when you’re on your phone, that’s peoples’ lives.”

But contests and games are not always easy to navigate. It takes time, effort and money to set them up and return on investment is never certain. It’s not always clear what works and what doesn’t—or even what’s legal. And as with any smaller-scale project, it can take focus away from other areas of a business.

We talked to several people in the franchise world to find out what to do when marketing to consumers via games and contests. Here’s what we learned.

Keep it contained

Perception is reality. Let’s take an example from marketing, where words don’t always mean the same thing to the same people. You may think you’re writing direct mail about the quick-service restaurant industry, but to your customers, it’s fast-food junk mail.

When it comes to contests, be careful that your “Web 2.0 mobile cross-platform gamification strategy” doesn’t turn into “another stupid thing I’m supposed to jump through hoops for.” Derek Fink is a partner in Gambrills, Maryland-based GT Mid States. He has four Greene Turtle locations open and says that since the app doesn’t affect the service procedure or involve staff, it hasn’t slowed anything down.

“It’s actually been pretty easy,” Fink says. “It’s really not affected our operations at all.”

Work the angles

After over 30 years in franchising, Doug Sheley has learned a thing or two about striking deals. When he wanted to give away a new car to promote the opening of a new Fresh to Order restaurant in Greenville, North Carolina, he looked into cross promotion.

“I went to a car dealership,” Sheley says. “They had just given away a car two or three months prior to me approaching them. It turned out to be a real boost in their sales and their recognition. He agreed to go halves with me on it.”

That’s $9,000 saved right there. San Francisco based POS company Revel Systems, which is adding games like trivia and random coupon giveaways to its app, has another strategy. Since the company works across multiple franchises (including Smoothie King), it’s grown a large enough platform to be able to line up sponsors for these features.

“I can’t name names,” CTO Chris Ciabarra says, “But they’re really big.”

Look at who else will be benefitting from your game or contest, and see if you can get them to pay for part or all of it.

Think about ROI

On the other hand, you may find yourself in a situation where someone else is getting basically all the benefit from your contest. Don Dominick is the VP of national accounts for Colorado Springs-based refinishing company Miracle Method, which has 135 units across the country.

Over the last six or seven years, he knows of five units that have tried Ugly Bathroom Contests with local radio stations in Minnesota, Ohio, Tennessee and other states. The winner receives a free refinishing of bathroom surfaces and in exchange the company received free airtime.

“We’ve not had great success with them,” Dominick says. “In each of our instances, the franchisee did not have a noticeable increase in their sales.”

In Miracle Method’s case, the contests cost $5,000 to $10,000 in addition to the cost of the service they were giving away (a value of $1,000 to $1,200). The exposure the franchisees received was primarily 10-second mentions of the contest itself rather than ads for the service.

Furthermore, radio listeners got the wrong idea and thought Miracle Method did complete remodels rather than refinishing. It all left Dominick cold to the idea.

“My recommendation would be, if you’re going to get involved in a contest, be able to measure it,” Dominick says. “Know and understand what you’re going to get in exchange for your dollars.”

Know the ropes

While we’re on the subject of understanding, it’s important to remember there’s a legal side to contests. Contests need official rules and must treat everyone equally, whether they purchase a product or service from you or not. Otherwise, they can be considered gambling.

“Basically we’re safe as there’s no risk—it’s all reward,” says Greene Turtle’s Kegg. “There’s no money involved. It didn’t require a purchase, a deposit, credit card information.”

While rules are similar in Canada, there are a few wrinkles unique to the country. Games of chance must have a “skill testing” question and if you want your contest to apply to Quebec, you’ll need to register it with the province and get your rules translated to French. It would be wise to talk to a lawyer.

Take risks

Ultimately, you can’t win with games and contests if you never offer them. Perhaps the best advice is to try something on a small scale and see how it works before expanding. Even including annual March Madness bracket giveaways of around $30,000, Kegg says the Greene Turtle spends less than 10 percent of its marketing budget on games and contests.

But that relatively small spend is getting results. Fink, the franchisee in Maryland, says he sees new guests come in and existing guests stay later. “Numbers are showing we have a lot of guests playing,” Fink says. “We know they’re talking about it.”

Sheley spent $9,000 on the car, another $9,000 on radio advertisements for the contest, and a few more thousand on other giveaways like food for a year. But he also got 1,600 or 1,700 emails and telephone numbers and plenty of attention. Since he budgeted $40,000 for the opening, giving away a brand-new car actually saved him around $20,000 while building up goodwill.

“You’ve got so much competition out there,” Sheley says. If “you can’t rise above everyone else, you can get lost in the mix pretty quick.”

 

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