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Marketing Tips: Building a Better Online Contest

Maplewood Halloween

Just a quick note on bracket-style online competitions—plus a chance to brag about my hometown, Maplewood, N.J.

We’ve done content marketing for the Odessa Brewfest for the past two years, and a big part of that effort has been the Odessa Brewfest Brewbracket, a tournament-style competition designed to drum up social media buzz and site traffic around this annual beer festival in Odessa, Del. 

In 2014, we pitted 64 beers against each other; this year, it was 32 breweries (with a play-in round). The promotions have proven successful, with healthy participation from craft beer enthusiasts, who were able to claim prizes at the event itself just for playing. 

Building A Better Bracket

While we think we’ve done an awful lot right with the Odessa Brewfest brewbracket promotion, we’re always looking for ways to improve the contest. Some good ideas can be found in a recent competition, “Downtown Showdown,” featured in the magazine New Jersey Monthly

The editors of New Jersey Monthly chose 16 downtowns to compete in the contest. Over a month, online voting narrowed the field down to two finalists, Morristown and Maplewood—and Maplewood took the crown

Downtown Showdown: Marketing Takeaways

Here are some things that went right for New Jersey Monthly in holding a bracket competition.

  • Sponsorship: The contest was sponsored (by Kings Food Markets)—a great way to monetize the promotion. 
  • Careful Choosing: The towns chosen were already well-known for their downtowns, but there were plenty of other towns in the state that could have made the list. The editors chose a mix of regions and types (rural, urban, shore) no-doubt designed to get all kinds of boosters excited about the competition. 
  • Graphical Presentation: The colorful bracket layout makes it easy to see the “big picture.” 
  • Interview Contestants: Getting town boosters personally involved helped drum up excitement and encouraged secondary promotion of the contest by the towns themselves. 
  • Go Viral: Some towns got really into the game, like (not surprisingly) Maplewood, a medium-sized community in Essex County known for its boosterism. Maplewood handed out leaflets at the train station, sent out emails to residents about the competition and put up posters—all free publicity for the Downtown Showdown, New Jersey Monthly, and Kings Food Markets.  
  • Report the Impact: The magazine’s reporting of the contest became a story of its own. By covering various towns’ efforts to drum up votes, New Jersey Monthly could both promote the contest and encourage further participation. 

I should add that it’s always easier to win when you are the best, as (in my totally unbiased opinion) Maplewood is, with its interesting shops, festivals, beautiful downtown park (the fireworks, the sledding, the skating!), movie theater and train station. Go Mape!