by Sarah & Kevin Arrow

Website Traffic: Host a Promotional Giveaway

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We're besieged with all sorts of promotional giveaways in our everyday, offline and online lives -- but how many of them did you really notice and engage with? And of those giveaway offers you participated in, how many of them really delighted you? 

Before you create your own promotional giveaway for your offline business, it's vital to give some thought to promotional giveaways you've already encountered.  Planning your giveaway and tailoring it to your audience ensures that you won’t be throwing money away (or irritating the very customers you wish to attract).

To target and implement a successful promotional giveaway, you need to first be aware of...

  • The various types of promotional giveaways you can use
  • Where you can get them
  • How you can best use them
  • How to spend the least money for the biggest result
  • Your main goal

Promotional giveaways are ideal for increasing awareness of your business – both locally and online.  In fact, exposure and branding are the top reasons given by companies who engage in this powerful strategy.

Before starting any promotion, however, the first thing you will need to determine is:

Which type of promotional giveaway will best suit your target market

There are many different types you can choose, depending on factors like your business type, your specific customer’s interests and personality – and your budget.

Types of Promotional Giveaways

Two important questions it’s absolutely vital to consider: 

  1. What type of giveaway will work best for you and your business at this time?
  2. What is the purpose of this particular promotion – and does the type of giveaway you’re considering best support this goal?

One of the best ways to use promotional giveaways:  To help build awareness of your brand, business or product(s).  You need to think of reaching as wide an audience as possible – including “hidden” target groups that may be attracted out of the woodwork – without losing track of your demographic target customer.

To do this, you’ll want to simulate a blitz technique with a mass giveaway promotion, reaching a larger and broader audience than you’ve yet attracted into engaging.

Before we get into specific, let’s break your options down into five basic categories…

Cash Giveaways Any business can offer cash as a prize for participating in an event – but be aware that the moment you do this, your event may qualify as a “sweepstake” and be subject to both federal and state/provincial government rules.  If someone else is running the event and you are being offered publicity in exchange for your cash prize donation, then it’s up to them to comply with rules and regulations. (More on cash prizes later in this post.)

Coupons – This is the easiest type of “giveaway” to start out with.  Offering a potential customer or client a coupon discounting your goods or services can often help new businesses get a “foot in the door” – and encourage customers to abandon existing favoured competitors to try your product.  (If you’ve got a quality product that’s a cut above the competition, it should do the rest!)

Your coupon can offer either a discount on products or services… or be exchanged for actual product samples or service packages.

The discount or sample must be:

  • Small enough to be (a) believable to the customer (b) viable for your current budget
  • Big enough to make “switching”—i.e. trying your product out – worth your customer’s while

Coupons can also help you gain valuable insight to your actual demographic:  For example, color-coding your coupons will help you determine where your best return came from.  Was it from flyers distributed door to door?  Put on car windshields in shopping mall car parks?  Distributed through your local newspaper?  At a booth?  At an event?

Using different coloured paper or color-coding coupons with a simple “dot” is a ridiculously easy way to tell your most effective distribution strategy. 

Coupons encourage potential customers to try your brand or product when they might not normally do so.

It’s up to your product, after that, to deliver – and create return visits.

Contests and Sweepstakes – This can be a great way to create excitement about your product or business:  However, it not only involves knowing your target customer, but knowing what will genuinely excite them… as well as what best will appeal to their personalities.

You can also use contests for multiple purposes.  If it’s a contest where the entrant has to register to win, a contest can be an easy yet powerful way to create your mailing list.

Most important consideration?  Check the rules for your country, province or state!

You can get into serious trouble (and unexpectedly lose money) if you fail to do so.  Depending on the state or province you live in, you may have to:

  1. Pay a fee (usually around 10% of the value of the prize value)
  2. Register your rules thirty to sixty days before announcing or advertising your contest
  3. Comply with government requirements such as age of majority, skill-testing questions, etc.
  4. Agree to government mediation, in the event there are disputes among winners or questions arising about who actually won or who qualifies as a winner
  5. Submit a detailed report on the results

Contests and sweepstakes are answerable to the Federal Trade Commission / Advertising Standards Agency.  Contact your specific state or province’s Department of Consumer Affairs to learn the specific requirements you’ll need to obey in your geographic area.  (You can often find out online – for example, California posts its Sweepstakes Laws in .PDF format).

Samples – If your biggest asset is your actual product, talk to your manufacturer or distributor about creating special sample sizes.  This works best if your product possesses attributes that engage the senses, such as:

  • Taste
  • Scent
  • Touch
  • Sight
  • Sound

For example, back in the fifties and sixties, the Fuller Brush company left every housewife visited with tiny samples of products such as furniture polish. Not only did its representatives leave samples, but they also offered an array of choices – small brushes, samples of furniture polish. Grandmother Eleanor K. recently reminisced with obvious delight: “You could get lavender or almond.  The lavender wax was mauve and the almond was magnolia white.  I still remember the smell of the almond polish.  It was my favourite. You used to let the salesman in because you wanted the samples. And you’d always end up buying something you needed -- something that wasn’t as much fun as the samples, but necessary.  They were the reward, though – the little treat you looked forward to.”

While people are not so much inclined to let strangers into their homes nowadays, samples can be your best promotion ever – providing your product lives up to expectations.

Samples should:

  • Provide a perfect “mini” experience of your product
  • Be effective (or leave them eager to continue using the product)
  • Be a “reward”
  • Feel luxurious
  • Provide real value
  • Engage the senses, whenever possible
  • Be cost-effective for you!

When determining whether or not investing in physical samples will work for your budget, remember to factor in the most important consideration:  Will your sample generate more sales?  How much ROI (return on investment) can you reasonably predict?

And finally – do make sure all samples are safely and securely packaged!  A sample of hand cream that bursts all over your prospective customer’s handbag will not endear your products to her!

Specialty Promotional Items – You can also have specialty promotion items made specifically for your business.  This type of giveaway works best when you are looking to brand services rather than products.

You can offer potential clients a wide variety of items branded with your logo, such as:

  • T-shirts
  • Mouse pads
  • Mugs
  • Pens
  • Water bottles
  • Baseball Caps
  • Memory sticks

And more.

How to Get Products for your Giveaways -- Without Going Bankrupt

Here’s another common scenario, unfortunately:  You have 1,000 ballpoint pens made up as promotional items for your business, and faithfully distribute them at every opportunity.

When you tally up the results, you realize there was no appreciable increase in new customers walking in your door.  You gave away hundreds of pens… as well as the amount of money it cost to create that promotion.

In other words, there was zero return on your investment.

So how do you make sure you’re not throwing money away on a promotional giveaway?

Simple:  Before you get carried away having hundreds of wonderful t-shirts silk-screened and printed, make sure that item is the perfect one to appeal to your ideal customer – and employ a specific promotion strategy that will help you best distribute it, like a giveaway plugin on your website.

Giveaway Strategies

You don’t always have to pay cash in order to supply your customers or clients with great promotional giveaways.  You can often find sponsors or co-donors who would be only too eager to team up with you, to your mutual benefit.

Here are two of the most time-honoured arrangements to consider:


This term originated in newspaper advertising departments, where the paper would provide a contest to readers and an advertiser would actually donate one or more big prize items in exchange for an agreed-upon “equal” value in advertising. 

The “contra” type of deal works best when:

  • It is cheaper for the sponsor to provide product than pay for your services or goods
  • It is cheaper for you to provide services or goods to your sponsor, rather than pay money for the items provided
  • You want to offer a high-value “prize”

In other words, this is the classic case of:  “You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours”.

So what can your business provide that a potential sponsor would jump at?  What can you both exchange to your mutual profit?

Typical examples might be:

  • Your magazine exchanges advertising space to a local resort… in exchange for the resort providing a free weekend getaway for your contest winner
  • You promise a specific, higher order amount to your washing machine supplier… if your washing machine supplier will provide a free dryer for your promotional sweepstake
  • Your business promotes a local silk-screen t-shirt company at a five-hundred seat local convention… in exchange for a certain number of free t-shirts emblazoned with both your logos and/or colors

You best know your own suppliers, near-competitors and local businesses:  Come up with a mutually beneficial contra idea – one that makes you both money and increases both your customer lists -- and they’ll jump on it!

Rewards and Incentives

If you don’t have anything to contra but are actually looking for outright sponsors or donors, you will need to come up with a reward or incentive that makes it worth their while.

And the biggest reward or incentive is usually publicity.

Don’t expect a big, resounding “YES!” just for any old sort of general publicity, however:  Your sponsor will demand high-quality exposure to their specific target market.

To sweeten the pot, you can offer online publicity, as well as offline.  This could include:

  • A recommendation on LinkedIn
  • Endorsement letters or testimonials for their advertising
  • Prominent inclusion on your company Facebook page
  • Acknowledgement on your website

You can also offer to share survey results or even your actual promotion demographic data, in the form of a report detailing your promotion results.  Point out the work you’ll save them – and that time equals money.  Don’t beg:  Let them know they have as much (if not more) to gain from partnering with you as you do.

There are also other types of strategy you can successfully employ:

Radio Station Giveaways – Making use of your local radio station may surprise you with the simplicity of this strategy.  You offer a giveaway – say, dinner for two at your new restaurant – and the radio station gets the glory for providing it to listeners.  (Yes, this could be considered a contra deal.)

Your biggest consideration should be the radio station’s target listener… 

  • Who is she? 
  • What would likely please her the most? 
  • What would she most sincerely thank the radio station for providing? 
  • What would make her listen to the radio station even more?
  • What would truly entertain and excite her?

You also need to consider two other key elements:  Would your promotion increase the radio station’s ratings and revenue?

If you think your business has something to offer that could fulfil both these needs, contact your local radio station manager or promotions director.  Talk to the receptionist or check out the website:  Find out his name and title, and approach him directly.  Let him know up front what’s “in it” for the radio station.

Please and entertain his listeners – and you’ll gain a partner!

Of course, there’s more to it than that.  While you can expect the station manager or promotions director to brainstorm with you, it helps even more if you can catch their attention by demonstrating you understand their business too.

This means understanding the specific types of contests, prizes and ideas you can offer that work best for the radio station – such as:

  • “Fun” contest ideas guaranteed to instantly catch the listener’s attention (to accompany your equally memorable prize)
  • Straight cash prizes -- $100 in cold, hard cash works better for a radio station prize than a “sample” of your product or discount coupon. 
  • “High demand” items – E. G.:  iPads, laptops, exclusive prestige items, concert tickets, sporting event weekend getaways, dinners-for-two.  (The prize depends on your business, of course.)

If your business is brand new and you don’t have the budget to donate high-ticket items, don’t despair – your prize doesn’t always have to be high-value.  Instead, it should have a high perceived value.  If you tie your prize into a specialty group event the radio is announcing, you can even get away with inexpensive silly novelty items – as long as they are specific to the specialty group’s interest.

For example, if there is a local “Fishing Derby” every spring in your community heavily covered by your local radio station, you could offer “Fish Magnets” as a silly prize to add to the radio station fun.  Remember that radio stations often send DJ’s and crews out to local events – and anything that acts as an “ice breaker” (and we’re not talking about literal ice here) and increases audience participation will likely be welcomed with open arms.  Inexpensive but specialized novelty items are perfect for this purpose.

Public Events – Another way to promote your local business is to host or contribute to a significant local event. 

Local radio station websites are a great way to find out which events are already in the works:  You can easily offer an extra cash prize, when the lead-in time is too short to have promotional items made or find sponsors.

While it’s easier to contribute to an existing event, you will make more of a splash if you host and promote the event yourself.  This will take extra time, resources and budget, so before getting carried away with a great event idea, make sure it’s one that will:

  • Significantly increase your branding
  • Fulfil a community need (especially if that need is for entertainment and fun)
  • Bring you adequate returns in the form of new customers or local authority and presence

If yours is a service-based business, contact your local Chamber of Commerce, business organizations or conference centres to find out what’s locally in the works, when it comes to upcoming conferences or business events.  Then contact the organizers and offer to provide branded promotional items such as mouse pads, caps, totes… or pens and notepads.  (If conference organizers can provide pens and notepads to their attendees, they’ll probably jump on this idea, if you’re the first one to suggest it.)

You can also tie your event into…

Holiday Promotions – The beauty of holiday promotions is that any type of business can take advantage of holidays!  Discounts, coupons and holiday-themed promotional items are the three types of giveaways that fit like a glove.

The drawback?  Other local businesses will be competing with your holiday promotion.  Don’t let this rattle you:  Simply focus on creating the right type of giveaway, targeting the right type of customer or client and using the best strategy – just as you would any other time of year.

Best holiday giveaways traditionally include:

  • Coupons
  • Discounts on your product(s)
  • Specialty holiday ornaments
  • “Two for one” or “Third one free” type Specials
  • Free wrapping

Vendor Booths – Another time-honoured strategy for increasing both your local business recognition and making more money:  Rent a booth at local community events and showcase your products or services.  Provide a limited selection of either (a) your best “signature products or product range or (b) products specifically suited to that particular event.

Again, make sure the cost of renting the booth is offset by the potential increase in specific target customers (or exposure, if you’re focusing more on becoming known).

Don’t just think about booths at local events, however – consider investing in space at major Trade Shows for your industry.  Find out what, where and then these are and contact the organizers.  (You most likely will have to qualify – even if this simply means having enough money!)

Parties – Another great vehicle for promotional giveaways is the party format.  This can work equally well for both service-based businesses and product based ones – particularly if your product is a one-of-a-kind item manufactured directly or provided directly for you.

For example, if you market only to virtual assistants, contact virtual assistants in your area and invite them to a party that features a short presentation by an expert guest speaker (preferably one of your staff members) followed by food, beverages – and giveaways.  Publicize it first and foremost as a party, however, and encourage guests to:

  • RSVP – use the “limited seats” approach to create commitment
  • “Tell your friends” – limit this to two guests each they can invite (that way, you’ll be sure to gain more targeted guests – and the “teller” will value the guest spots more)
  • Enjoy an opportunity to share experiences, tips and support
  • Have fun, engaging with real people (virtual assistance can be a lonely world)

What should the outcome be at the end of the party for your business?  That’s up to you – you’ll most likely already know the outcome you have in mind; whether that’s gaining new contracts for your own services… or having the V.A.s promote your business to their own clients.

You can also run online, virtual “parties” through social networks such as Facebook.  You’ll need to run it via a Facebook or Facebook-approved, third-party App – NOT on your wall – and be sure to follow Facebook Promotions Guidelines.  (You must also post a list of winners.)

Choosing Your Perfect “Gift”

If you decide on a free gift or promotional item that is not a sample of your product – one created or purchased especially for your promotion – there is a vital “DO” and an equally vital “DON’T”:

  • Do choose an item your target customer will always
  • Use
  • Wear
  • Keep on her desk
  • Stick on her bulletin board
  • Keep in her car
  • See every time she walks into a room
  • Don’t choose an item that your target customer will “hide away” (or stop using, almost straight away or when a local event is over)

Suit the value of the giveaway to the intended recipients.  People visiting your booth at a Community home show will be quite delighted with a small gadget or tote bag (providing these don’t just look like excuses for your name and logo):  However, if your promotional giveaway is targeted at a list of existing clients or customers, up the quality and value.

Likewise, if you want to provide a high-ticket item such as a vacation as a prize, limit the number of items – that is, offer only ONE vacation.  The real giveaway you’re attracting the masses with is… hope:  Namely, hope that they’ll be the Big Winner of your grand prize.

If you are giving away items at a geographical location such as a community Trade Show, mall or fair, do check with the organizers to see if there are any prohibited items. Organizers and maintenance crews usually have strong views on items that are likely to be discarded and end up as litter – in any form.

Keeping the Cost Down -- Buying in bulk is an obvious, but do factor in “hidden” costs, when setting your promotional budget.

That can include:

  • Storage and handling fees
  • Shipping or postage fees
  • Sales tax
  • Printing costs
  • Customization “extras”
  • Materials costs

Figure on every custom tweak you make to your promotional item as generating an extra cost, and that’s a more accurate way to plan.  For example, if you’re planning to order 1,000 red t-shirts with your company information stamped in black lettering – as per the vendor catalog – at $7.00 each, and you decide that you’d like to have a tag line on the shirt in a third color, that color will not only cost you extra as a “custom” option, but may double your cost and send it out of your ballpark.

Keep Quality High – Yes, that even extends to fripperies such as key chains and fridge magnets!  No one is going to thank you for key chains that keep falling open, or fridge magnets that slide down the fridge face, the moment they’re installed.

Ask the vending company for samples, and test them out before you ever commit to an order!  Wash that t-shirt.  Try out that mouse pad.  Make sure the sun visor fits.

And always – always! – insist on approving a test run or prototype before accepting delivery.

How to Avoid Being Scammed – When it comes to having your promotional items created, we’ve already spoken about using local companies, as well as searching online for promotional product fulfillment companies and vendor catalogs.  A word of warning, however:  Always check the company’s reputation before shelling out your hard-earned cash!

With local companies, you probably won’t even have to ask who their previous clients have been:  There should be samples of actual customer items in their catalogue; or prominently displayed in their office or customer service area.

Make a note of these local clients.  Call them, and ask if they were happy with the finished products.  Ask if there were any problems or unexpected expenses or glitches.

Similarly, with online companies, ask for a list of satisfied clients you can contact as references.  And don’t be satisfied with a dazzling website:  At the very least, before even inquiring, run a search like this one, including the company name and the word `complaint’ or “consumer reviews”:

Doing so will save you much grief if there are legitimate issues with a particular company…

You will find out quickly if they are likely to be reliable (and save yourself a lot of time).

With all types of product creation companies, offline and online, be sure to also check with the Better Business Bureau, to ensure no complaints have been registered.  You’ll also see if the business is BBB accredited.  (It’s not a strike-out if a business is not accredited – but it’s further proof of reliability, if they are.)

You can also use “third party” promotional marketing companies, if you have the budget, to screen out “iffy” suppliers and quickly get the best deals for you.

Again, check these out with the Better Business Bureau and do a Google complaint search.  Ask for references or a short list of satisfied customers.

Promotional Giveaways for Non-Profits

If you are running a non-profit agency, you will be especially concerned not to spend more money than necessary on promotional giveaways.  This is where contra-type arrangements where your agency gives a donor exposure and advertising in exchange for goods works especially well.

Just be sure to show the company you’re asking what’s in it for them. 

If fundraising is going to play a big part in your organization’s future, you might want to consider software such as @ease, which can help you track results, database donors and sponsors and build relationships by helping you keep track (and avoid mistakes such as asking the same donor twice, or forgetting highly relevant information).

Donate Yourself – At the other end of the fundraising shoe, you can always donate your own time or resources to worthwhile community causes.  Be sure your vehicle (bearing your company logo) is prominently displayed in the car park.  Wear t-shirts or caps emblazoned with your company logo.  Inspire your employees to join you (also wearing company t-shirts or caps).  Provide water bottles (emblazoned with your company logo).   Donate prize-packs to help sweeten the event attraction.

Sometimes giving can create more goodwill and exposure (and cost less!) than launching the most sophisticated marketing campaign.

Pros & Cons of Hosting a Promotional Giveaway


  • You reach new audiences
  • More website traffic
  • Can help you increase your position in the search engines


  • Can be time-consuming
  • Takes creative thought
  • Can have legal implications / rules that are complex that you have to follow


I hope these ideas have started your promotional juices flowing, as well as given you insight into how promotional giveaways work and what sort of options you can choose.

Promotions ought to be a part of every company’s marketing strategy, and not only bring you website traffic but they also generate inbound links.

Just remember to keep your specific goal (including your ROI) in mind – and angle your promotions towards your ideal customer or client.

Additional Resources:

About the author, Sarah & Kevin Arrow


Sarah & Kevin Arrow have worked in digital marketing since 2006. They share their thoughts and tips here on this site. They'd love to help you become more visible. Book in a call or ping us a message - we're waiting to hear from you!

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