Grow Your List With a Group Challenge

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Have you heard of #movember or the #icebucketchallenge? These are well known challenge campaigns that were created to raise awareness for charity. Word-of-mouth is key to the success of these campaigns. The challenge participants spread the word and before you know it, everyone is talking about it. That is viral marketing.

If you have a small business, you can use a challenge campaign to create awareness for your business. I’m not suggesting you ask people to risk hypothermia by pouring a bucket of ice on their head. You’ve got to come up with your own thing.

The key here is to create some sort of participatory challenge that will excite and engage your ideal audience. I’ve seen 30-day Green Smoothie Challenges, 1-week Shop Local Challenges, 100 Days of Happiness Challenges — the options are truly limitless.

How to create a challenge campaign


Identify the problem

Put yourself in the shoes of your ideal customer. What type of challenges are they facing in their day-to-day lives. Try to find a problem that aligns with your brand.

Example: If you have a brand that appeals to the eco-conscious consumer, your ideal customer might be struggling to reduce the amount of waste they produce.

Come up with a solution

Develop a challenge that helps your ideal customer get closer to their goals. If we look at the example above (reducing waste), you could create a challenge like this…

Example: The #NotWastedChallenge – Join us for 2-weeks of daily challenges that will help you live a more sustainable, low waste lifestyle.

Break it up into manageable steps

You want to give your challenge participants prompts that they can act on and engage with.This can be in the form of daily or weekly tips or mini-challenges. This is how the first 2 days might look in our example challenge…

Example Day 1 – Assess your current waste situation. Estimate how many bags or garbage you toss per week. How much recycling do you have? Write these numbers down so you can compare at the end of two weeks. Take all your current garbage and recycling out so you can start fresh.

Example Day 2 – Bring reusable containers to work. Bring them with you when you go to buy lunch and ask the restaurant to put your food in them.

Think of it like a lesson plan. Start simple and work them up towards something a bit more challenging. Be realistic about the amount of time people will have to engage with your challenge and allow them to feel success by achieving some easy wins along the way.

Decide how to distribute the challenge materials

There are several ways to distribute your challenge materials. You can create a PDF, blog post or email series…or all of the above.

A PDF is great when you want to give all the information upfront. This is a good idea if your challenge is very labour intensive. You want to give people enough time to plan for the daily or weekly activities.

Blog posts can be great for your website SEO if the topic of your challenge is aligned with your brand. If you choose to go the blog route, you will want to alert your participants via email when you post a new entry.

Email series are cool because you can set them up in advance if you use a service like ConvertKit (affiliate link). An additional bonus is that you can get some great stats on who is opening all your emails or who is dropping out…and when they stop.

No matter which distribution method you use, be sure to supplement it with plenty of social media posts. You want to give your participants a place where they can ask you questions and brag about their wins.

Pick a Prize

It is no secret that people love prizes. If you want to keep people participating to the very end, find a way to incentivize the challenge. Here are some ways to make it fun and rewarding while increasing your brand awareness…

  • Hold a draw for a prize. Only people who complete the whole thing are entered. Participants have to instagram each step and use your challenge hashtag.
  • Have participants write a blog post about the experience with links to your website and reward the best post.
  • Photography challenge – Pick the best challenge photo from participants. The photo has to be tagged with your business name and challenge hashtag.
  • Referral Challenge – give a prize to someone who recruits the most friends to the challenge (this requires some way of tracking names)
  • Give a prize for the biggest transformation. This works for any challenge where participants can prove they got from point A to point B.

Start recruiting and promoting

Once you have all the details of the challenge worked out and you’ve sorted out your incentive program, it is time to start promoting and recruiting participants. Before you start promoting, make sure the timing is good. Nobody wants your green smoothie challenge during the winter holiday season.

Plan your launch during a time that sets people up for success. Create graphics announcing the challenge and create a landing page on your website to collect signup names. Collecting emails is an important part of the challenge. Let them know they have to be signed up to be eligible to win.

Make sure you promote it in a way that communicates the BENEFITS of participating. Tell the participants how their life can be approved by participating.

Example: By participating in our 2 week #NotWastedChallenge you can save money while moving towards a more sustainable lifestyle, one that is better for the planet and the future generations!

Don’t forget to promote the challenge hashtag. That is how you will keep track of the participant’s social posts.

Start the challenge

Now that you’ve got your participants on board, it is time to launch. This is not a set-it-and-forget-it situation. You need to engage with the challenge participants regularly.

Check the challenge hashtags daily so you can comment, like and repost appropriate content. Stay on top of the challenge prompts and make sure everything is going out as scheduled.

Don’t be afraid to create additional discussion by asking questions to your participants in social media posts and emails. Give them a reason to engage with you further.

Wrap up the challenge

As you get towards the end of the challenge. Remind people about the upcoming prize announcement. This could create a nice little boost of promo activity among the participants as they hustle for a chance to win.

Reward the winner

This is the fun part. Picking a prize winner is always fun. Send them a private message first and ask them permission to announce their full name and social media account. If they say “no”, ask if you can just use their first name, last initial and city. Some people are concerned with privacy, so this is a common courtesy.

If they are comfortable with you announcing their details publicly, you can post it on instagram and send out an email to all the participants. This will help build trust with your readers. They may not win, but they see that you are keeping your word and issuing a prize.

Pro Tip – Ask the prize winner if they are willing to share an instagram photo when they receive their prize and tag you in it.

Plan for the next round

If your challenge was a success, you can run it again. Give some space between sessions to make it feel special, but don’t be afraid to do it a couple of times a year if it makes sense.

If your challenge wasn’t popular, survey your previous participants and figure out where you went wrong. Rework the challenge to improve it or scrap it and come up with something totally new.


A challenge campaign is a great way to engage with your ideal customer in a way that can increase your brand awareness while improving their lives. A well-crafted challenge is a fun and inspiring event that builds a bond between you and your audience. Take time to plan a challenge that will really benefit your customers and be there with them every step of the way.

Your mailing list will grow and your brand will benefit!

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