Building off Pete Larmy’s recent post on creating an award submission that gains the judges attention, I wanted to explore how to be more strategic with awards overall. Many companies pursue product awards as a way to get recognition for their technical innovations. However, those same companies may be missing an opportunity to use awards strategically across many areas of their business.

One way a company can use awards is to help with recruiting. This might include awards like Great Places To Work, Best Leadership Team, Best Culture, and Most Amazing Office.

As an award-winning company, you attract more attention from prospective employees. Through these awards they can find out more about what it’s like to work for your company and the opportunities they might get there. No one sets out to work for a losing company, right?

Another area for awards that is often overlooked is leadership awards that go beyond the CEO. Marketing teams typically go after awards for their most senior leaders, but there are likely a number of executives at the company that may be worthy of attention for their expertise as well. Nominating your CFO for an award that celebrates financial acumen goes a long way with the board, potential investors, and partners. If your company has an aggressive M&A strategy or plans to go public, recognition for the CFO and others on the financial team support those efforts.

Companies that want to be known for great culture or training should be looking at HR awards. It doesn’t always have to be a leader that is nominated either. There may be people on the team that are working internally or externally to promote and support diversity, for example. It’s up to marketing to ferret out these amazing stories hidden across the organization.

There are many awards for young up-and-comers in a business as well. These types of awards are sometimes less competitive and give recognition to others on the team besides just the leadership. If your boss or co-workers nominate you for an award, it goes a long way toward supporting job satisfaction and longevity.

Another area to look at for awards is for team members that give back to their industry or community in work they do with professional societies or non-profits. In fact, they may have already won awards for their volunteer efforts that the company does not even know about. My father worked in the corporate travel industry for a number of years and won numerous awards for his hard work as president of a corporate travel trade association. But his own company, a major computer company, did nothing to leverage those awards. This may not have been their core business, but if you take into account that he was winning awards for best practices, industry leadership, strategic deal-making, and huge cost savings in one of the company’s largest cost centers, marketing this internally to his colleagues and supervisors would have had tremendous benefit. If the trade organization or non-profit is well-known, marketers can also benefit from associating their company with the organization that bestowed the award – all for very little effort.

A final area that gets overlooked, and one that can have major business impact, is nominating customers for awards. Award organizations want to showcase innovation and while there is certainly innovation in a company’s own products, awards are most often give for the application of technology. Spending effort nominating your customers for awards has many benefits. Chief among them is solidifying customer relationships.

Sales team should be incentivised to look for clients to nominate for awards. These might be customers who are not willing or allowed to do a full-on case study or press release with you, but they see a direct business value in winning an award for the project you supported. This can lead to them agreeing to other marketing activities like serving as a customer reference or speaking together at a conference.

If you are a services firm like a marketing agency, IT services, or consultancy, nominating your customer programs or project for awards showcases your own team’s experience and skills. Sometimes these awards are given to both the services firm and the customer, but often they are given only to the customer – and that’s okay.

These activities have enormous value and can all be achieved by starting with a simple award nomination. For some clients, we might help them with dozens of nominations for their customers throughout the course of a year. Imagine touting in a prospective customer meeting that more than XX of your customers have won awards that year for projects that you led. Doesn’t that start to feel like a worthy investment of time?

Things to Consider

Like any element of marketing you have to think about your chances of success. Sometimes just the act of nominating a customer or an employee for an award will help strengthen the relationship. But, in all cases, you want to look at your possibility of winning to determine where to assign your resources. There are a wide variety of award programs out there, and they each have a different value and level of effort required. Many awards now have finalists and winners, so it’s more likely for you to get to the finalist stage, which you can market and promote even if you are not the ultimate winner.

You also want to explore a good variety of awards. Ideally you’ll achieve a mix of awards for all the areas that support your broader corporate goals – across product, innovation, culture, branding, etc. Keep a good balance of awards that are a stretch and those that are lower hanging fruit to make sure your win rate is solid.

Some awards like those from market analysts take tremendous effort and several years to win, but if you’re in a market where products are chosen often based on analyst recommendations, and if you can help shape the award assessment to give you an advantage, then it can be worth the effort. One client, after years of coming in second place in an analyst award, hired the analyst who ran the research group. Not a small investment, but given that their customers reported those awards as a major consideration in the buying decision they felt it was worth it. They won the top spot the next year.

If analyst awards don’t matter as much for sales decisions in your industry, then make the investment elsewhere. Along the same lines, winning an award several years in a row may not buy you much in terms of meeting your goals unless you are trying to show market dominance. A recent win may be enough.

Don’t worry too much about a pay for play opportunity not being seen as valuable. Many of these are equally as prestigious as the shrinking number left that are free. You also need to consider the amount of work that goes into a nomination. Some, in addition to the analyst ones noted above, can take many hours and involve numerous staff resources like your financial team, HR, board members, marketing team, sales, and others. This effort can be worth it if the award is prestigious, but it is likely not a good investment of time for every award.

Awards of all kinds instill a sense of pride in your employees and leadership. When it involves customer work it impacts revenue growth. When it involves innovation or achievements it supports branding and sales. At the end of the day, consider what you want to achieve and plan accordingly. Get creative, look beyond the obvious awards, and make sure this strategic investment of time and money pays off.

Robin Bectel
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