Pays to Be “Best of”

Recently, my local newspaper conducted an annual “Best of” campaign/competition among area businesses.  The idea is to have subscribers vote for the best examples of local businesses across numerous categories.   The process spans several months and ends with an award ceremony at an area restaurant during which the winning platinum, gold, and silver winners receive their plaques and 15 minutes of fame.  The winners are announced and/or spotlighted in a special edition of the newspaper (which, coincidentally, seems to be a popular venue for winning businesses to take out ads congratulating their employees and constituents).

While some cynics might pay the greatest amount of attention to the potential for ad revenue generated by this process for the paper, I happen to believe a great service is being offered to local businesses – providing an opportunity to earn publicity and bragging rights by being identified as a customer favorite by the customers themselves.

Awards can be a great way of calling attention to your brand.  Very often, these local contests have so many very specific categories, your chance of finding the right one (and ultimately winning!) are good.

If you are wondering just how common these contests are, I suggest you do an Internet search of the term “best of” business awards or some other similar variation, and I believe you will be surprised by the large number of specialized local, regional, and national activities of this kind that exist.  If you do not find one that seems likely to be suitable for your business, I would very frankly be quite surprised.

If, on the other hand, you question whether participation in such an exercise really provides much benefit to the business, “According to a research study by Hendricks & Singhal of the University of Western Ontario and Georgia Institute of Technology, it was revealed that more than 600 quality corporate award winners had 37 percent more sales growth and 44 percent higher stock price return than their peers.” (Source: Business.com)

Also, I suggest you talk to the many candidates who wage extensive campaigns to encourage voters to nominate and vote for their operations. 

Speaking from Experience . . .

You see, I also have some personal experience with “Best of” successes of this kind and found lots of value in linking the building of our brand to recognition.  Any label that identifies you as one of the best of pretty much anything is helpful.

The specific example I’m remembering dates back many years.  My employer was a fairly small local firm in the process of becoming a regional operation with national aspirations.   As you are no doubt aware, getting an audience that knows you one way to begin seeing you a bit differently can be very challenging (which is also the reason rebranding takes time and effort).  Although we probably had no right to believe we stood a chance of winning, we entered a contest that was naming the Best Large Place to Work in Pennsylvania.  (Best “small” company was a separate category . . . and the one we’d have preferred to use as our niche because we thought we’d compete more successfully; however, we had just a few too many employees.)

Needless to say, a considerable amount of time, energy, and resources were devoted to this process and assembling the extensive materials used to make our case.  This particular contest also involved a survey of all our existing employees, a task that required some fairly extensive coordination and choreography to collect sufficient data and to do so in a timely manner.

Much to our surprise at the time, we were named the 2nd Best Large Place to Work in Pennsylvania.  Having your brand recognized in this new way by a credible, independent, third-party source provided some immediate momentum to our efforts to convince our audience and constituents that we had, indeed, become a regional player . . .  while also giving them grounds to believe us when we said we’d someday perform on a national stage!

Upon winning, we immediately prepared a press release (in addition to that of the contest sponsor) to promote our victory.  We then disseminated this information as widely as possible and encouraged our readers to check the contest background material provided by the contest organizers.   Needless to say, we immediately adopted the recognition as part of our brand and brand iconography . . . and we began including the information on all sales literature, as part of our company boilerplate description, in various locations across our web site, and in all appropriate corporate correspondence.   Furthermore, we were able to use this designation as part of our self-promotion for many years because recognition of this “Best of” kind tends to have a pretty good shelf life – all of which made our original investment in time and resources very worthwhile and a bargain for the return we received.

That said, we did not win every contest we ever entered . . .but had enough success to consider activities of this kind to be part of our overall branding strategy!

The Lesson to Be Learned

My above example is just one of many ways in which “Best of” successes can be used to shape your brand.  For instance, a small privately owned area drug store has used our local newspaper competition to build a reputation for having the “Best Sandwiches” in town.  Word has spread, so the sandwich shop was able to start experimenting with take-out dinner entrees as well.   While the paper’s publicity was essential to this expanded rebranding of the pharmacy, the fact that the subs they made really are terrific certainly helped!

Similarly, several companies have found sufficient value in these contests to buy paid advertising that asks people to vote for their businesses.  While I don’t necessarily advocate this later approach as necessary, I offer the information as further evidence of the need to seriously consider identifying and participating in “Best of” activities suitable to your needs.

However, the local pharmacy’s experience is instructive in yet another way because:

In the end, you can’t ever talk the talk without being able to walk the walk!!

Your participation in such contests is just a means of calling attention to qualities that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.  Then again, isn’t that part of the basic mission of branding.