Award-Winning Marketing Strategy

Awards won’t make a business — reasonable prices and outstanding service do that — but they can provide an edge in an economic time when even the slightest boost helps.

Strut Your Savvy Stuff Awards competitions offer a way to set your business apart By Jon Burstein Originally published in the Dec 2010/Jan 2011 issue of 850 Business Magazine

If everybody loves a winner, how can small businesses prove they are winners? One easy way: Win awards.

Awards can catch the eyes of prospective clients and offer current customers comfort that they have made the right choice. Whether it’s an ethics award from the local Better Business Bureau or a stamp of approval from the chamber of commerce, such honors can also help build a business’ standing in the community.

Awards won’t make a business — reasonable prices and outstanding service do that — but they can provide an edge in an economic time when even the slightest boost helps.

And within the business, an award can increase morale, letting employees know that their hard work is being recognized.

“The key benefit to winning awards, especially for small businesses, is for internal branding,” said Phillip Downs, a co-founder of the Tallahassee marketing research firm Kerr & Downs Research and a Florida State University professor. “They can make employees feel good, give them a sense of accomplishment.”

Awards also can be used to recruit prospective employees who are looking to join a thriving and respected company, said Janine Popick, founder of VerticalResponse, a San Francisco-based company that provides direct mail services for 95,000 small businesses.

“It’s important to communicate your big wins with your employees so they can see that the company is doing well and they can also see the impact they have on the success,” Popick said. “In the end, it’s reassurance that their company continues to thrive and their contribution is recognized.”

Tallahassee small-business owner Arthur Aveling said the value of awards shouldn’t be underestimated when it comes to prestige and the bottom line. He should know.

Over the past six months, Aveling’s tool business, King Arthur’s Tools, has been one of the most honored small businesses in Northwest Florida. It has won such awards as the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Excellence Award, an award for Outstanding Commitment from the Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship at FSU, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Faces of Trade award.

The publicity that has come from winning those awards has helped keep Aveling’s 11 employees busy with a steady increase in sales.

“The awards add to the credibility and image of the company,” said Aveling, who founded King Arthur’s Tools two decades ago.

So how do you go about adding the phrase “award-winning” in front of your business’s name? The first step is finding the right competitions to enter.

The best place to start is locally. In Northwest Florida, that means checking with your local chamber of commerce to see what awards are available for small businesses.

For example, the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce offers Small Business Excellence Awards every year. These are awards for companies of different sizes (1–4 employees, 5–30 employees and 31–99 employees), as well as special awards for Emerging Business of the Year, Green Business of the Year and Technology Business of the Year.

Such local awards are usually handed out at a luncheon or dinner, offering small businesses a chance to network. The Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce’s award ceremony in June drew more than 400 people.

“Having the opportunity to be featured in front of more than 400 influential individuals is valuable to small businesses, many with small marketing budgets,” said Jordan Jacobs, the Tallahassee chamber’s communications director.

The Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce offers the annual PACE awards for small businesses, while the Bay County Chamber of Commerce has its annual Community Impact Awards, as well as a Small Business of the Month Award, for businesses with fewer than 35 employees.

The Better Business Bureau Foundation serving Northwest Florida also offers the Torch Awards for Marketplace Ethics. The awards honor businesses and charities that consistently display high standards in dealing with customers and employees.

To win a Torch Award, Better Business Bureau representatives visit a nominated business and do on-site interviews to see how strong ethics are incorporated in the workplace, said Karen Szulczewski, the group’s communications director.

Customers walking into a storefront that has the Better Business Bureau award displayed can feel an added degree of comfort knowing that it has demonstrated its commitment to high standards, she explained.

In addition, the Better Business Bureau hands out Customer Service Excellence Awards to employees who go above and beyond for patrons. Nominating employees for such an award is another way to show that their hard work is appreciated.

Local newspapers and magazines also offer businesses a chance to shine with “Best Of” lists.

While it’s often free to apply for local awards, competitions on the state and national levels could require entry fees.

When applying for those awards, make sure to enter competitions that highlight what separates your business from the rest of the pack.

Is your small business committed to environmentally-friendly practices? Then consider applying for the Sustainable Florida small-business award offered by the Collins Center for Public Policy at Florida State University.

Is your business minority-owned or women-owned? Then look for awards that specifically honor entrepreneurs like you.

Then there are the national awards for small businesses, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Dream Big Small Business of the Year Award, as well as the honors handed out by the U.S. Small Business Administration for National Small Business Week. These competitions can be highly competitive but can offer national exposure for the winners.

There are dozens of awards out there, but you must seek them out. Beyond doing Internet searches, look to your competitors as well as to similar businesses that you admire in other cities and see what honors they have won in the past.

When it comes to filling out the applications for awards, you need to highlight what makes your business special as concisely as possible.

“Judges are usually people who have 60-plus-hour-per-week jobs,” Popick said. “If you’ve got to write a story about why you should get the award, make it good. The last thing a judge has time to do is research all of the entrant’s websites and information. The more compelling you can be, the better your chances are.”

While winning an award is great, it’s up to you to use it as a way to promote your business. A few simple steps include the following:

  • Display the award prominently. If your business wins an honor, it can reassure clients that they made the right decision picking you, Downs said. You should have any plaques or certificates arranged in such a way that potential and current clients can’t help but see them — whether in a front waiting area or a conference room.
  • Alert the local news media about your award. Reach out to the business editor of your hometown newspaper or call the assignment editor at your local television station. You need to find out who in the news organization covers such awards and make contact with that person. Don’t just send a fax, because it will likely end up in the trash. You also need to make sure you contact the media shortly after you win the award, because you don’t want to risk it becoming “old news.”
  • Highlight the award on your website and in your advertising. Many organizations that hand out awards also issue news releases, so make sure your website links to those announcements.
  • Send out e-mails to your current customers letting them know about the honor and thanking them for their support. Aveling said he has found this to be particularly effective in getting the word out.
  • Use social media to create buzz about your award. Post it on Facebook and Twitter.

There is no downside to applying for awards unless you are thin-skinned or can’t handle losing, Downs said. You win, you get honored. You lose, no one knows, and there is always next year.

Aveling is a big believer in the power of awards. He said they have helped create a buzz in the community.

“I’ve met so many people who have said, ‘Oh, I read about you,’” he said.


Throwing Your Hat Into the Ring

To learn more about local small-business competitions mentioned in this article, as well as other contests, check out the websites below. Remember that some may not have information posted yet because the application process for next year hasn’t started. In those cases, you might want to check if there is a way to get on their e-mail lists.

Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce

Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce PACE Awards

Bay County Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business of the Month

The Better Business Bureau of Northwest Florida’s Torch Awards for Marketplace Ethics

Sustainable Florida small-business award from the Collins Center for Public Policy

The Governor’s Florida Sterling Award

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Dream Big Small Business of the Year Award

U.S. Small Business Administration for National Small Business Week awards

In addition, the website has updates on national awards available for small businesses.