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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Winning Awards: Scale, quality and marketing

My wife and I have attended the Greater Ottawa Home Builders Association Housing Design Awards Gala for 17 years. We have reason to be there, even though we aren't home builders and have never designed one. With my ongoing responsibility to publish the association's internal newsletter, The GOHBA Impact!, I'm there in a journalistic capacity.

However, with a week before our firm publishing deadline, and the fact the awards are extensively covered by the local daily media, I don't need to "work" that hard as a journalist during the evening. We can soak up the atmosphere and, today, I can discuss some general concepts about the awards and award-winning process, without naming individual businesses. (I'll write the appropriate, totally positive story next week.)

In general, awards competitions (if properly and fairly judged as the GOHBA Awards are), are incredible marketing equalizers. You could put the entries into three core groups:

  1. Smaller or high-end boutique builders and designers who submit selectively projects they truly believe are really the best in their categories;'
  2. "Category stuffers" -- larger niche businesses who enter multiple entries within specific categories where they think they have some chance of winning or which suit their marketing framework/focus.
  3. Larger builders who may try to emulate the ideals of (1) above, but simply don't have the oomph, in part because of their size and scope.
I'm not suggesting anyone is wrong here -- the reality is that really great work requires individual creative talent and ability and is hard to replicate and expand on larger scales. Boutique high-end builders and designers are likely to walk away with more awards in the first category simply because they really do amazing work which dazzles the judges (and they probably take as much care in their entries as their original work.)

Category stuffing makes plenty of marketing sense, especially if you have a significant marketing and advertising budget. Entry fees aren't that high, and if you are the only company in the category, with multiple entries, you are sure to win (and you can then compare your work objectively to see why one project succeeded above the others).

Of course, it may be somewhat embarrassing in the room when you are competing against (1), and if you have three entries within the category and the one boutique project wins against your force. But realistically, the people in the room aren't your potential clients, they won't see the competition, and you only need to announce and trumpet your success if you win.

Finally, the third category, large builders and renovators with multiple projects, often fare poorly in these competitions, simply because it is hard for them to convert volume into the dazzling quality that appeals to judges. Of course, the awards organizers (and judges) still found ways to recognize and respect the builders who have contributed significantly to the community and the association's budgets. These builders know they can't really expect to do well at the awards, but are good sports about it.

Can we learn some marketing lessons here?
  • I've seen astounding and truly exciting business growth stories from smaller builders who won key awards. One modest builder, who won the "People's Choice" Award a few years ago, saw his business virtually double. There can't be much better return on your marketing investment: An entry fee, and you win the recognition (with the support of the awards major sponsor, the Ottawa Citizen), of greatness with plenty of free publicity.
  • Of course if you only enter in one or two categories where you truly think you are great, but win nothing, you end up with nothing (except perhaps a slightly bruised ego.) You have the choice of following the third point.
  • Category stuffing, when allowed by the rules, is a wise marketing move. You can broadcast any win you achieve, and ignore the results if they aren't so great. If you are spending thousands of dollars on advertising and marketing, the entry fees are not going to break your budget.
(My views have changed on some of these points in the past year. See last year's posting on the same topic.)

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