On occasion, I like to visit a local establishment called Sir Edmond Halley’s in my adopted home town of Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s a restaurant/pub and a favorite among locals.
Look closely at the menu and you’ll find, under burgers and sandwiches, “The Award Winning Sir Edmond Halley’s Bacon Cheeseburger.”
On the rare occasions when I order this treat, I always say to Jeff, the bartender: “Jeff … I’d like the award-winning burger.” Jeff detects the irony because he has no idea when, or even if, the burger won any award. And Jeff’s been the bartender since the restaurant opened in 1996.
Quite frankly, I would continue to order the burger even if they removed the “award winning” stature. I want the burger, not the award.
Which brings me to the question: Does award-winning status help you sell more? Is it an effective form of social proof, building credibility and trust?
The marketing world is full of messages about awards, prizes, and accolades. That may suggest they’re helpful. The truth may surprise you.
How companies tout awards
Companies and their advertising agencies LOVE to trumpet awards and will often build entire campaigns around accolades. Some examples …
This ad, for a Suzuki, tells the reader the car beat every other car in a safety rating.
Below, we see that MotorTrend named the VW Passat its “Car of the Year” for 2012. Needless to say, VW’s ad agency went bonkers and created advertising around the award. And why not?
Magazines, newspapers, and TV shows love to run “Best Of” contests and issues. If you’re a car buff, I’m certain you’ve heard of Car and Driver’s 10 Best Awards. It’s a popular feature.
Again, auto manufacturers get giddy about this level of award. All will include it in their advertising. Many will make it the focus of their marketing.
But does it help sales?
Back here in Charlotte, Charlotte Magazine just issued its “BOB” awards… the Best of the Best. The awards cover over 200 categories, from best bartender to best restaurant.
The issue gets my attention because I’m curious about certain categories. Plus I have more than a passing interest in what’s happening where I live.
I’m sure the winner of the “Best Dive Bar” (The Thirsty Beaver) is likely to publicize its status. Actually, having visited The Thirsty Beaver, I’m not certain anybody really cares. It’s a dive bar! The “Beaver” doesn’t even have a website.
But I’m wary about some awards. Several years ago, a publisher organized a magazine called “Best of Charlotte.” For a large fee, you advertised in the magazine and you could tell everyone you’re “Best of Charlotte.” Hmmm …
Sometimes, when I’m writing copy, a client will want me to make a big deal of an award or prize. I specifically remember a client who has made a habit out of winning awards and wanted me to write a headline with the phrase, “most awarded.” Something like, “The Most Awarded Plumber in the History of the Planet.” Please note, it wasn’t a plumbing business: I’m protecting the innocent.
I’m happy to say I resisted. The client was overjoyed about all the awards, as they should be, but I reminded my client of my primary job: help them sell their products and services. I simply asked, “Do your prospective customers really care about awards?”
The intelligent client answered, “No.” So we focused on what actually persuades a prospect to buy the product.
Another client recently won an extremely prestigious industry award. They asked me to write an advertorial based on the award. Again, I’m not sure their customers really care. Fortunately, this client tests like crazy and I’m confident the conversion data will show I’m right.
So you have to be really careful about trumpeting awards and prizes. A friend I sometimes see in Sir Edmond Halley’s runs an advertising agency; they specialize in brand awareness. My friend came in one evening and was super-excited: his agency won a prize in the local advertising awards.
I offered congratulations then, perhaps rudely, asked, “How much money did the campaign generate?”
On Twitter, I follow the marketing director of a famous resort. One tweet gave news about a prestigious marketing award the resort won. Again … my reply was “tell me about the ROI.”
The goal was to create awareness, came the new Tweet. But isn’t marketing all about generating revenue?
Some campaigns have tried to leverage the awards that others win. Here’s an example.
Mark Spitz won seven gold medals and subsequently endorsed several products—leveraging his fame and awards. There’s no proof this tactic worked then—or works today.
Consumers rarely connect an Olympic gold medal with a solution to their problem. I wrote about this “celebrity” effect here.
But to summarize, your potential client or customer rarely responds to awards… third party or otherwise.
Let me blunt for a second
Early in my career, I cared about prizes and awards. Today, all I care about is writing copy that helps my clients generate leads, new clients, free-spending customers, and globs of revenue. My clients don’t want awards. They want money.
This may seem crass and greedy perhaps, but I’m in the marketing business, not the publicity business.
If you’re shouting about awards and prizes, you’re engaging in a publicity stunt. Conversely, when you focus on what your customers really value, you’re engaging in the science of direct marketing.
Of course, there can be exceptions. And if you win a big award, you must include details in your copy.
If you really believe the award will help you sell more, then test a version of your copy built around the award. If it works, run the campaign until it starts to lose steam.
In 99.9% of the copy I write, an award is valuable proof the product or service works. But an award is just one form of social proof. Here are some other forms that also build credibility and trust:
- Before and After Photos
- Positive feedback from social media
- Media mentions
Social proof that really works
A testimonial isn’t technically an award but it’s proof your product can deliver. It’s the ONLY form of social proof I ever use as the foundation of copy.
You see this frequently in direct response campaigns. Here’s a textbook example.
And another …
This isn’t an award. It’s not a celebrity endorsement either. But the strong testimonial can be more powerful than both, and it’s an approach I like to test. The testimonial comes from a real person and tends to be more believable.
Last year, I re-wrote an advertorial for a dietary supplement. I scanned the testimonials and discovered one from a nurse. Her testimonial added credibility that increased conversions by 30%.
Our friends in Hollywood throw a huge party once a year. It’s called the Oscars. As an actor who wins an Oscar, you might think, “I just won a prestigious award… I’m going to be bombarded with mega-deals.”
But Hollywood producers are more concerned with an actor’s box office appeal than Oscars.
Robert Downey Jr., according to Forbes, was the 2nd top grossing actor 2013. Downey has never won an Oscar.
If you love hamburgers, then I hope you visit Sir Edmond Halley’s here in Charlotte so you can try the “Award Winning Sir Edmond Halley’s Bacon Cheeseburger.”
You will love this majestic comfort food delight for the perfectly cooked prime beef… the perfection of the Sesame bun… the crisp and juicy bacon… the fresh onion and tomato… plus the dollop of mustard.
You won’t care that Jeff, or anyone else, has no idea when, or even if, the burger won an award.
As for your brand, if you win an award, throw a party. But don’t expect a flood of new business if you decide to make the award the centerpiece of your marketing.
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