Beyond Participation Trophies: Applying for Awards To Build Trust in Your Brand

Image of Scott Baradell
Scott Baradell
Published: Jan 29, 2021

"If everyone is special, then no one is. If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless."

So said the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough to the graduating students of a Massachusetts high school in 2012. He wanted to brace these young people for a future that would no longer include the ego-soothing balm of participation trophies.

But you know what? Participation trophies don't end with kiddie soccer. They are a big thing -- and a thriving cottage industry -- in the world of business today.

I guess I'll be nice and not call out these honors individually. Let's just say that if the award has a "bridge" in its moniker to sell you, or it appears to be named after the former frontwoman of Fleetwood Mac, it might not be worth plunking down more than $500 per entry just to be able to announce you are one of the thousands of companies who've won it. The popular award mills promote themselves so aggressively that most of the folks you're trying to impress know what's up at this point. 

But the harder-to-get awards -- the ones widely known and respected by those in your industry -- are another story. Showcased on your website, they can be hugely influential trust signals for your buyers and other audiences. 

So how to determine which trophies to go for and which to pass on? Here are six steps to take when starting an awards initiative for your company:

  1. Study the reputation of awarding organizations. For industry awards, the best contests to enter are often those run by your industry's leading trade organization or a professional institute. A close second are those offered by the top business or trade publications (although these sometimes can be "pay to play" as well, so look at each publication's program individually).
  2. Take a close look at past winners. Before entering a contest, be sure to look at the list of winners for the past two or three years. Are these companies you aspire to be like? If they were a club would you want to be a member? Is the award sought after by your competitors? Or are the winning companies no-names that are already out of business for all you know? If you're not impressed by past winners, others aren't likely to be impressed by your win, either.
  3. Make sure the award category fits your brand. Look for award programs with categories that reinforce and advance your brand message. If your company is a SaaS vendor that focuses on exceptional support, for example, find a program that offers a "Best Customer Service by a SaaS Provider" award.
  4. Look for opportunities to share top accomplishments. Whether you’re applying for a company, product or individual award, look for the best opportunities to share your most compelling successes -- the kind that show how you're different from your competitors and the quantifiable value you create for customers. Make sure it's a story with numbers and other hard data to back up the results.
  5. Make sure to showcase your win. Don't be shy about putting the award logo on the homepage of your website, or on the product page if it's for a specific product. If the honor is notable enough, you should also highlight it in your team's email signatures, in a press release and in your advertising campaigns.
  6. Create a calendar to keep the momentum going. Industry awards are usually annual, so once you've gone to the trouble to identify the short list of awards worth applying for, make sure you do it every year if you have a qualifying entry. It's a chance to send a message of consistent excellence. The only thing better than saying you're an Inc. 500 company, for example, is to say you've been an Inc. 500 company three years in a row.

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