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I was skimming through my issue of Virginia Living magazine recently and found myself motivated to try some of the restaurants that were featured in their annual ‘Best of’ list. Realistically, I am not going to drive to Warrenton or Roanoke to get a burger – but the list did get me thinking about the power that lists/awards/rankings have on consumers. We are instinctually driven to products or services that have been “credentialed” by an outside party.Why is this the case? The answer goes back to the consumer purchase decision process. Roger Kerin, Steven Hartley, and William Rudelius put it best in their most recent edition of Marketing that public sources, including “various product-rating organizations such as Consumer Reports, government agencies, and TV ‘consumer programs,’” are the second source of external value that people look for when purchasing a product.

Now, we all know that there are a lot of awards programs out there currently and about 70 percent of them have absolutely no credibility. However, the other 30 percent of awards are what businesses need to start focusing on in order to boost their brand and win more business. In an age where competition is at its peak, companies (and in the case of professional service providers, individuals) must find opportunities to differentiate themselves from the crowd.

Take for example a recent award that we identified and developed a nomination for with HHHunt Communities (“Hunt”). One of the big trends that is occurring amongst Generation X and Y homebuyers is their ability to walk to amenities such as grocery stores, medical facilities, and offices. However, many of these consumers also don’t want to sacrifice having a yard. Hunt has been responsible for developing some of the largest mixed-use communities in Virginia, including Rutland in Hanover County. Rutland has a variety of amenities right at a homeowner’s fingertips with restaurants, grocery stores, banks, etc. within walking distance. However, many prospective buyers were not aware of this amazing community. We identified an award from the Urban Land Institute (which honors developers who promote sustainability – a big area of interest for the target demographics) and were able to craft a compelling nomination which won its highly-competitive category. The award was used as a business development device by communicating the win through public relations efforts, social media, newsletters, and other platforms which has helped to create a ton of additional interest in Rutland.

This same concept is true for professional service providers. In numerous articles published by the Society for Marketing Professional Services, studies have found that awards not only assist with business development and credentialing, but they also help with recruitment and retention of staff.

The key to any awards/ranking/list program is to differentiate between what is legitimate and what isn’t. Additionally, if you win an award you have to leverage it appropriately. Using communications tactics such as public relations and social media are two channels, but be sure to include relevant awards in your collateral materials as well. You just might find that investing the time will pay huge dividends!