More than a word from Peter Littell

Peter Littell, Marketing Consultant and Copywriter

I've been involved in the wonderful world of marketing since the late 1970s, in the days when press releases were printed and mailed and ads were literally cut and pasted. They weren't the good old days.

Keeping up with the latest marketing strategies and tactics is at times mind-numbing, but always rewarding. I'm like most marketers I know - full of opinions. Hopefully mine can be useful to you.

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Value Propositions in Natural Products Marketing


One of the biggest challenges facing natural products companies, according to the Natural Products Marketing Benchmark Report 2011, is the perceived confusion in the market – confusion between organic and natural, misunderstanding of what is organic, misinformation about the products and confusion around the value proposition.Challenges marketing natural and organic products

With all of the confusion in the market it should not be surprising that 50% of respondents said that price sensitivity is one of their greatest external marketing challenges, and by that they meant justifying their price.  

There is not much a single company can do about the confusion between organic and natural or about the misunderstanding of organic. As a marketing consultant for the natural products industry, I have observed that this confusion comes from the self-interest of multiple companies promoting definitions which happen to support their products.

What you can do is control your company’s value proposition.

What is a Value Proposition

At its most basic, a value proposition is where you prove the value of your product in relation to its cost and benefits. It tells you why someone should buy your product or service. It helps differentiate your offerings from the competition, and it makes a compelling argument for why consumers should care.

You can find many examples of value propositions on the web. Just go to the paid ads on the right hand column of Google and click on them. Many of these will go to a specific landing page which will attempt to give you their value proposition as quickly as possible. “Vitamin C on steroids.” “Guaranteed lowest price on Echinacea” “Most Potent Goji.”

These are short term value propositions designed to convert the consumer into a paying customer.

For long term results, however, natural products companies need to define their primary and secondary value propositions, and then make sure that all marketing supports them.

Outline for Creating a Value Proposition

Before you create your value proposition you need to conduct some preliminary research.

1. Competitive Analysis

This entails first determining who your competition is. That should not be limited to companies that make the same products as you but rather it should be broadened to include those companies that provide the same wellness benefits as you do. If your super fruit is an excellent resource for Vitamin C, then you compete not only with other super fruit companies, but also with every other company that offers a Vitamin C alternative.

Once you have your list then go on their websites and try to determine what their value propositions are and whether they succeed in differentiating themselves from other companies. You need to know what others are saying about themselves so when it comes time to craft your value proposition, you can see how it’s different and better than your competition’s.

2. Keyword Analysis

Let’s face it, most people do their research on the web. So what is it that gets them to your website? What are the words that get the best results? Determining and analyzing the top keywords will tell you more about how people are finding you and what words they use. If you aren’t familiar with how to do this, there are many reputable SEO companies that can help. This will have a double benefit for you. It will help you with your value proposition and with your organic search.

3. Customer Analysis

Try to categorize your customers through segmentation and also try to find out why they use your product. If you can interview a cross section of your current customers and ask them why they chose your products, what their main reasons were for doing so and what advantages they perceive about your product compared to your competition.

4. Prospect Analysis

This is similar to the customer analysis except that you are dealing with those who have visited your website but have not purchased or those who buy your competition’s products.

Once you have conducted this preliminary research you are ready to start developing your value proposition.

5. Key Messaging

Based on the information gathered in your research develop a list of key messaging bullets. At first come up with the benefits as you perceive them. It could be how you grow your ingredients or what groups your products support or the efficacy of your product.

Then take this list and see how these bullets match up with what your competition is saying, what your customers and prospects expect, and what people look for when searching for your product’s solution.

6. Value Propositions

From the key messaging bullets and your analysis of how they match up with your research, start crafting 3-5 primary value propositions. Once these are done, compare them once again with the research. Choose 1-3 primary ones and 1-3 secondary ones.

7. Test your Value Propositions

There are many ways you can test your value propositions – focus groups, interviews, alternate landing pages from pay per click ads, internal conversations. But in the end, it is how comfortable you are in promoting your value propositions, because once you commit to them, they will become the essential support for the branding of your products and your company.

Facebook Home Pages – A Natural Fit for Natural Products


Everyone in natural products is enamored by social media marketing. According to the Natural Products Marketing Benchmark Guide 2011, Facebook is the 2nd most used marketing tactic, almost even with websites, and Twitter is #7. Natural marketers use social media for a bunch of reasons – to increase their brand awareness, to improve customer loyalty and drive web traffic, and for research (yup, the #1 type of market research conducted in the past 24 months by natural products companies).

But one of the things that came out from the report was the paucity of Facebook followers for each of the respondent’s Facebook pages. On average there were only 1,898 people who “like” their pages. (This is not all natural products companies, just from those companies that participated in the survey.)

So why so few followers?

Maybe it’s because these companies have Facebook pages like everyone else’s. There is no branding on these pages – just the standard wall. Don’t get me wrong – as a marketing consultant I love Facebook walls. They are the heart of any Facebook company page. But as far as visual branding goes – they only perpetuate the Facebook brand.

I went to some natural companies that have special branded pages and that are using their Facebook more and more like another website.

Tom’s of Maine

Over 260,000 people “like” Tom’s Facebook. When you go to their Facebook page, it’s all Tom’s.

 Tom's of Maine facebook page


The beauty of this page is that it emphasizes natural beauty and, more importantly, Tom’s brand in relation to that message.  It ties in the Sheryl Crow tour and implies that people who “like” Tom’s will have access to the tour and free tickets, if they so choose.

You can also buy their toothpaste. Click on the link and you go to an online store.

So what’s the takeaway from this? Tom’s does not assume you understand their brand or who they support or that you know their messaging. They are still marketing to you. So if people take the trouble to find you on Facebook, give them a big and bold reason to join in your conversation.

Stonyfield Farm

Not boasting the same numbers as Tom’s, Stonyfield Farm has over 84,000 people who “like” them.  And do they have a branded front page? Why of course.

Stonyfield Farm Facebook Page
Let’s break this page down for interaction. First there is a video embedded at the top and it’s about the organic movement. Not about yogurt. It features a short video of someone on the street who tells us how he got involved with the organic movement.

Underneath is a button that allows you to share your story. To do so you go to the site.

Scroll down and guess what. You get rewarded with coupons, free yogurt and groceries – provided that you share your story.

Now for a quick question: Name me some companies that support the organic movement. Or, name me some companies whose brand is associated with organic. I think you get the idea.

Do you think that Stonyfield would have gotten that across as quickly if their main page was their wall? So the takeaway here is you can use your Facebook main page to build a community while getting across your key brand attributes.


Silk has over 79,000 people who like their Facebook page. Unlike Stonyfield which does not overtly promote its products, Silk is all about Silk (and not milk).

Silk Facebook page

But what it’s really about is making Silk as accessible to the average person. You get a chance to see a series of videos that seem to be made by true users of Silk – kind of like a mash between a video testimonial and ad.

The takeaway is that you can use your Facebook entry page for whatever singular purpose you want. In this case it’s about getting people to feel OK about drinking Silk instead of milk.

Facebook Home Pages

There are not that many natural products companies that have unique Facebook home pages – so the opportunity to stand out early is still here. There are those companies that are doing well without these pages, but they are a minority. Burt’s Bees has a whopping 427,000+ people who “like” them, so you can still build up your Facebook followers without a unique home page.

For most of you out there who are trying to establish your brand, why wouldn’t you have a unique page that can reinforce your brand. It costs you the design of that page and nothing more and it’s pretty simple to do.

The ROI Gap for Natural Products Marketers


If there is one finding in from the Natural Products Marketing Benchmark Report 2011 that’s shocking, it has to be that only 39% of respondents had a method for quantifying their marketing’s ROI.ROI natural products marketing

In an age where you have the tools to measure just about anything, why is it that natural products companies don’t keep tabs on what their marketing really does for them?

They have the motivation to do so. According to the Report:

  • The number one internal challenge among these marketers is their budget – as in they don’t have enough.
  • Their number two internal challenge is that their companies have not historically invested in marketing.
  • Their third biggest challenge is not have effective marketing information.

Measuring marketing’s ROI would:

  1. Help justify tactics and strategies during budget season.
  2. Demonstrate why companies should invest in marketing.
  3. Provide critical data.

ROI Obstacles

In fairness to marketers selling natural products, they face some obstacles that hamper their ability to measure their ROI.

Sell-through figures: Not all stores provide sell-through figures. If you have a marketing campaign that integrates local advertising, live demos, new POP and limited-time discounts, it’s difficult tracking the ROI when the store doesn’t give you the information on how the products sold through during the period of the campaign. The only thing you have to work with is the quantity of products you sold to the store before and after the campaign. You also need the year over year comparisons. So it’s hard, but not impossible.

‘Cost-of-doing-business’ trade marketing:  In the Benchmark Report, the percent of those that measure the ROI of their trade spend is paltry.ROI in trade marketing for natural productsThe only reason that I can see for this is that marketers must be resigned to the unfortunate fact that their trade spend is the price of doing business in the industry. Much of their trade dollars go to non-working marketing and sales spends like unauthorized deductions and distributor and retailer fees, as well as to those programs that they feel they have support to remain on the shelves such as distributor and retailer advertising. Maybe their logic is since this is the cost of doing business, why put an ROI on it?

Mmmm. Even a small amount of ROI measurement is better than no measurement at all.

Start Small

Setting up the analytics and tracking ROI is not easy. It requires commitment and skill. At times it can seem overwhelming which is probably why larger companies are more likely to track marketing ROI than smaller ones (Data from Natural Products Marketing Benchmark Report 2011).

The thing to remember about ROI is that it’s a measurement, and all measurements are relative. 

For ROI you want to set up some kind of benchmark from which you can start measuring the effectiveness of your marketing.  The extremely broad measurement (year over year marketing spend vs. year over year sales) won’t really help you because it can’t point to which tactic worked best.

I’m not going to discuss marketing ROI from web sales, since that is a different animal from trying to measure ROI from store sales. Suffice to say that with all of the analytical and tracking tools at your disposal for web sales, can you really think of a good reason NOT to measure your marketing ROI? But back to store sales.

For those who don’t do ROI for their marketing, start small and conduct tests.  Pick two to four similar shopping environments (same size towns, same store makeup, same sales etc.) and split them up. Half get one marketing campaign and the other half get another.

The ideal would be to have the store agree to give you sell-through figures. But if you can’t get that, try to get the stores to order at the same time before the test. That way you can see which stores will place a new order the soonest during or after the test.

Keep tabs on the marketing expenses (you need that in order to calculate your ROI later).

After the test compare the sales. Keep in mind, ROI is not the same as results. One type of campaign might get you better results but it might cost more than the other. The ROI is calculated by the formula - (Profit minus Investment) divided by Investment.

What you might discover from this is that your live demo program which gave you great results may actual be less profitable than the radio campaign in the other market (or visa versa). That’s the value of ROI.

Remember, if your main marketing challenges are not enough budget or convincing your boss, ROI is an excellent way to make your case. Without it, it's just you pushing the same boulder.

Old Habits Die Hard - Marketing Collateral in the Natural Products Industry


Over the years, as a marketing consultant I’ve created with my clients many printed brochures, catalogs, sell sheets, posters, postcards, booklets, programs, mailers and flyers. It really didn’t (and doesn’t) matter what they were for – fitness equipment, regional theaters, beauty products, herbal supplements, food, high tech, financial services – the conversations were similar.

Discussions centered around messaging, layout, size, and purpose. One of the questions that always came up in the natural products industry was “Where will this printed marketing collateral actually end up?” Will the stores allow the small booklets and trifold brochures next to the products, will they be placed in a rack with other ones, or will they get sent to the Siberia of the store’s back room? Who are these pieces for – the store staff, the consumer, or the recycling bin? And since the dominance of the web for all things marketing, is there still a role for printed marketing collateral?

In the just published Natural Products Marketing Benchmark Report 2011, natural products marketing decision makers tell us that marketing and sales collateral is still one of the most used marketing tactics (#3). But are these printed pieces effective? Apparently not. Out of the 34 tactics measured, sales collateral ranked 15th, right in the middle.

Natural Products Sales Collateral

What this tells me is that old habits die hard. Natural products companies can’t let go of their fondness for their brochures and the like, even if they know they aren’t that effective. And who can blame them really? So many of these companies sell products made from the natural world, and who can resist showing a glowing field of lavender or a sunrise shot of harvesters in a field. They have wonderful stories to tell about their companies and their products, and when laid out elegantly with emotionally-laden photos, who can resist buying those products?

The supplements category found sales collateral to be the most effective - and this is more likely due to the fact that this category relies so much more on information and education as a way to sell its products.

The problem is who gets to see these pieces? Do consumers still call up companies for their catalogs? Don’t they go to the web for their research?

Collateral is for Retailers 

If there is still a place for printed collateral, it has to be directed to retailers.

Respondents to the Benchmark Report said that sales collateral is most effective in terms of driving qualifies sales leads, driving sales and increasing brand awareness. This is true when the audience is retailers (and might be true for consumers if they ever saw the material).

Walk up and down the aisles of Natural Products Expo East and West and you can collect in 30 minutes at least 5 pounds of printed material. And that’s what many retail buyers do – selectively pick up brochures, catalogs and pricing sheets for both products they currently have on their shelves and products they are considering. At the end of the day or when they return to their stores, they review what they’ve collected.  And then what do they do? My guess is that if they are interested in carrying a new product, they go to the web to get even more information before they call up the company.

Eventually, all research ends up on the web.

So the question is – how much do you spend on your sales collateral knowing that retail customers will eventually go to the web. Do you create a piece that gets them to your website as quickly as possible, or do you create one that becomes a collector’s item?

In other words, if you’re going to invest in sales collateral, the goal has to be in making it as effective and cost-effective as possible. That might mean letting go of those glossy, spectacular brochures and catalogs and going for collateral that directs the retailer as quickly as possible to your website or designated landing page that is designed specifically to convert them into customers. 

Natural Products Blogging – Huh?


In the just released Natural Products Marketing Benchmark Guide 2011, it’s clear from the data that some tactics work better for some companies than work for others. Nothing earth shaking about this news.  Where it gets more interesting is when you break down the data by size of company and type of company.  For example, sales collateral was deemed far more useful to supplement manufacturers than it was for food and beverage companies. Makes perfect sense when you realize that marketing and selling supplements requires more education and information than selling a juice or lettuce.

But there are some tactics which ranked really low in effectiveness that made me scratch my head and say, “Huh? Really?”

The one that really stood out was blogging. It ranked in use 17 out of 34 tactics, but in effectiveness it was almost at the bottom at #32. Below are the percentages as broken down by company size and category.Blogging in the natural products industry

These figures are really shocking, since I know for a fact that blogging is perhaps the most effective of the inbound marketing tactics.  Provided of course you actually do it right.

The only conclusion that I can reach from this data is that companies in the natural products industry either don’t know how to blog effectively, don’t have the time to do it, (I’m hoping these are the reasons) or they just plain suck at it (I’m hoping that’s not the reason).

In an earlier post – “Blogging in Natural Products Industry- Hard to Find” - I discussed how few companies actually blog, and even fewer do it frequently enough to make it count.

This is more a shame than anything else, because natural products companies have such great stories to tell. Also natural products marketers believe strongly in their products. According to the benchmark report the main reason they came to the industry was because it fit their personal values and they believed in the mission of the company. Furthermore they bring their personal values into the workplace. You would think that blogging would be natural (pun intended) for them.

But more significantly, their products and what their products stand for actually help people: Pretty rich material for blogs.

I’m not talking about them writing about their products and how great they are – that’s a snooze. What I suggest is that natural products companies write about what interests them and what interests their customers.

3 steps to make your blog sing to your choir

 1. Stonyfield just wrote a blog post about bees and what bees are telling us. Nothing to do with yogurt, except it has everything to do with the sustainability of our planet, which is exactly what devoted Stonyfield customers are interested in. So the first step is to make a list of the big issues your customers care about, and then write about them from your company or personal viewpoint.

2. The next step is to ask yourself – what are you interested in besides your company? What are your passions? You may be interested in agriculture or helping third world economies flourish. If you show your passion in your blog post, your readers will respond. They will begin to understand the personalities behind the products, and they will grow more attached to those products as a result.

3. The final step is to commit to frequency. If you only blog once in a while, do you really expect anyone to follow you? Chris Brogan, one of the premier experts on social media marketing, talks about writing one blog post for the heart and one for the search engines. His reasoning is that he wants to be as visible as possible because if he is not, then he can’t be helpful. If you write regularly, at a minimum of once a week, you will slowly get regulars to pay attention. If you write more, more people will come, and search engines will start paying more attention to you. The fact is that in organic search, search engines like Google favor fresh, specific content that good blogs offer.

The fact that so many natural products companies find blogging not effective should be a huge incentive for you to start getting your blog in motion. It means that there is a large gap waiting to be filled, and if you are one of the first to do it successfully, you will reap the rewards for a long time, not only in search rankings, but also by building greater loyalty from your customers. 

Natural Products Marketing Benchmark Report 2011 - It's Here!


natural Products marketing benchmark report 2011During my many years of involvement as a marketing consultant in the natural products industry, I’ve frequently been asked how others in the industry were marketing their products.

My answer changes. I’ve seen some companies succeed with PR and fail with advertising. I’ve seen companies dip their toes in social media or blogging, only to stop before they got started. Basically, what works for one is often a disaster for another.

I have opinions about what should be done (what marketer doesn’t). But what was always pretty clear to me was that the industry could benefit from a benchmark that demonstrates how companies market, the amount of dollars they really commit to their marketing, what works for them and what doesn’t.

When I worked at MarketingSherpa, we put out benchmark reports like this for different tactics and markets. I didn’t write them, but I marketed them, and I saw how valuable they were/are to marketers. So why not do a similar study for the natural products industry?

I contacted my friends at Pure Branding and suggested the idea. They jumped on it, contacted their friends at SPINS, and within a few months we were up and running, creating and sending out surveys to several thousand natural products marketing decision makers.  Frankly, I wondered whether we would get any response, but we did. More than 400 people responded and they gave us some wonderful data to slice and dice.  I worked with Pure Branding’s David Poole (he is their head of research) going over the data and analyzing it, and between the two of us we wrote what turned out to be a 165 page report, complete with 116 beautiful charts.  A feast for natural products marketers.

The Natural Products Marketing Benchmark Report 2011 will be released to the public May 25. And it’s about time. You can get a free copy of the excerpt anytime by going here and filling out the form.  If you want to buy it, it’s a bargain at $295.

What I hope to do in the weeks and months to come is write about the findings and add my commentary to it. For example, the report shows blogging is not widely used and not viewed as very effective. I don’t buy that it’s not effective, so my take on that is the industry isn’t doing it well yet. But more on that later.

In the meantime download the excerpt, and let me know what you think.

The ‘Instant’ Death of Email Marketing? No so fast.


Death of Email marketingIn today’s New York Times there is a story about email getting an instant makeover. It talks about how email is becoming a thing for old fogies. More and more people are bored with the “long process of signing into an account, typing out a subject line and then sending a message that might not be received or answered for hours.” The future lies in instant messaging, texting and social networks like Facebook.

It’s clear to this marketing consultant that we are headed toward a telepathic world, where everyone will know what everyone is about to say before they do, and answers overlap questions. Pretty soon instant messaging won’t be instant enough.

Which brings me back to email. I can’t predict what’s going to happen 5 years from now, but I’m pretty sure that in the next five years email will have an important place in the business world. The reason for this is that businesses rely on email for many things:

  • Interoffice communication
  • Communication with customers, prospects, vendors etc.
  • Contractual agreements
  • Sales and marketing pitches

That’s not to say that newer, more casual forms of digital communication don’t play a role in these things as well – but email creates a digital trail that can be followed, and if need be, verified. There is a clear chronology with email, which is important when dealing with business issues – who said what first, and why.

With email, there is also the aspect of taking the time to think about what you should write.  This is funny because I can remember a few years back people bemoaning how email had killed the art of letter writing, since with email writing you were less concerned about content, grammar and style. And now emailers of the world are complaining how texting and tweeting is killing the email. Ha!

The only problem I see for companies who use email for marketing is that it’s going to be harder to reach their prospects. For B2B companies, it will be less so because emails are preferably directed to a business email address. If people in companies use their emails for business, then they will continue to see the marketing pitches in their email boxes. For B2C companies, it will become more of a concern, because if the public turns away from using email to communicate with friends, then they will be less likely to look at their email inboxes.

So what’s going to happen? Or, should I ask, do we have the patience to wait until it does? Have we evolved to the point where we only want instant resolution to the future?

Monday Content Copywriting – Don’t Avoid Controversy


Controversy Attracts Attention for Content CopywritingOn this Monday take a second to think about who’s making the news these days. Chances are, most of them have been known to stir the pot. They aren’t known for shying away from controversy.

Companies, as a rule, like to avoid controversy. Trust me, as a content copywriter, I’m amazed at what they consider controversial. There are lots of reasons for this – corporate policy, fear, lack of imagination, lawyers etc. But there are ways of attracting attention by saying something that pushes the line or begs a question without jeopardizing your brand. The key is backing up whatever you say with your expertise, because if you write a controversial blog post, you know you’re going to get some comments.

One way to spice up things is to have a headline that looks like it goes counter to current consensus. For example, your headline could read “Organics Don’t Live Up to Hype.” You know that’s going to cause a reaction from those who believe in organic food. In your article you would not denigrate organics, but point out all of the false hype that’s out there and then carefully state your official position of the value of organics.

HubSpot used this tact recently with their webinar and post “Why Social Media is BS.”  Basically their position was that social media marketing works best when it’s integrated, but does not work as well when it’s separate from other marketing efforts. The title drew thousands of people to their webinar and the comments prior to the webinar showed that many were ready to counter the premise.

One thing to avoid with controversy is directly attacking your competition. If your competitor makes a product in a certain way, don’t write a piece with a headline that infers that way of making products is wrong. You’re going to open yourself up to them doing the same to you. However, if a competitor knocks your way of making things, that gives you an opening to make your case. Now that’s a controversy that you can win (provided, of course, that you’re right).

Photo Credit: Ben Sutherland

The Alt Tag - Natural Products Marketing Secret Search Weapon


Herb Pharm Display Garden - Example of Alt Tag usageOne of the perks of marketing in the natural products industry is that you get to feature photos of beautiful plants, succulent foods, happy harvests and healthy looking people. The whole idea is to present and position products that are created by nature, support sustainable practices and provide wellness. And photos are a great way to back up these claims.

Websites for natural products feature countless photos of their natural ingredients. It’s an essential way to show their customers their natural origins.

But here’s the rub: if you’re searching for those photos on the web, you can’t find them unless they have alt tags assigned to them.  Google, Yahoo! and Bing are not yet able to identify images by themselves. There needs to be writing attached to them so they can find them: Thus the alt tag.

Web designers and SEO experts know this, but go on many natural products sites and you’ll be surprised how many of their pictures don’t have alt tags or have alt tags that have limited search value.

If you don’t think that’s important, then you’re not optimizing your website for the search engines.

Some key points to consider:

The Alt Tag is NOT a caption. The sole purpose of an alt tag is to help the search engines find you. Think about your keywords and think about how you’d like your photo to attract people. A caption that reads, “Joe and Cindy at the Echinacea harvest” makes sense on the website, but are those critical keywords that your prospects search for? An alt tag for the same photo could be “organically grown Echinacea harvest – Name of company” since more people are likely to search for those keywords than the words “Joe and Cindy.”

Don’t abuse keywords. There is a temptation to stuff as many keywords into an alt tag as possible. After all, you don’t read the alt tags – only the search engines do. Wrong. Too many keywords – otherwise known as high keyword density – can trigger spam filters and that might result in a penalty for your sites ranking.

Alt Tags are more important than ever.  Everyone talks about the importance of title tags and H1 tags for search value, but recent research from SEOMoz shows that keywords in the alt attribute (alt tag) are given more weight than title tags and H1 tags, and almost equal with keywords in the body of text. Bing even gives alt tags more juice than keywords in the URL.

Alt Tag Importance for Natural Products marketing

Natural Products consumers like photos of natural things. I don’t have stats for this, but with almost 20 years of marketing natural products I’ve noticed that people interested in organics, sustainability and the environment love beautiful photographs of all things natural. A beautiful shot will create an emotional attachment to a food, product or ingredient. When searching, these same people not only look at Google Search – Web but also at Google Search –Images. Having trouble getting on the first pages of the search engines? If you alt tag correctly, you have a much better shot of getting into the first pages of Images (and, if you go onto Images, you’ll note that 10 pages fit on one).

Want more convincing? I suggest you go into your back end analytics and try to figure out how visitors are being directed to your site. See how many come from an image search. If there aren't any or very few, check your alt tags to see if they are keyword optimized. If there are a lot, then chances are you’re doing a great job with your alt tags.

Have any of you out there had organic search success with your alt tags? 

How to Win a Marketing & Public Relations Award


Awards - How to Win OneMarketing consultants, corporate marketing departments, public relations agencies and their advertising cousins, all like winning awards. It feels good, provides their work with a “third party” endorsement, builds a bond between the agency/consultant and the client, does wonders for job security, and sometimes gives people an excuse to travel for a party.

So how do you win one of these puppies?

I’ve been on both sides of the fence – as part of a winning team and as a judge. I recognize how hard it can be to put together a proposal and I know what judges go through when determining winners. With that in mind, here are some ways you can win an award.

Assumption Alert: All of these tips assume that you actually think your campaign, brochure, press release, advertisement, website, video etc. has merit. Don’t bother wasting your time filling out a proposal if you don’t think much about what you’re submitting.

1. Pick your category carefully. Most marketing, advertising and PR awards offer numerous categories. The beauty of this is that often what you want to submit can fit several categories. If you want a better chance of winning, pick the least sexy category. You’d be surprised how many contests I’ve judged where some categories only have two or three submissions. That ups your chances of getting at least an honorable mention. Warning: Don't try to fit a round peg into a square hole. If you are in the wrong category, rarely does your proposal get sent to the right one.

2. Results matter.  Judges are chosen because they are experts in their field. They acknowledge and are often impressed by spectacular art and clever concepts. But they also recognize the value of results. The difference between first and second is often decided based on the results, since it’s harder to argue with empirical stats than with subjective artistic opinions.

3. Optimize your results. I am not suggesting that you lie about your results. What I recommend is that you highlight the best aspects of your results and, when in doubt, give your entry all the credit you can. For example, if you entered an email campaign for a new product introduction, and your email open and click-through rates were average, look at the sales and provide that information. The judges will know that other things go into a new product introduction, but they also recognize that the email campaign contributed to its success. And finally, here is a dirty little secret: Judges rarely have time to verify your stats. If they sound realistic, they’ll accept them.

4. Presentation counts. I can’t tell you how many presentations are sloppy, incomplete, and poorly communicated. Basically, when a judge sees one like that, it’s a gift. When incomplete, it means the judge does not have to read it or consider it. When sloppy or poorly written, it just pisses off the judge. Remember, judges usually spend one or two intense days pouring over submissions and they love it when one is easily and quickly rejected.

5. Judges are not stupid. They know how things work. That’s why they were picked. Don’t try to persuade them with false aggrandizement or inflated claims. Be clear and to the point. They appreciate that. They are also human. If you take something for granted and it’s not on the page, they won’t go looking for it.

New Development – Online Voting. I recently got an email from an agency I’ve worked with asking me to vote for them in an award contest. I like them, so I cast my vote their way. They won and the reason they won is that they have been actively growing their social network – not because they were the best. So that’s one big vote for social marketing.


Photo Credit: By Dave_B_Davidlohr Bueso

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