Awards can be incredibly effective marketing tools, quickly communicating excellence, quality, legitimacy. When I worked at Cranium, game packages with an Oppenheim Platinum or a Toy Industry Association Game of the Year seal consistently outsold those without. I mean, how could you leave this on the shelf?
Even if you don't have a physical product, it's powerful to be able to describe your startup as Geekwire App of the Year and one of Time Magazine’s Top 100 Websites.
Some awards are determined only by a judging panel, but these days, many include at least some kind of public vote component. This can feel daunting, but it's also an opportunity to rally your team, raise your visibility, and reinforce your brand in a positive way.
Here's a systematic way to rally votes and strengthen your brand in the process.
1. GET CRYSTAL CLEAR ON THE SPECIFICS
When exactly (dates, closing time and time zone) is the voting period open?
Do people need to create an account to vote?
Are there any other special voting requirements (for example, live in a specific city or country, be a member of a specific group, etc.)?
Can people vote just once, or once each day during the period?
How long does it take to vote? Time it!
Does voting work well on different devices (i.e., laptop, phone, tablet)? Test it and find out.
Can votes be counted on different devices? Test it and find out.
Is there anything frustrating or confusing about the voting process? Take notes.
2. DETERMINE YOUR LEVEL OF EFFORT
#1 will give you a clearer sense of how much time it might take to rally votes. Based on your findings, you need to be strategic about how much effort you put in.
High effort should equal high reward. Your team and community can only handle so much vote rallying, so save the high-touch, daily appeals for high-profile awards that are truly meaningful. The award should help you reach the audience you're trying to reach, reinforce your brand values, and strengthen your company culture.
Case in point: At Haiku Deck, we were one of five finalists for a Webby Award in Mobile Productivity, and we decided to go for it. Even though we had to go up against more established companies with significantly larger communities, we felt it was worth actively participating in such a high-profile event.
And, yes, there's always the flip side. We once made the mistake of getting embroiled in a daily-vote popularity contest for a local, relatively unknown mobile tech conference. Even though we did win that one, we weren't particularly proud of it, and we probably spent too many of our "goodwill" chips with our community on the wrong thing.
A good test is to picture the prize--Would a win be something you'd put on your website or your packaging, put out a press release about, talk about in your recruiting? If not, keep it simple and move on.
3. CLARIFY YOUR "WHY"
If it is a high-reward situation, and you do want to rally the vote, be sure to step back and articulate, for yourself and for your team, why this matters.
Winning a Webby Award would raise our visibility with exactly the kind of mobile-savvy, early-adopter tastemakers we're trying to reach.
Winning this award would reinforce how much we value improving neighborhoods through great design and strengthen our important relationship with Seattle Design Review.
Be sure to reference this "why" in different ways when you ask for votes, so people have some context.
4. GIVE BEFORE YOU GET
Before you start just asking for votes, take a spin through any other categories to see who you think deserves to win. Consider your expertise, your customers and partners, your relationships, your community, and your network.
Demonstrate thought leadership (and goodwill) by publicly supporting companies doing work you admire or building products you and your customers would value. Tag and mention them on your social media channels to encourage reciprocity.
If a certain category relates to your industry, use it as an opportunity for team building and professional development--for example, set up a brown bag to evaluate the finalists and decide who your team should publicly support.
Look for opportunities to trade votes with partners or other companies in your extended network that you respect. For example, "Hey, congrats on being nominated for Pioneering Periscope Use! You definitely have our whole team's vote, and we'd be so grateful for your support in Killer Office Snacks!"
5. RALLY YOUR TEAM
Now it's time to get down to brass tacks. Even if your team is on the small size, you can move the dial with some focused effort. Remember to be clear about your why (see #3) and acknowledge the fact that it can feel awkward to ask for votes, but a win would be helpful for new business, publicity, funding, recruiting, etc.
For a one-time vote, put a person, or a few people, in charge of systematically making sure every single person in the office votes. Bring around pastries, or coffee, or cupcakes and physically stand over each person's desk and make sure they do it. If they can vote from multiple devices, get it done. If there are other teams sharing your office space, ask them to do it, too. Yes, it's shameless. Yes, it's effective. Just have fun with it and get it done.
For a daily vote, send out a calendar reminder with a voting link (that you have tested ahead of time). Remind people at your daily standup. Put someone in charge of troubleshooting any issues.
Ask each person on your team (as well as spouses and partners) to post to any social media accounts they use regularly: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc. Make it as easy as possible for them. Pre-write a post customized for each channel, with a killer image if possible, that they can use easily--but let team members customize it or write their own post if they want to. Another approach is to tag teammates in your own posts for easy sharing.
Ask each person on your team to email their family and friends with a link to the vote. Pre-write the email for them to make it easy. Go back to everything you learned in #1 and include clear, step-by-step instructions and even screenshots if necessary. For example: "You'll need to create an account to vote in this one—sorry about that, but we didn't make up the rules! Just type in your email and a password, and be sure to UNCHECK the box next to "Sign me up for email updates." Then click through to the 2nd page, check the box next to KILLER OFFICE SNACKS, and click SUBMIT. It only takes about 90 seconds, but this award would really make a big difference for our small team. You can vote from your phone or your laptop, or both. Remember that voting closes Friday at noon eastern time. Thank you so much for your support!"
6. RALLY YOUR COMMUNITY
This is an important component, but definitely one to handle with care. There's nothing more annoying than a company begging you to do something for them incessantly. Be humble. Be clear. Be grateful. Thank every single person who helps you personally and publicly, to the extent that it's feasible. Reward them a little something special if you can.
Create a schedule to cover all of your social channels for the duration of the voting period. Be especially careful not to repeat yourself over and over. Look for creative hooks. Sprinkle in other messages. Vary your focus across your channels.
7. GET CREATIVE
Zoom out and think of other angles in. Think about what you can create that will demonstrate why you should win. Think about what will inspire different groups to share and take action. One of my favorite all-time examples is this truly killer video created by Killer Infographics, illustrating why they deserved the Geekiest Office Space Geekwire Award (yes, they won).
Here some other creative ideas:
I created brand-driven content inspired by the 18th Annual Webbys theme "The Miracle of the Internet" and its playfully irreverent religious imagery. This piece, which codified our presentation philosophy (#4: "Thou shall not read thy slides aloud word by everlasting word") and promised presentation salvation in the form of Haiku Deck, was featured in the Webby Awards People's Voice daily digest and has been viewed and shared more than 100,000 times.
We also created a Haiku Deck featuring all of the other Seattle companies who were finalists in different categories. We shared and tagged it on social media channels to encourage broader sharing.
In 2014 we created Haiku Decks to showcase ALL of the nominees for all 13 of the Geekwire Awards categories (yes, even the ones we weren't nominated for). These eye-catching decks showcased our full range of visual presentation styles, earned us plenty of good will in the Seattle tech community, and collectively racked up well over 50,000 views in the span of about a week.
Right now my husband's company, Public47 Architects, is one of a handful of firms being honored for excellence in urban design in the inaugural People's Choice Awards for Seattle Design Week. A win would certainly be awesome for his firm, but it would also be a source of pride for the management and residents of the Anhalt Apartments, the Capitol Hill neighborhood, and Public47's other clients. This kind of thinking can inspire plenty of ideas and opportunities for rallying support.
8. MANO A MANO
If you're in a tight race and the deadline is looming, Facebook Messenger can be a super-effective tactic. See who is online and message people individually, letting them know you're down to the wire and asking if they could take 2 minutes to vote. This is definitely a tactic to handle with care--don't ever be a jerk! Acknowledge that you're asking a quick personal favor and ask what you can do in return. Let your friend know this is important to you (don't forget to reference your "why" above) and that you are truly grateful for their support.
While there's no foolproof way to guarantee a win--we ended up getting edged out by Pocket in the Webbys--there are plenty of ways to rally the vote and strengthen your brand in the process, even if you don't come out on top.
What's worked for you? I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments.