Five Tips to Help You Win that Marketing Award

During this weekend’s snow storm and with the help of a few carafes of coffee, I completed my fourth annual BMA B2 Awards volunteer judging stint. This got me to thinking that it would be helpful to share the collected insights with my fellow B2B marketers.

gavelAs a global awards program, the B2s recognize excellence and innovation in business-to-business (B2B) marketing efforts such as global brand strategy, customer marketing strategy, integrated marketing communications, new media strategy (like social), and successful new product and service launches. The whole effort takes me about 6-10 hours, depending on which of the 80+ categories I’m assigned and the number of total entries within those sections. This year, I judged in social and blogging categories, which were new to me.

Why do I love spending my off-work time judging these awards? Perhaps it’s genetic: I’m descended from a deep bench of judges and lawyers (the gavel above was my grandfather’s). More likely is the fact that I totally geek out on the insider exposure I get to the exceptional marketing efforts of a diverse group of businesses and organizations. I learn something positive from each entry, and you know who gets to review 20+ FREE case studies? I do.

My Five Recommendations For Presenting Your Nomination

Looking back over the past four years of B2s, I can recognize patterns in the entries – both helpful and harmful – that are worth noting. Since it’s fresh on my mind, I thought I’d take a minute to reflect on these trends and lay out five general tips for those who are considering nominating a marketing campaign, strategy or asset to any local (e.g., Colorado BMA’s Gold Key Awards) or global awards program.

#1 – Tell a Story to Remember

We marketers excel at telling stories, and judges prefer these over the dry recitation of facts. So why don’t more entries take this approach? While your judges are probably know-it-all marketers (like me), they are also human beings. They can be swayed by your charisma and by the riveting plot line of your B2B marketing drama. Er, I mean marketing project. We never have drama in our line of work.

Start writing your nomination early and take the time to be just as creative as you were on the marketing campaign or asset or person you’re nominating. You must stand apart from your competition: make the story memorable, project enthusiasm and character and don’t shy away from descriptive language. Does your entry answer some or all of these:

  • Why did this matter to the company?
  • What were your company / department struggles?
  • How many people were involved?
  • What obstacles did you encounter? (no campaign is seamless)
  • To what did you attribute your victory?
  • What do the results mean beyond just the metrics themselves?
  • Did this have wider, longer, or unexpected impact on the organization?

I also suggest gathering an outsider’s point of view. Sit down with your spouse or a non-marketing friend or three over coffee or a craft beer and tell them your story. Avoiding business jargon, describe what you did, why you did it and how you succeeded.

Note the questions your audience asks and what grabs their attention. Then practice saying what you want to write, so it’s more accessible. Give yourself time to reflect on your story as you read, exercise, or brush the dog. Make sure to incorporate all of these ideas into your draft entry. Then, when you’re ready, approach a tougher, marketing-savvy audience to make sure your story covers the salient, professional facts.

#2 – Frame It Out First to Keep on Point

Please, please, please: do not write your nomination while in the actual online (or paper) form on the day it’s due. You’ve just wasted your entry fee, and it leaves the false impression that you don’t really care. Of course, you care! Even if yours is an amazing entry, when it feels rushed or presents a weak narrative, it can’t defend itself against a well crafted and perhaps less deserving competitor. Rest assured that the lion’s share of all entries will be well written and yours must be, too.

So as soon as you decide to apply, take time to read the qualifications and questions. They usually follow a logical flow from objectives to results. Copy and paste them into a document and over the next week or two build out the outline / framework in Word, PowerPoint, stickies or whatever tool you find works best. Start writing as many notes into each section as you can. If you’re feeling disconnected from the details, host a brown bag with a few of your team members or the customer (if you’re an agency) to recapture the whole story.

Time dedicated to framing matters because your final nomination has to be brief, focused and complete. Some tips:

  • Start big and then edit fiercely.
  • Pay attention to the balance between the right kind of details and too much detail. If you’re not sure, enlist your biggest critic to review your draft.
  • Your overall summary should never be more than two paragraphs and should highlight the best aspects of the whole nomination.
  • Just like you do with your best marketing content, focus on readability (bullets are good, as are short paragraphs). Some judges may skim if they have 10-20 entries in the category.
  • And don’t repeat facts. I’ve seen entries that use the exact same words in multiple sections, despite that one calls for objectives and the other calls for execution details. It’s sloppy, boring and detracts from your story.
  • Don’t repeat facts. Really. Unless you do it for emphasis like I just did.
  • And make sure you have strong results / metrics that you tie back to your original objectives. For some awards, like branding, that can be a challenge, but you should still take extra time to focus on this section. Rest assured that hte judges will.

#3 – Use Visuals to Transport the Judge

Most of us are visual learners, and abstract campaigns do not inspire. They aren’t dull when you actually do them, so why reduce them for the awards? When the nomination form asks for uploads of examples, videos, URLs, or overviews, make the most of it. Show the judge the banner ads of which you are justifiably proud. Let them see the video that garnered a 35% email open and clickthrough rate. Give them examples of your humorous nurturing emails. Share openly, but only if you want to win.

Some of the best work I’ve seen so far was done by the agencies that are seasoned pros of the award circuit. Several have a standard format PPT-based PDF that repeats the entire story in stylish images and text. Granted, when the same agency submits four awards in your category, and all of them start to look the same, that tactic can work against itself. But still, if you move the judge with your words and then compliment those with a set of informative visuals, it’s the best possible differentiator. I am still saddened by otherwise interesting entries that ignore this critical asset.

#4 – Double-check Before You Hit Submit

This may seem like a minor point, but it’s always the smallest things that trip you up, especially if you’re running up against the deadline. For example, if you’re cutting and pasting from a document into an online form, make sure you’re pasting as plain text. Rich text like apostrophes will more often come across as unreadable symbols, and you may never even see this because it won’t have been translated to the final format until after you’ve submitted.

Readability and polish can count just as much as the content, and you don’t want to make the judge struggle to get your point. One entry that I saw just this year was dominated by all sorts of styles and fonts that made it into an unnecessary eye test. It also included about ten ghostly rectangles that I can only assume were images that could not be stored but were still defined in the underlying HTML coding.

You never know what you’ll get, so stay conservative. Remember that most of these online tools, while handy, lack adequate spell checking. If you type as well as I do, that’s going to be a problem. It pays to check your grammar prior to inputting your responses. If you have the time, get a colleague to review the final version.

#5 – Make Sure to Have Fun with It

Probably an obvious recommendation, but you’d be surprised how serious some of the entries can feel. You – the nominator – have probably been tasked with this job above and beyond your usual responsibilities. No time, few resources and the mandate to make this entry outshine all the others. So, no pressure.

I say relax. It’s just an award. Sure, that shiny piece of glass can justify marketing’s continued fanfare within the company, but let’s face it, you’re going to get more mileage out of the successful asset, campaign or person that you’re writing about in the first place. This is more like the final bound thesis than the oral exam you just aced. You’ve already done the hard work of actual marketing, so approach the award nomination process with some pleasure. Do your best and see what happens. The world smiles back when you smile first.

And bonus tip #6: Once you have written and submitted the nomination, create a second visual, company-friendly version. Post it on your intranet, share it with a list of inside influencers and managers or feature it in the internal newsletter. Let the rest of your business know the good work you’ve been doing!

 

I’m Alive, with Pictures to Prove It

Given that my last post was published in April (sorry!), I should first report that I am indeed happy, healthy, and getting about everything done in my life with the exception of regular blogging. So no, not trapped under a boulder, languishing in a minimum security prison, or holding a “bed-in” ala John and Yoko (which sounds rather fun, actually).

But it’s not that I haven’t been not thinking about blogging (catch the triple negative?). The proof: I’ve been using my handy camera – which doubles as a phone – to document all the various ideas and sights that trigger my “That Would make a Good Blog Subject” impulse. The best way to catch up with you, and clear the boards for new blog posts, is to present what I call…

“The 2015 Blog Posts That Should Have Been”

snow-may10

#1 – Why I Hate Spring Snow

IDEA: Though I normally love a peaceful springtime snowfall, the one on May 10 killed all my fruit tree blossoms and a couple of the trees as well. I rage at the skies.

domo

#2 – Domo Japanese Garden

IDEA: You’d never believe you were in Denver. Ignoring Yelp altogether and taking a chance on a restaurant can lead to an unforgettable dining experience.

halls

#3 – Hall’s Pep Talk Marketing Campaign

IDEA: I love this campaign. Each wrapper proffers cheerful phrases to make you feel better. Unexpectedly turns your state of mind – “I feel lousy” – on its head, so both throat and soul earn minty relief.

tidepooling

#4 – Tidal Pooling Is My favorite Sport

IDEA: I loved this picture from our trip to Monterrey. Looks like an abstract. 7:30 AM, the smell of the ocean, new discoveries on every beach, and nothing but time. The ingredients for a memorable holiday.

city-park

#5 – Denver Can Be Beautiful, Too

IDEA: Photographer John Fielder wants us to believe that all the natural beauty in our state exists outside of the cities, but this shot in City Park proves otherwise – to me.

ink-opening

#6 – ink! Wins Me Over Again

IDEA: No clue what happened here, but I am hard pressed to show you a better example of how to shrug off a launch fail with humor and honesty.

kuvo-pledge

#7 – Harnessing Technology for Your NPR Fund Drive

IDEA: I just loved that KUVO used the music information feed to tell me what to do and how to pledge during the fall fund drive. Exceedingly clever way to visually nudge those of us listening in the car.

threeguys

#8 – 25 Years Later

IDEA: We were all wearing black and looking natty at a friend’s 50th birthday party. We three college friends have known each other for half of her life. Makes you think.

 

 

 

Anosognosia. Is that what I have?

A few weeks ago, when talking with my doctor friend Dave, I brought up my suspicion that I had recently developed an odd habit of which I was previously unaware.

Let me explain. One of my employees had recently presented me with an advertising idea. While it had its merits, my first response was to pepper him with pointed questions about its practicality. I challenged his suggestion rather than discussing it, and in retrospect, I didn’t like how I’d handled the conversation.

So that got me to wondering: had I begun to skew negative about new ideas? I love to run experiments and test ideas (my heartbeat still races while planning a novel marketing campaign), but was I actually becoming a more conservative and cynical marketer? If yes, then was I blind in my perception of self?

That scared me. Who doesn’t want to be confident of who they think they are? Dave, who has a rather encyclopedic mind, gave it some thought and introduced me to Anosognosia, a “deficit of self-awareness, a condition in which a person who suffers certain disability seems unaware of the existence of his or her disability.” I was fascinated.

Anosognosia, Dave explained, is related to brain injury, schizophrenia and neurological diseases like Alzheimers. It’s one of the primary reasons why individuals with bipolar disorder don’t take their medicine: they are unaware of their own illness. “I’m not sick, so I don’t need medicine,” thinks the individual, but only by taking the medicine can he battle the Anosognosia and foster the self-awareness that he is sick and needs the medicine. A rather nasty Catch-22.

So, yeah, I am not a candidate for that particular diagnosis, but I do find it amazing that such a difficult-to-pronounce disease exists. And I still believe that we humans have a wonderfully distasteful habit of ignoring about ourselves that which we do not like.

Considering my own original situation, I’ve decided in the future to work on holding my opinions firmly in check until after the presenter has given me the full pitch. Only then, if she hasn’t been able to sell me and show me she’s thought it through, will I start to ask the pertinent questions. But I’ll do it with more consideration and try to accentuate the positives.

 

 

Judging Kansas City

Let me start off by saying that I’m not one to judge…unless someone actually asks me to.

And so it was earlier this month, when I was contacted by the Kansas City Business Marketing Association (KS BMA) to help judge entries in the 2014 BMA Fountain Awards. When Marketing Duty calls, we have no choice but to say, “Of course I will!”

fountainThis was a particularly easy decision, because only last year, I’d had a rewarding stint as a judge for three categories of the national BMA B2 Awards. I anticipated an equally exciting opportunity at the Fountain Awards.

NOTE TO SELF: Before continuing, I must thank Lori for supporting my involvement, despite the short notice, and Marilee, the ED of the Colorado BMA, for recommending me. Team Larry in full force. Thank you both!

So, back to my Midwest adventure. I departed on a Thursday afternoon and arrived in Missouri, or maybe Kansas. As the BMA team shuttled me hither and yon, over state lines and back, I was geographically baffled but in very good hands. Everyone I met was amazingly nice, thoroughly professional, and always on task. In my book, the Midwestern reputation for hospitality remains firmly intact.

Starting early the next morning, I worked alongside two other judges to individually grade over 150 entries in 13 categories, from integrated campaigns to display marketing to digital marketing to live events. A few of the categories had only a single entry, which was not a guarantee of a win, while others (e.g., logos, print ads) were brimming over with submissions, requiring far more concentration to discern a winner.

After nine straight hours, we’d completed our work and selected a final “Best in Show.” Drained and numb, but pleased with my contribution, I returned to Denver late the same night. The awards will be given out on Monday, March 24.

SO, WHAT DID I LEARN?

The trick to judging so many disparate entries in often unrelated categories is to set your criteria, carefully read the submissions, and compare how closely the objectives matched the results. Some observations worth sharing:

  1. Complete the form like you mean it. If you’re going through the lengthy process of entering your campaign or logo or video, make sure to offer as much detail as possible on your submission form, because that’s the judges’ only window into your world! Strong creative means nothing without context. Be witty. Be informative. Show your passion. And if you’re vying in multiple categories, don’t reuse copy. It’s boring for the judges and shows a lack of initiative.
  2. Always measure on your objectives. In casual conversations, we three judges all expressed general frustration over entries that failed to measure or did not think creatively about measuring results. Some campaigns were spot on for their objectives but withered away on performance. We now live in an age of data-driven marketing, and if you use a URL or QR code or call to action on an ad, it’s so much easier to track results. Otherwise, why market at all?
  3. Good marketing is still hard and not common. Our mandate was to judge on four criteria: creative, production, objective / strategy and results. I read quite a few submissions that fumbled painfully on their promise in one or more of these categories. Was it lack of focus? Lack of planning? Hard to say. The best submissions were clearly those that showed a distinct understanding of the target market, enough originality to make an impression, and proven results.

The bi-state Greater Kansas City area is indeed home to a vibrant marketing community. It was a distinct honor to serve as a judge of the Fountain Awards. My thanks to the team there for the privilege of viewing so many real world marketing case studies.

Marketing I Admire – Ibex

logo-ibexIbex is another company that clearly understands its customers, or “tribe,” as Seth Godin would say. I discovered this Vermont-based outdoor wool clothing company a few years ago when I was looking for a better quality vest than the ones on display at REI.

My older brother put me onto Ibex. I not only enjoy wearing their products (I refuse to share my ultrasoft, wooly hat with anyone), but I see them as a great example of a company that’s taken pains to know its customers and integrate its brand – “durable, evolving, active and modern” – into everything it does.

Their Web site (http://shop.ibex.com/) exemplifies what I mean:

  • They openly involve and display their tribe. Ibex has a client base of dedicated outdoor enthusiasts. Each product features “verified customers” who have posted their ideas, opinions, and product reviews, even the rare negative ones. Ibex knows that their best advocate is the existing customer, not their own company copy. They have the confidence to let real customers speak for them. Not something you see often. AND they have Google+ and Facebook Like buttons for all their products so rock climbers, runners, and back country skiers can share their passions for fine wool wearables.
  • They gently educate their prospective customers. With only four main navigation elements, the site is clean and modern. The pleasant surprise comes when you mouse over one of these (Men’s, for example). Try it. Not only do you see the product breakdown, but you get a primer on their clothing lines (they call it Ibex 101). Their site navigation doubles as a dictionary! Phenomenal experience for a first-time visitor.
  • They reinforce their identity and engage their visitors with compelling content. Ibex does content marketing as well as anyone. They include high-quality video (including “The Art of Wool” on their home page), informative articles, and Instagram shots of their own employees wearing their products. Not overwhelming and enough to help bolster their brand. By far my favorite section is “Dogs Matter,” a jaw-dropping assemblage of the best dog photography I have ever seen. I’ve bookmarked this page and visit when I need an easy smile.

Sure, my own career (and the careers of many friends) is bound to business-to-business (B2B) marketing rather than business-to-customer (B2C) retail. Yet examples like Ibex are inspiring all the same. I only wish that the head of marketing had responded to my interview request for this post. It seems an odd miscue for a company that so clearly uses its customers as a tool in their sales process to ignore a customer request that would bring them positive PR. A broken process? Lack of staffing? Disinterested in small-time online media? High on maple syrup? I’ll never know.

Perhaps they are too busy trail running with their canine companions through the picturesque woods of Vermont…