Katie McCaskey is Content Director of OpenWater, a grant management software platform.
Awards programs are a secret weapon in the attention economy.
The “attention economy” is the realization that our attention is a finite, and valuable, resource. This isn’t a theory. This is the reason social media companies have such high valuations.
Awards programs cut through the clutter. Thanks to our innate psychology preferencing recognition and belonging, award nominees and award winners generate a lot of positive attention. That’s why businesses, associations, organizations, and industries benefit from implementing an awards program. They work.
The first question these businesses and organizations ask is, how do we promote our awards program? The answer is digital marketing.
Why It is Smart to Use Digital Marketing to Promote Awards
Digital marketing is the best approach for award promotion. First: digital marketing reaches the most people, and the best people, for the least cost. Secondly, digital marketing is easier to measure, and, as a result, easier to replicate winning strategies.
Lastly, digital media marketing lends itself perfectly to branding because messages and media are so easily distributed and shared.
1. Create a Custom Communication Plan - Including Email and Graphics
An awards program needs a comprehensive communication plan. You’ll need to address internal stakeholders as well as drive external interest. Create a plan that sequences reminders for nominees, voting, and other milestones leading to the award presentation event.
TIP: Develop and schedule as much material in advance.
Every communications plan includes a range of digital marketing material. At core will be an email newsletter. Email remains an effective tool thanks to its intimate role in our lives.
There are several kinds of emails, each with their own strategic use. There is the stand-alone, promotional email (“Nominate Someone for XYZ Award”). There is the lead-nurturing email, wherein you offer a prospect additional content, for free, something that helps or instructs.
Well-known is the newsletter email, keeping everyone informed (“also this month, we open nominations for XYZ Award”). There are also transactional emails. These are triggered by an action, such as submitting an award nomination, or after attending the award event.
All of these emails should be part of your digital marketing plan.
TIP: Consider a separate, opt-in email newsletter that focuses solely on news related to your award.
Work with a designer to create awards program branding. Ideally, it should retain look-and-feel elements of your overall brand.
TIP: Take special care to ensure digital graphics scale on all devices, especially mobile.
One effective digital marketing tactic is to create an infographic. Infographics concisely explain complex ideas and lend themselves well to sharing.
Recommended: How to Create a Viral Content Infographic
Consider how an infographic could explain the merit and/or impact of previous award winners. If this is your first year establishing an award program, use an infographic to demonstrate what merit your award winners will display.
For example, you could title the infographic, “How ABC Corporation Has Increased Recyclable Materials in the Supply Chain.” Part of this infographic could directly promote the awards program and ask for nominations.
2. Develop and Distribute Digital Press Releases
Use a digital press release to formally announce your awards program.
There are press release syndication services for every budget. Consider a sequence of press releases. The first should raise awareness about nominations. (Hey, this is an opportunity to share your infographic!). The second release should announce nominees and date of the award event. The third should be sent to congratulate the winners. All reinforce your awards program.
TIP: Save these releases and reuse them as templates next year.
3. Master Social Media - Earned and Paid
Your approach to social media will depend on your existing and target audiences. What social media platforms do they use? What’s their preferred media?
Further, there are two kinds of social media planning. The first, “earned media” exposure, is the kind of social sharing you hope will develop thanks to your digital marketing efforts. This happens organically after a strategic nudge.
The second, “paid,” takes the form of sponsored posts, promoted tweets, Google ads, and more.
TIP: Make it easy for people to interact with all of your social media. Suggest social media sharing messages. Craft and promote a custom hashtag associated with the award.
4. Promote a Public Vote
A public vote is an excellent marketing strategy in part because it works in tandem with social media. It also works because everyone has an opinion! Make it easy for them to participate. Tie the public vote to your social media and email marketing efforts.
TIP: Public voting works best when combined with a custom hashtag and heavily promoted in all of your digital marketing efforts.
Public voting can be as simple as an online quiz. Or, it can be as formal as a peer-reviewed, members-only vote. Select and awards software platform that can scale up or down appropriately.
5. Digital Event to Coincide with Award Presentation
Lastly, a live event -- broadcast digitally -- can make a splash. If your awards program hosts a conference or special event, but sure to plan a coordinated digital event, too. They can be as simple as a Facebook Live broadcast or as complicated as a multi-camera, director-helmed event.
These broadcasts may be private or public. Either way, live broadcasts generate excitement in the moment and provide material for subsequent promotional efforts down the road. Plan ahead to secure the best audio and video. Outsource this task if the budget allows.
Digital marketing is the best way to promote your awards program. It has the power to reach your core audience, their friends, and people a lot like both of them. This gives your award even greater marketing exposure.
Create a detailed communication plan, implement the digital components, and kickstart your awards marketing effectively.
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