As we get to the end of the year, many marketing and PR folks are faced with the process of applying for various industry awards, which can be a lengthy and resource-intensive investment. Inevitably, the question arises from one or more senior executives: are all of these awards really necessary?

The short answer is: yes.

The longer answer is: yes, because of heuristics. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, the definition is:

Heuristics refers to experience-based techniques for problem solving, learning, and discovery that give a solution which is not guaranteed to be optimal. Where the exhaustive search is impractical, heuristic methods are used to speed up the process of finding a satisfactory solution via mental shortcuts to ease the cognitive load of making a decision. – via Wikipedia

The primary mission of public relations is to generate awareness and trust. In the absence of any other information, a consumer (B2B or B2C) faced with two choices will use heuristics to quickly decide which is a better purchase. Among those heuristic algorithms are things like awards and endorsements, because those are indicators of trust. Endorsements, particularly celebrity endorsements, are third-party indicators of trust. Awards are third-party indicators of validation, that someone else has checked out the product or service being offered and deemed it worthy of mention.

The more complex a decision is or the more risk there is in the decision, the more heuristic judgements based on trust matter. A B2C customer choosing a pack of gum has a low risk, low complexity decision to make at the checkout counter, and thus while endorsements and awards might be nice, they’re unlikely to have as much impact as product packaging (which is an entirely different set of heuristics).

A riskier decision like an automobile purchase, or a B2B customer choosing a service provider that comes with significant fees and lengthy contracts, is more likely to involve trust-based heuristics in the decision-making process. There’s more risk and more complexity in the decision, so third-party endorsements, reviews and awards matter.

Think about your own decision-making processes every time you’re faced with a significant purchase. What steps do you take to determine whether one brand is more trustworthy than another, whether one product is better than another? In the absence of a personal relationship with someone at the company or brand or prior personal experience, how do you know whether a brand is less or more trustworthy? If you put two otherwise equal products side by side, but one of them has a series of awards on it, which are you likely to believe to be the better product? If you’re the average consumer (B2B or B2C), in the absence of any other information, you’re going to believe the award-winning one is.

This is why awards matter to companies that are offering complex or higher-risk products and services, from PR firms to jet aircraft to office desk chair contracts. Buyers want to avoid remorse, avoid feeling like they made a poor decision, and anything which provides an increased perception of trust will help them make a decision in your favor.

The next time you’re faced with awards season or asked to help track down information for awards submissions by your PR agency, recognize that you’re making tangible and visible the trust that you’ve already earned through your products and services, and that awards are one of the fastest ways to convey that to people who don’t know you yet.


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