On the heels of the SIIA (Software and Information Industry Association) CODiE awards, one of the education industry’s most prestigious recognition programs, I wanted frontline perspective about awards programs from a few past winners. I tossed a few questions to Jim Marshall, President of Spectrum K-12 (2008 Best Education Solution); Donna McMullin, VP Marketing, Thinkronize/netTrekker (2007 Best Education Solution); and Bruce Friend, Manager of Curriculum Pathways, SAS (2008 Best K-12 Instructional Solution). Here are my questions and their answers about the value of industry awards in an education marketing plan.
MARSHALL: Two things drove our decision to submit for a CODiE. Nothing says you’re the best like an expert third-party endorsement. The entire industry knows that the CODiE awards are the only peer-reviewed honor. Having this honor bestowed upon us lets our customers, our partners, our competition, and the news media know that we are an award-winning company and industry leader. In addition, The CODiE award differentiates Spectrum K-12 in the education marketplace. Industry recognition highlights our expertise and represents the quality we put into our products, as well as being a strong indicator of market need and the recognized value we deliver.
MCMULLIN: To have our program reviewed by an objective panel, by experts in the field, gives us instant credibility. The CODiEs are presented during a premier event in front of a huge audience of education industry leaders. What we find is that when an education industry expert says our product is excellent, it carries much more weight than our own sales reps trying to sell someone. A third party saying we are the crème de la crème really opens doors for us.
FRIEND: SAS has been a corporate member of the SIIA for many years, and our involvement in the CODiEs is part of our continued participation. We pursued a CODiE award for SAS Curriculum Pathways because we are proud of the online content we have created, and the CODiEs are a great way to get recognition and to share that content with others in the association.
MARSHALL: The investment was minimal compared to the effort required to analyze, select, plan, and build a killer software solution for K-12 schools. The cost associated with applying, demonstrating, and working to show our solution was under $10K in direct costs.
MCMULLIN: We looked at the evaluation process and the categories. Then we spent time to determine which categories would best serve us, and which we thought we could win. After that, we sat down and talked about the application process and began to prepare. It was a medium level of investment for our company. For entering three categories, it was only $700 and we didn’t have to customize a lot of materials. Mostly it was a time investment.
FRIEND: There was an investment of time, not so much money, to apply. But we see this as such an important award. To be recognized by your peers in the education industry is a great honor. We prepared the award application and assisted the judges in whatever way we could, but we see this really as an investment, not a cost. It's difficult to tell how much time we spent, but I would guess less than twenty hours.
MARSHALL: We know many school districts will see and take notice that we were awarded the “Best Education Solution” award. This recognition will assist our sales team as they reach out to new customers. I also believe that our customers will feel proud to be affiliated with SpectrumK12. They can be satisfied with prior investments in our solutions because they selected the “Best Education Solution” for their districts and students. It is win-win for everyone.
MCMULLIN: It has been a real help in the sales process, but it has also given us respect in the industry, among our peers. We have utilized the award emblem as much as we can, everywhere we can. I do think it has positively impacted our revenue. It has really elevated our brand and our company and renewals with our customers, too, because it affirms for them the value of what they invested in.
FRIEND: I’m hoping to see expanded awareness about our online content. I tell people it’s one of the best-kept secrets in online content, but that’s not a good thing! Anytime you get this kind of recognition, especially from your peers, it will help drive awareness, and awareness is always the first step to an expanded subscriber base in schools. I believe the award will help us get to the point where if I’m telling people about SAS Curriculum Pathways, they’re nodding in recognition. Internally, it has been a wonderful time of celebration to receive this recognition. In any work environment, it is really nice to see, a real morale booster for people who put so much love and passion into it.
MARSHALL: The value of the award outweighs all marketing outreach! You can’t buy this type of buzz. We will be able to use this recognition for an entire year; plus, the recognition will be on our website and materials for posterity. The few dollars and limited time investment makes this award the best-spent time and dollars that any company can invest!
MCMULLIN: When it comes to selling to schools, trade shows give us the biggest return on our investment, but I see awards programs as important as any of our advertising, definitely in the top five of all marketing initiatives we’ve done. Getting industry awards has been part of our education marketing strategy from the get-go. We now have 25 awards for excellence. For educators to see year after year that you win awards really says something. I put this very high on my list for return on investment; especially if you are going after the most well respected awards.
FRIEND: I rank this very high. Anytime you get recognition from others in your industry for a quality product, it’s a testimonial that money can’t buy. It is a very good investment of time. The best testimonials come from people who know how hard it is to build products like this. If you have a quality resource and you want exposure, we would recommend this great process!