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Why Marketing Agency Awards Are Worthless Social Proof

By Ryan Law on Fri, Sep 25, 2015

Marketing agency awards aren't always the hallmarks of quality and ability that you might expect them to be. If your SaaS business is looking to partner with a marketing agency, you need to see through the shiny awards and glittering trinkets - and drill down to the differentiators that matter.

1) Awards Serve the Agency, Not the Customer

Agencies love awards. Barely a day goes by without a self-congratulatory post appearing in my LinkedIn feed, starting with the immortal lines 'This might sound like boasting, but...'.

These qualifiers are used because most agencies approach awards with a kind of guilty pleasure. They revel in the recognition, but deep down, know that awards are detached from their primary objective: helping their customers. 

Whilst some awards serve to recognise meaningful tenets of customer success (things like 'Customer Happiness'), most concern themselves with abstract concepts like 'Fastest Growing', or vagaries like 'Best Agency'.

Despite their differences, these awards are unified by a single factor: their irrelevance to customer success.

2) Anyone Can Create Awards...

Marketing accolades are often awarded by people with no qualification to do so.

People like me.

Pre-Iconsive, I was a freelance copywriter, providing content and strategy for marketing agencies. To attract qualified leads to my website, I created my very own ego-stroking award, and collated the UK's '50 Best Inbound Marketing Agencies'. I created a round-up blog post, rich with praise, and even designed a badge for the nominees to share (and in one case, embed into a website-wide sidebar). 

My list was composed entirely of the agencies I thought were the best fit for my service: typically those with underdeveloped, poorly executed blog content.

In other words, my roundup of the UK’s brightest and best marketers was composed entirely of agencies with sub-par content marketing skills.

3) ...and Anyone Can Pay to Win Them

Huge numbers of awards suffer from serious issues of legitimacy and bias. 

For agencies to be eligible, some awards require nominees to be paid members of their organisation. In other instances, agencies need to be recommended by existing members. These awards are the definition of pay-to-win. They serve to recognise only those agencies with the biggest egos, and those most willing to pay to satisfy them - and do nothing to recognise the true performance of an agency.

From a customer's point of view, paying for an award is a serious misallocation of resources. Instead of prioritising the education and nurturing of potential customers, agencies are shelling-out for a self-aggrandising pat-on-the-back.

Anyone can create shiny awards and badges – and anyone can pay to 'win' one.

4) The Best Agencies Are Miles Ahead of Their Time

Popularity is a product of familiarity, and to win any of the dime-a-dozen marketing awards around, an agency has to be doing a well-known, familiar and comfortable form of marketing. 

You won't find an award category recognising the most pioneering SaaS marketing agencies, because it's too new, niche and specialised to be popular.

Unfortunately, agencies that take this popular broad-brush approach to marketing are the same agencies that lack the expertise, insight and focus to deliver effective growth for a cutting-edge software product. 

They're the most likely to win awards - but they're the agencies that are the least set-up to effectively grow a specialised SaaS business.

5) You Shouldn't Work with Agencies that Need Reassurance

Peer recognition seems to be the driving force behind most marketing agency awards. Agencies needs reassurance that the direction of their strategy is valid, and turn to their peers for that reassurance. Unfortunately, they're seeking reassurance from the wrong source.

The true measure of a marketing agency is in their ability to attract potential buyers, and deliver on their promises to them. The success and efficacy of their strategy needs to be measured against this benchmark - and not shaped by the number of accolades they receive from other agencies.

Other marketing agencies will never be their customers, and won't help them to refine their offering to better serve those customers.

Instead, agencies need to turn to their target audience, prostrate themselves before them, and learn from every word of feedback and commentary they can provide. 

Instead, You Need to Look For…

Specialisation

Specialisation is a necessary risk for an agency to take. By focusing on a small niche, they can channel all of their skills and expertise into serving a single area. Though they'll alienate many potential customers (and perhaps miss out on marketing awards), they'll create a message that resonates with their target audience, and a service that meets all of their unique needs.

Case Studies

Case studies provide tangible data to back-up performance claims, and are worth infinitely more than any number of 'Best Performing' awards. Case studies of an agency's own marketing efforts will also reflect the fact that an agency practices what they preach - and believe in their service enough to use it themselves. 

Client Testimonials

There's more to an effective working relationship than KPIs and metrics. Agencies should be business partners, staffed by people that care enough about your business to get to know you personally - and testimonials are a great way of discovering what it's like to actually work with an agency.

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