B2B companies who have just begun to use strategic public relations may not be know the full value that conference speaking engagements and industry awards offer. Here at Crenshaw, our client base of high-growth tech organizations have found that earned speaking opportunities and industry recognition build credibility and visibility for their brand. In many cases they support a path to a market leadership position. Here’s how it works.
Influence buyer decisions
The B2B buyers’ journey is famously long-tailed and competitive. Software solutions are expensive, and buyers under pressure to make the right choice seek as much information as possible to vet the quality of a SaaS, AI, cybersecurity, or data product. Young companies need to find ways to earn endorsements from a reputable third-party. Awards demonstrate — in an unbiased manner — innovation in the form of impact on an industry, a benefit to others, or a trend-setting practice that has been successful in the field. Similarly, if a buyer’s internet search turns up informative commentary from a tech executive that helps them make a decision, that company’s product will definitely bump up into the higher consideration set. If a new company’s brand name and an executive’s name turn up over and over at industry conferences, on podcasts or webinars, visibility and credibility will naturally grow in the minds of buyers. For more on how PR turns prospects into customers, see our earlier post.
Drive differentiation – or establish a new category
Solutions providers typically face fierce competition in a crowded marketplace. They want to pursue every conceivable tactic to set themselves apart within a sector of similarly positioned companies. A fundamental impacts of well-conceived PR program is differentiating from the competition; impact that advertising and marketing cannot do with the same potency. To win an industry software product award, you must show how the SaaS has performed in the real world using the case of an actual user, via the case study narrative. Award entries give the opportunity to tell the story of how a software offering works differently from others, and award wins allow more opportunities for a company to tell their story and deliver their message of differentiation. Further, an early-stage company can introduce and build awareness for a new category by having its executives speak in panels and keynotes at relevant conferences. Customer relationship management (CRM), local search optimization, and digital product catalogues were all once new product or service categories, which are now widely known.
Support employer branding
Awards in particular can be great ways to generate a morale boost for both leadership and staff. Who doesn’t like winning? Product awards are excellent ways to build credibility, but there are worthwhile awards that focus on a company’s customer service, workplace culture, or individual accomplishments. In the same way early-stage companies must earn credibility for their products, they should also find ways to show their industry (instead of merely telling it) how well their customer service and customer experience departments perform. Especially in the B2B tech space, buyers are seeking partners that also provide great service in addition to a great product. Plus, in today’s employment market, B2B companies are always fighting for tech talent. Millennials are famous for desiring progressive employers who care for their employees’ experience and value a diverse and inclusive workplace. Winning DEI and best places to work awards like Inc., Glassdoor, and Crain’s are essential to talent acquisition.
Create a leadership positioning
As the conference and awards manager, I am tasked with helping our high-growth tech clients build speakers’ bureaus. It’s a long-term proposition that sets them up for market leadership. Startups with an eye to a future of IPOs and category leadership should begin now to create a speakers’ bureau. While they may not have the resources to sponsor 20 industry conferences a year, they can assemble an executive spokesperson roster and speaking resumés by winning earned speaking engagements. Earned speaking ops are won by submitting non-promotional topic ideas to tech conferences, usually featuring a top company executive, a founder/CEO, CTO, or Chief People Officer, depending on the targeted audiences. If you look at the speakers list for any tech industry conference, you will see the same brand names across the board – names who are invariably leaders in the category or aggressive challengers. Success breeds success.
Generate case study content
Most winning award entries require a client case study that includes quantifiable success metrics. This is an early-stage tech company’s opportunity to bolster client relationships, since they are in essence gaining visibility for the client brand’s innovative approach as well as their own solution. Many startups are in the nascent stages of preparing customer success stories. Award entries, handled by a PR team or internally, are a great way to begin the process of crafting the narrative and doing the actual writing of valuable case study content. The content can nearly always be purposed for multiple PR tactics, from media pitching to white paper and blog content. The cooperation between solutions provider and customer to build these case studies can help fortify client bonds. Speaking gigs can also offer opportunities for repurposed marketing and PR content. Especially in the virtual and hybrid events era, recorded webinar/conference videos can be used after the event for PR and marketing. Further, the associated digital content has the added benefit of boosting SEO with higher domain values.
Tier-one tech industry awards linked to media outlets like Digiday, the Drum, AdExchanger, and AdAge are outstanding channels to prove a young company’s worth. Key conference speaking engagements help a young company insert itself into relevant conversations in its category, ultimately establishing its brand and executive leaders as authorities in the sector. For more on crafting a winning award submission, see our earlier post on how to execute a top conference and awards program as part of your PR campaign.