Hold a design competition to boost your product’s visibility

Why are design competitions so common in the building industry? What advantages can a building product manufacturer gain from sponsoring a competition? How should I go about planning one?—W.M.L., advertising manager

Like athletes and actors, designers and builders are performing artists who long for the approval of their audience. Design competitions provide one of the construction industry’s few opportunities to take a bow.

The “award-winning” cachet helps developers lease space, enhances the portfolios of contractors and craftsmen, reassures building owners that they received a good value, and lets architects explore new artistic territory while advancing their careers.

The industry’s natural interest in competitions opens many public relations opportunities for manufacturers.

The construction industry abhors risk, and competitions can help create the image that your products are acceptable, even “award-winning.” Publicizing the names and photos of winning buildings and designers is an implicit endorsement of the products used on the winning projects. And your company’s association with design excellence can help position you as an industry leader.

Marketing opportunities
Publicity programs can be built around competitions. Press releases, space advertising, and direct mail can be used to announce an event. Winning entries can be publicized in trade and consumer magazines and exhibited at trade shows or toured around the country.

Your efforts will be extended by winners who build their own publicity programs. Prepare extra plaques or award certificates so that the building owner, distributor, and anyone else involved on the project can share the excitement of being a winner. Notable entries that don’t win still can be used in case studies, feature articles, or product literature.

The marketing value of competitions doesn’t stop at publicity; competitions also help build sales. When working on their entries, designers spend a great deal of time exploring a product’s architectural potential. This gives them a longerlasting impression than most conventional product-oriented advertising.

Competitions can stimulate innovative uses for a product or material. When Won-Door Corp. obtained the industry’s first fire resistance rating for an automatic operating partition, it opened the door for new design and space use concepts. Won-Door held a competition that produced over 1,000 entries and accelerated the product introduction.

Another benefit of competitions is the insight provided by design submissions and the deliberations of an independent jury. This information should be studied as an informal type of market research that may yield ideas for product innovations.

Types of competitions
Design competitions fall into several categories.

Awards programs recognize completed projects that use the sponsor’s product in a distinguished way. Trade associations as diverse as the Precast/ Prestressed Concrete Institute, National Glass Association, Chain Link Fence Manufacturers Institute, and Cedar Shake and Shingle Bureau sponsor successful awards programs to recognize use of their members’ products.

Manufacturer- sponsored awards programs are generally limited to leading brands that can afford institutional advertising and have many prospects to whom to promote the competition. DuPont, for example, has several awards programs for its Hypalon roofing and Antron carpet- fiber brands.

Product competitions are intended to explore new ideas and design solutions using a specific material or product. There are many variations:
  •  To draw traffic into a trade show exhibit introducing a new product, Weyerhaeuser challenged attendees to sketch innovative product applications.
  • North American Phillips Lighting Corp. held a competition for lighting fixture designs using its new miniature florescent lamps. 
  • Vermont Structural Slate Co. attracted attention to a whimsical magazine ad with a gazebo design competition. The grand prize was the construction of a gazebo for the winner.
  •  Formica Corp. showcased its plastic laminate line with a competition for innovative furniture designs. Winning submittals were built and displayed at trade shows and in trade magazine features.

A product competition subcategory is the student competition. There is a ready U.S. market in 30,000 architecture students and 2,700 faculty members. Participating students may not be able to generate immediate specifications, but they will remember your product throughout their careers.

Product competitions attract more attention if linked to issues of significant public interest. Thus, an International Masonry Institute competition asked for affordable housing solutions and a Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association competition dealt with indoor air quality. To stay current, the Concrete Reinforcing Steel Institute has an annual awards program for the best software for concrete engineering.

Project competitions, used to select a design solution and architect for a proposed building, have limited marketing potential for building product manufacturers. A possible exception would be that a manufacturer planning a new corporate facility could use this method to select an architect based on innovative use of its own products.

Craftsmanship awards recognize tradesmen and contractors for exceptional work. They promote the trade and motivate installers to strive for excellence. Aw a rd s become credentials your dealers or contractors can use to enhance their reputation and business.

Instead of holding your own competition, you can piggyback onto an existing program. Many chapters of the Construction Specifications Institute have an annual craftsmanship award program. Make sure your dealers and contractors are aware of competitions for which they are eligible. Offer to help prepare an entry and publicize their awards.

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Send an email to michaelchusid@chusid.com 

By Michael Chusid
Originally published in Construction Marketing Today, Copyright © 1991