Early in my career I remember getting an email exclaiming '[company I worked for at the time] has been shortlisted for the Top 10 list.' Imagine my excitement as a new marketer as I forwarded the email to my boss and CEO and ran to their offices yelling "look at your email...this is SOOOO exciting!!!"
And yes, there was a moment of excitement. We all felt it because we didn't know what was next. Of course we knew our solution belonged on the Top 10 list for our space. We wouldn't be working at the company if we truly didn't believe our product was amazing. But there was a catch to being on this particular list.
It was pay-to-play.
For those of you not familiar, I'll digress from my tale a bit to share what pay-to-play is. Say you want to have some sort-of write-up in an industry publication. You can earn your way in by connecting with the appropriate journalists and making a pitch they simply cannot walk away from - or - you can pay-to-play which means you pay them to write about you, publish your stuff, etc.
Back to why top 10 lists suck,
When I reached out to this company, I quickly discovered there was a catch. We needed to pay to be in the top 10. We didn't actually earn anything. We didn't necessarily deserve to be on this list. The top 10 list could be a bunch of nobody's as long as they shelled out the dough. But still, it was tempting. This could be press release worthy! We could write blog posts about it! We could tell our investors! We would get a trophy (albeit we had to pay extra for that) but we would have a freaking trophy!!!
So here is what we did. We took that carrot and we enjoyed it. We saw our company in the Top 10 List. Sales used it to win deals. Our trophy gleamed in our office. That award was on every slide deck we could slap it on.
But I had lost the excitement. Even when it was published and I received a printed copy to hold in my hands, I knew it was disingenuous. I knew we were not 'voted' on to this list by an expert panel or by anyone that knew anything about us or our product.
So I started to despise pay-to-play and I still do.
This is a disservice to companies who have a problem they need to solve. We naturally look at top 10 lists for options and most don't realize those top 10 lists (not all by the way!) are just paid placements by companies who had budget and really didn't care that they paid to be there.
So what do we do? How do we, as marketers, help our brand earn placement as a top solution provider? How do we help prospects understand that our non-appearance on some top 10 list is not because we didn't earn it but because we didn't want to pay for it while not sounding like sore losers?
Tricky riddle right there. So here is where I put my efforts - real-life user reviews. Top 10 lists got nothing on my customer saying how our product changed the way their company operates.
So go ahead, pay your way to the top of the list. We know our product is amazing and we have real people doing real things to prove it. Keep your trophy, keep your press release, give them your budget dollars - I have real work to do and I plan to earn every endorsement along the way.
TIP: When it sounds too good to be true, it pretty much always is.