Winner of the _______ Award!

“Best product” awards are like Boy Scout merit badges – sooner or later everybody gets at least one to sew on their chest for all to see. But, unlike a Boy Scout, it’s not always clear that these products have really earned these distinctions or even that the “distinction” is worth having in the first place.

Most of us are familiar with this one jdpower1.jpg. It’s the J.D. Power and Associates Award and we’ve seen it so often associated with products that we know are good that it’s become a pretty reliable and authoritative symbol of quality.

Similarly, when they see this cnetaward2.gif or this pcmagaward.jpg , most seasoned electronics junkies know that the CNET Editor’s Choice Award or PC Magazine‘s Readers’ Choice Award means you’re looking at a top digital camera or laptop.

But what about this buyerslabinc.jpg? It may be less familiar, but does that mean that it’s less trustworthy. On the flip side of that question, just because it looks respectable and a manufacturer slaps it on an ad or their Web site, does that mean we should put any faith in it?

Well, from a marketer’s perspective, if you have to stop and think about these questions, then these awards haven’t done their job. But what about the consumer’s perspective? You can be dismissive of them or trust that they have some merit. But in both cases, making an uninformed decision may come at a cost.

So central to our research is investigating not just the product review and the awards it’s won, but the sources behind those opinions and distinctions. For example, we learned that Buyer’s Laboratory Inc. is, in fact, a respected source of business equipment information based on its extensive real-world tests.

We won’t ever trust an award, even from the best sources, to tell the whole story on a product, but one from the likes of  a Cnet or a Buyer’s Laboratory certainly helps determine what’s best.

But there are other “best of” awards that give us pause. Often it’s an unfamiliar source that lacks a clear statement about their independence or lack thereof and gives few, if any, details on their researchers or their methods and sources. They may have fancy looking awards that they bestow on products, but if we can’t tell — even after much effort — what their case is for doing so, you can be sure that they mean nothing to us and will carry no weight in our recommendations.

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