Category Archives: Big Brand Hackathon

Mobile Brand Connect Dinner

Last night in San Francisco, BlueRun Ventures co-hosted the Brand Connect Dinner.  We work with Mark Evans at Social Local to put these events together, and we were thrilled to have speakers from Facebook, Proctor and Gamble, and Topsy speaking.  Also, it was a great audience of brands and entrepreneurs, seeking to build relationships and trade information.

There are a few takeaways I had from the event.

We are in early innings of what’s possible for brand advertising through Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms.  These social platforms are offering a new way for brands to communicate and connect with users.  Currently, most brands are merely repurposing content and media from existing campaigns (TV ads, magazine content, etc.) and just pushing it onto the Facebook wall, where they attempt to drive views and likes, etc.  What we saw though were several very interesting examples of new types of campaigns and engagements that leveraged some of the unique elements of Facebook to enable users to engage in more personal, more deep connections with the brands.  This was exciting.

There will need to be a continuing evolution here.  But this is to be expected if you study the history of media.  When TV first came out, for example, the first ads were basically radio ads just read on TV.  It took a while for everyone to figure out how to leverage TV.  But leverage it they did.  Same thing will happen in Facebook.

Big brands need massive scale from a startup to really engage.  On the one hand, many of the big brands–P&G for example–are getting much more serious about engaging with innovative young startup companies.  We saw this at the Big Brand Hackathon earlier this summer, where Home Depot, Toblerone, Ritz Cracker, and Kraft Mac & Cheese, all joined us and a bunch of hackers to build mobile-oriented demo projects that met their specific brand objectives.  Big companies and brands recognize that these new media types and these new innovations are areas they need to build musclature around, and it is great to see them engaging and working to stretch themselves to strengthen themselves here.

At the same time, its important for a reality check.  Concretely, big brands are driving massive scale and massive P&Ls.  This means that for a startup to really matter to a brand, there is a very high hurdle that the startup has to cross to become meaningful.  As Sonny Jandial, P&G’s Head of Innovation pointed out, the Brand Manager for Dawn Dish Soap is selling $1B worth of soap per year at around $4 a unit.  That Brand Manager has to move *a lot* of soap.  By definition, for the brand to engage beyond a little pilot or experiment with a startup, then, the startup has to be able to deliver meaningful numbers.  It’s a tall order, and as Sonny pointed out, his role is to be more of an experimenter on P&Gs behalf and help startups get nurtured to a level where they can grow to a point where they’d have an appopriate amount of scale to engage.

Budgets seem to be coming.  Without holding the brands to any fixed numbers, it did sound as though there was real understanding and thinking around th e need to spend here.  Engaging with Silicon Valley is not a hobby effort–it’s real and it’s serious.  The bar is of course high, but it did seem as though the budget is there.

All in all, over the last 6 months, I have seen a tremendous amount of interaction between large brands and with our portfolio and with the startup ecosystem more broadly.  This is an exciting trend.  At BlueRun, we will definitely continue to drive further into helping engage and connect brands into the ecosystem, and I’ll look forward to the next opportunities to get together.  See you at the next Brand Connect dinner!

 

 

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More Thoughts on the Big Brand Hackathon

Back in June, over Fathers Day, we worked to help organize a hacker event called the Big Brand Hackathon.  This was a great event, built in partnership with big brands like Home Depot and Kraft Foods brands Ritz Cracker and Toblerone, as well as several API providers like Retailigence, TeleNav, and others.  Here is a brief video of the event.

 

The interesting thing about this event is what I think it is going to represent in terms of a larger trend around mobile and what it means for large brands that are working to learn how they can leverage mobile in their businesses, and specifically in their marketing to customers.

Here is what I am seeing, and what I think it is going to mean in the industry.

First, mobile is clearly a big, big thing, but it’s been unclear how brands can leverage them.  Large brands, ones commanding huge marketing budgets, all know about mobile.  The challenge that they are still wrestling through is what should they do about it.  How does Home Depot or Toblerone leverage mobile it increase brand awareness, drive user engagement, increase customer satisfaction, etc., i.e., stuff that marketing executives at these companies actually care about?

The answer to this question hasn’t been clear for the brands.  For example, this past winter at the annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, we helped organize a 1-day conference track SoLoMo, which got several large brands together with mobile focused startups to talk about what was going on around the trend of Social, Local, and Mobile.  This 1-day conference track was great, and we heard from several big brands–Disney, ESPN, Comcast, and others.  The interesting takeaway that we took from last winter: the brands all got that Mobile was important, but none had a deep and well thought through approach to how they might leverage it.  Everyone was struggling for a paradigm.

Fast forward to the Big Brand Hackathon.  What changed here was that the brands were, if anything, way more open-minded about solving this problem the new-fashioned way–just hacking sh*t together and see wht happened.

And hack the teams did.  To set the foundation, the brands from Home Depot, Kraft Foods presented their business briefs, covering their business and marketing goals, and the API tech teams provided overviews of how their services worked.  Over the course of the next 48 hours, hackers put together over 40 projects–>$20K in prize money, free beer and food will have that kind of impact–that resulted in demos showing all sorts of ways these brands could leverage mobile apps and technologies to achieve their business goals.  Where 6 months ago the brands were lacking an approach, they left this weekend with dozens of starts to useful projects.

This was a big step forward for a few reasons.  First, its really cool to see brands getting influenced by the SIlicon Valley ethos, and see an example of openness to trying a new way of solving a challenge.  Rather than depend entirely on a top down planning process at corporate, it was cool to see these companies open themselves up to a new approach.

Second, I think we will see more brands pushing this type of hacker approach into leveraging technology in their business.  This only makes sense: as new technology waves create more and more disruption to traditional media, brands will get increasingly hungry to take advantage of this sooner.

Third, if you agree with the above trend, then I think agencies may start facing competition from more hacked together projects, and they will need to respond.  If a brand can host a hackathon for a few tens of thousands of dollars and get projects in a weekend that rival what they get for hundreds of thousands of dollars and months of time, then brands will do more of that.

I think there is a reasonably good chance that change is coming to the marketing of a big brand near you, and I think that’s a great thing.

 

 

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Breaking stuff at the Big Brand Hackathon

Another weekend, another hackathon in San Francisco.  I enjoy hackathons.  You see teams go from nothing to demo in two days.  You see hackers at their most creative.  You usually see the usual suspects on the developer-focused PaaS or backend API businesses (Urban Airship, Twilio, Retailigence, and others), which provides great intel on what’s going on in the developer market, a good leading indicator in the space.  And increasingly, you’re seeing high school and junior high kids showing up and getting projects done along with the grown ups.

I’m always amazed at what a little beer, pizza or tacos, some schwag, and a few thousand dollars in prizes can do in terms of fueling hackers getting together and getting stuff built.  It’s not the money, of course, that gets hackers together for hackathons, it’s more about just having the opportunity to build stuff quickly.

This weekend, the Big Brand Hackathon was held at Madrone Studios in San Francisco.  What was new and different about this hackathon relative to others I’ve attended is that you had Big Brands (makes sense huh?) Kraft and Home Depot engaging and participating.  Kraft and Home Depot both provided briefs to the hackers on what business problems they were trying to solve for over the weekend.  Examples of business problems included:

  • How can Kraft drive more brand engagement with Ritz Crackers?
  • How does Toblerone become more of an everyday product in the minds of users?
  • Drive more user acquisition of Home Depot’s Garden Club.

With these briefs and some incentives from the brands, and with participation from the API companies, YP.com, Mashery, OpenShift, Telenav, etc., the developers got hacking.

2 days later, there were over 40 demos that got shown off.  To my mind, about a dozen of those projects were basically ready to get picked up by the brands, polished a bit and released to users.

This was eye opening, to me and the brands.  The brands, I think, left the Hackathon wondering why they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars with agencies to wait for months for stuff to roll out in an orderly fashion to users.  The hackathon model turned this on its head.  Instead, brands could basically post prizes of a few thousand bucks and have hackers just go to town.  There will be some garbage that gets out to users, but the net is that the brands will get better connected with users, and they’ll figure out how to distribute this stuff consistently and on message.

It’s very interesting: Facebook in a sense pioneered the hackathon and the “don’t be afraid to break stuff,” ethos.  Its apparent to me, from this weekend, that this ethos is going to start bleeding beyond Silicon Valley high fliers and big brands are going to evolve.

 

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