Witty branding

“The winning team found a problem that most of us encountered, proposed a good solution, and developed a working prototype. Also, they had very strong branding!”  As the SVP of product made the announcement, the one-week intern hackathon came to an end. Although the product my team developed did not win the final competition, I really enjoyed collaborating with full time employees on my team, brainstorming, and building a product from scratch to solve a real business problem. More importantly, I realize the importance of branding.

In the after-hackathon party, I was chatting with my mentor, and he said “the winning team has wit…they really stand out with their branding.” Their dramatic opening with music, the funny adaptation of a popular dating app, as well as the overall style of the presentation: very memorable. I nodded, “We should have included a marketing person in our team.”

Branding is critical. We only have limited amount of attention, time, and resource, while the world has overwhelmingly rich content to offer.  We make purchasing decisions not only by reasoning, but also by emotion and feelings, and the sense of identity. One product can be much better than all its competitors from a technical perspective, however, without good branding, it may only be gold buried in sand. In a world with so many choices and treasures, consumers simply would not bother to dig the gold themselves. A product has to shine and brand itself!

First, identify a relevant need. One thing I learned from the hackathon is that the need has to be relevant to a larger audience. The problem that I targeted was a very technical one in finance which only a small group of people encountered. The winning team targeted a problem of “Google calendar event overlapping” which almost everyone in the room has. It is more relatable and intriguing to hear your own need being met than hear other’s problems being solved.

Second, show the solution in a dramatic way. After probing the audience with an interesting problem, now it is time to sell your product. No one except the creator cares about the work behind the curtain, and no one cares much about the technical details they do not understand. As a scientist, I am used to describing workflow in detail in my articles and presentation so that other scientists can replicate my procedure and results. As a developer, in the beginning I feel ungrounded not to mention specific technology and methods.  However,  customers do not intend to replicate your work and all they want is something that works. Result speaks for itself. That’s why the “before and after” comparison never fails.

Third, be iconic. For example, start with a logo and a witty product name, and design a unique color style. Tapad has green, Facebook has blue, and Lyft has pink. Marketing is both art and science.

I am glad that as a data scientist intern, I have the opportunity to experience the finance and marketing part of the company, and learn to keep the big picture in mind when developing a product.

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