In crowded, competitive industries, unique standouts are increasingly difficult to spot. Brand exposure is often limited to on-shelf product, digital ads, and other sterile, removed interactions.
However, for companies whose products or services are used for web building, hackathons may hold the key to a more accelerated product rollout and could also offer opportunities to boost brand awareness. They let anyone who provides a service that can be utilized by someone building a business online get in front of the makers who would use that service.
Non-tech titans like McDonalds and Samsung continue to build momentum and interest around this method of brand-building by investing in large events where computer programmers (or hackers) collaborate and compete. Many tech industry insiders believe that hackathons will become part of the core growth strategy for many businesses.
Hackathons allow you to find new users in a short time. My company has received invaluable publicity by attending and sponsoring these events. Our primary goal in attending hackathons is to expose participating entrepreneurs and makers to our domain extension and how it can benefit them. We typically partner with a registrar like GoDaddy or Domain.com to offer a free domain to participants, and we also entice competitors with prizes for the best utilization of the name and product.
While attending the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon in San Francisco, for example, more than 40 projects used our “.club” domain, including 24 that became prize winners. And at the Launch Hackathon, 53 teams used our domain name, with four of those making it into the top 15 and one into the top five.
The hope is that hackathon participants continue using our domain extension in their projects beyond the event and promote it organically, like one team from the Launch Hackathon did. That team didn’t win at launch but went on to a music hackathon at SXSW several weeks later and used our domain extension for its entry there. Its project became a finalist, and this turned into additional brand exposure and publicity for us.
From entering as a hacker to sponsoring the event, there are several ways to promote your company by getting involved in hackathons.
1. Sponsor a hackathon. Many hackathons are free to participants, so hackers can just sign up. But most events require you to become a sponsor if you want to offer a prize and put your product or API in front of participants. Seek out well-known hackathons to sponsor, and make sure they reach your target audience or it won’t have an immediate impact.
We’ve sponsored both student-focused events and ones focused on more experienced pros. For our domain extension, the student events haven’t performed as well as the bigger, more established events. Not all hackathons fit the stereotypical mold of techie convention. In fact, you can find hackathons in almost any industry these days, so seek out lists to find those that would potentially fit your intended customer base.
2. Connect with the judges. Venture capitalists, angel investors, and media people judge many of these hackathons. Especially at the larger hackathons, the judges are people of note and you get the side benefit of exposing your business to people you’d like to know or have learned about your product.
When participants use your product for their projects and mention it in their presentations to the judges, you have likely made a great connection and generated another opportunity to promote your business. Expanding your circle of notable influencers is yet another benefit of attending a hackathon, not to mention the potential for press mentions if a team using your product makes it to the finals.
3. Conduct an on-site focus test for your product or service. Hackathons can provide an opportunity to test your product, engage with your target audience and see them actively using it. What better way to talk about your product than with someone using it at the moment? If you find the right hackathon, everyone in attendance could be a potential customer and make yourself available to have live, real-time conversation about your product only strengthens your brand reputation.
The great thing about hackathons is that the crowds are typically engaged, motivated, and interested in learning and sharing ideas — often spending their entire weekends engaged in the pursuit of new knowledge. Ideation is the core of innovation, which is why companies like MasterCard Canada bring its APIs to developers at hackathons for honest, constructive and collaborative feedback.
From a marketing and PR perspective, getting the word out at a good hackathon can be like hitting the jackpot. You’re exposing your product to a large, diverse group of potential customers and learning ways to improve it in real time. Even if they come up with a flimsy project over the weekend that disappears after the hackathon, these are the types of people who will launch other businesses. If your product serves online businesses, there are few better audiences to introduce your product or service to so that it’s top of mind when the next big idea strikes them.
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