Hacking the marketing remit

Could hackathons point to a way marketing chiefs can create virtual events to help solve problems and boost collaboration beyond the organisation?

As the coronavirus pandemic forces business functions to be reconfigured as virtual events, one CMO has turned to a hackathon as a collaborative, online initiative to problem solve and broaden marketing with the company’s extended ecosystem.

HCL Technologies is running the hackathon, #CodeforCOVID19, with Microsoft and International SOS and plans to match young coders with mentors / judges from the likes of Novartis, Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Manchester United. It is geared towards finding solutions for the way COVID-19 has impacted our lives and work, and is being led by HCL CMO, Arthur Filip. 

Many hackathons are launched for creation of proof of concepts, or to reach a short-term goal, and typically involve either academia or the business community. Filip said this one is different.

"The HCL hackathon uses a team-based approach for coders, who are given unlimited access to a mentor community from our partner and customer base, allowing them to create solutions that we hope will help us in our new ways of living and working," he told CMO. "At HCL, we saw the power of the hackathon model to bring an energised, positive competitive experience to solving a problem and decided that the results needed to address the effects of COVID-19”.

The enterprise technology business, which counts digital, Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, security and analytics in its portfolio of solutions, launched the ‘Better Health Hackathon: #CodeforCOVID19’ in May to crowdsource technology innovation to find possible solutions for the immediate and long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The competition was open to technology innovators and problem solvers from the global developer community working in teams to find solutions to a range of related issues such as pandemic containment, diagnosis and treatment, recovery and systemic solutions for future crises. 

“The goal is to bring additional technical and business oversight to the competition on top of the customers, academics, thought leaders and mentors currently engaged with the hackathon,” Filip explained.

The marketing chief told CMO this kind of virtual, collaborative event is a natural fit for the marketing function. He pointed to Deloitte research which found the CMO role of building collaboration with internal and external partners makes hackathons a smart choice.

“If we take a step back, the work from home phenomenon that resulted from COVID brought online much of the corporate contact to employees, customers and partners with the CMO suite leading many of the initiatives given the work that had been done with customer communications,” Filip said.

“The CMO role was stretched beyond online communication to online collaboration, with functions that had been done in-person moved to virtual environments. Given the success of many of these initiatives, and the power of technologies such as Zoom and MS Teams, we expect that the CMO will continue to lead collaborative, online initiatives that go beyond marketing with the company’s extended ecosystem.”

The list of those involved in HCL’s hackathon includes big names like the University of Cambridge, Johns Hopkins, Tuck School of Business, Johnson & Johnson, ING, Zurich Insurance, GSK, Equinor, Australian National University and Ascension. It has received more than 6000 registrations from 611 unique organisations and academic institutions spanning 350 global locations across 52 countries, and close to 150 ideas and projects are currently under development.

While the COVID-focused hackathon is a one-off event, at least right now, Filip believed it was significant for several reasons and pointed to new ways marketing can build connections among a range of stakeholders which offer an array of potential opportunities for an organisation.

The participation of academic as well as business leaders and thought leaders in judging and mentoring roles, along with the number of participants the event has attracted, creates synergies from a variety of areas of expertise, Filip continued. And it can build potentially powerful connections to problems and problem solving for organisations.

“We believe these types of virtual events will bridge the gap between solution conception and execution,” he said.

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