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In early May, Yotpo tried something a little different. We hosted our first ever virtual hackathon, challenging our marketing team create six marketing campaigns in just four days, all working remotely.

Turning what is usually an office event into a single spread across continents and time zones has posed us with more than a few logistical challenges. What would the schedule look like? How can we keep things fun and interesting? But despite the obstacles, our inaugural work from the House of Markathon proved to be a huge success.

More than 50 team members participated, each working from their homes in London, New York, Sofia and Tel Aviv. The goal was to impress the judges with an innovative new campaign and asset that creates demand, develop an even deeper understanding of Yotp’s products and improve our collaboration skills in challenging environments.

Along the way, we discovered a lot about what’s going on and a little about what’s going on. Here are seven key lessons we learned during Yotpo’s first virtual hack.

1. Create a structure that provides a flexible framework for teams

We set up an organizational team early on to make plans for how the marketing hackathon should perform. What they landed on was Markathon: Class 2020, a four-day virtual event that booked a couple of lively opening and closing ceremonies, and eventually the winning team will declare an impartial council.

A coherent structure is key to organizing everyone. Each new day of Markathon would begin with a short quiz to hurry up and bring all the way to collaborative equipment. Individual teams will self-organize, but it pays to have a visible daily frame around which the hackathon can be shaped.

2. Use pre-hackathon round ideas to invest and excite people

Our marketing team already has regular event events in which each team member submits new ideas based on a chosen topic. These ideas are then reduced to just a dozen places before some of them are selected for production.

Markathon followed many of the same rhythms, starting with a round of applications 65 ideas and ends with six campaigns our teams would develop. As pitching was obviously supposed to take place in person, we took advantage of Zoom presentations and online communication between the decision-making teams.

3. Create a vibration that goes beyond distance

One of the first victims of any virtual event can be the atmosphere and tone, so it was extremely important to establish a strong visual theme to bring participants closer togetherTo do this, we trapped ourselves in Yotpo’s amazing design team, which quickly set to work creating a general visual language for Markathon itself – as well as distinctive, club branding for each of the six competing teams.

This sharp set of designs, which included a collection of animated teams and captions, helped characterize and unite each of the teams, communicate with vibration, and foster a sense of healthy competition. Coming out of the distance, Yotp’s culture and personality still shone.

4. Think carefully when choosing your teams

One of the first steps we took when organizing Markathon was to think about how we could create teams with members who often had the opportunity to work together. It was basically a marketing challenge, but it was also an opportunity to encourage cooperation.

Each of our six Markathon teams was made up of members from different disciplines, giving people the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues and teams they may not have worked with before. Designers have worked together with data scientists and inbound marketing managers, for example, to falsify relationships that could be taken into future projects.

5. Use games to initiate communication

Before we turned Markathon into a virtual event, we planned to host it right here at Yotpo headquarters, with plenty of iced snacks and occasional happy hours to keep things social and thriving. Maintaining that same atmosphere in a virtual context was a high priority, but achieving the same while working from home was a serious challenge.

Games were key to success. Before starting Markathon, we sent a list of questions to everyone who participated, asking each person to reveal some interesting facts and fun little things about themselves.

Then we started each new day with a short quiz with multiple choices, assigning the correct answers with redemption tokens for fun prizes – which the design team lovingly created – at the hackathon closing ceremony.

Participants were able to win the keys to a different playlist of music this day – “Gangnam Style” on replay, anyone? – or a new Zoom flash background drawn by a designer. These games not only promoted great communication between remote teams, but also added a much-needed structure to each day.

6. Choose judges who can bring a unique perspective to projects

To determine the winner, we chose a superstar of expert judges from all over Yotpa. When evaluating the success and sustainability of our projects, we wanted fresh eyes and different insights to come from different departments.

At the last day’s virtual conference, six teams presented each of their campaigns. Judges are invited to ask questions before evaluating the work of each team according to a set of three weighted criteria: potential impact, execution and innovation.

Judges were impressed with the results and the “top of the line,” raising concerns that remote work could affect the quality of finished campaigns. Working from home only increased the enthusiasm and energy with which our teams presented the task. The first intercontinental Markathon achieved success, setting a blueprint for future hackathon events at a distance.

7. Beat your winning idea

In addition to being an optimistic and sociable way for our teams to continue working together during the crisis, this marketing hackathon has also yielded very real results. Our winning campaign – a concept conceived, developed, set up and executed by a team spread around the world – has been put into production.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced us to rethink how we do things at almost all levels of business and to find new ways to further collaborate on complex projects. What we discovered when we hosted Markathon is that our greatest and best ideas are driven by our teams – and no distance can stand in their way.

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