Ever wonder if your business can do good instead of just doing well? That was our question when, last year, Major Tom set its sights on social impact and entered the ring for the first-ever Brand Battle for Good.
This year, we returned for round two — and as big fans of process optimization, we were ready to put the lessons from 2021 to work.
So, what changed in 2022? How did our tactics evolve? And what insights can you take away from our team’s experience at the event?
Laying the groundwork in 2021
Last year’s hack-a-thon challenged brands to help Vancouver achieve an ambitious goal: going Zero Waste by 2040. Over two days, alongside other socially-conscious businesses from around the city, a team of intrepid Major Tommers explored the obstacles, built a strategy, and presented their plan.
It was two very full days of fast-paced work. But we’ll skip ahead to the present. 2021 wasn’t a Cinderella story for Major Tom.
We didn’t win the brand battle, but we did promise to return in 2022. And this year, we were back in action — ready to optimize and improve our hack-a-thon approach with the lessons we’d learned. After all, when it comes to big challenges, Major Tom believes in rolling with the punches.
Day 1: The challenge
For 2022’s Brand Battle for Good, we’d be tackling social isolation. How could the brands help connect Vancouverites and build a sense of belonging?
As a digital-first agency, building connections — both online and in-person — is always on our minds. Vancouver’s rapid growth makes it a great place for innovation. Still, that also means that many Vancouverites lack the social support they might have elsewhere: an extended family network, longtime neighbors, or deep-rooted social connections.
On top of life’s increasing digitization over the past few years, building those connections has become more challenging than ever. It’s an obstacle we’ve had to tackle firsthand.
Major Tommers knew that any fix would take both digital and social innovation. Our technical expertise wouldn’t be the solution, but it could be an essential tool to help find one. Just as importantly, empathy, positivity, and curiosity would have to fuel our approach.
Day 1: Learning the ropes
At Major Tom, we’re big fans of always asking “how” and “why”. How can we best approach a problem? Why are some solutions working better than others? These questions can help you dig into big, seemingly insurmountable issues — and break them down into manageable challenges.
But before we could do that, we had to understand the problem. What was causing social isolation in the city? What solutions had people already tried, and why hadn’t they worked? Which groups were most affected? Major Tom’s brand battlers had to bring the same curiosity to the workshops on Day 1 that we’d use to tackle any project discovery process.
Day 1: Ask the experts
The first day of sessions helped paint a clearer picture of the problem. They included panel discussions with community leaders and business owners who were already working to battle social isolation in Vancouver.
We learned about the solutions already in place, both the digital (Minivillage, The Village App, We Should be Friends) and the local (Community Kitchens, Plenty of Plates, Hi Neighbour).
Most importantly, speakers like AndHumanity challenged our assumptions with different viewpoints. They discussed how social isolation could be a different set of problems for different groups. How did it specifically impact indigenous communities? The elderly? Low-income or no-income Vancouverites?
Asking these questions reinforced that accessibility would be critical for any solution. We also began to see how we might break one big problem statement into separate, more manageable issues.
But the clock was ticking, and we needed to put our process in place.
Day 1: Building the right team for the job
2021 taught us an important lesson about working within the restrictions of the Brand Battle. In the same way that clear goals and scope are essential parts of project health, the tight timeline for the event meant we needed to focus and streamline our workflow.
Keep in mind, the Major Tommers at the Brand Battle came from all corners of the agency. Most of us hadn’t tackled projects together and needed to establish a workflow from the ground up.
“I was impressed by how civil and appreciative we were with each other. I think we really lived our values there. Especially considering most of us had never worked together on a project.”
- Kate Zinggl, Senior Social Media Strategist
In a big change from 2021, the team assigned roles and responsibilities to move things forward ASAP. That meant clear communication and decisive action — while ensuring everyone had room to voice their ideas. The team committed to uplifting each others’ voices, bringing insights from account strategy, media, social media, analytics, marketing, and even two students from Capilano University and UBC Sauder.
With a hack-a-thon Miro board to collaborate and organize our ideas, everyone was able to contribute and keep our concept focused on our main goals: impact and feasibility.
Day 2: Zeroing in with data
The winning submission needed to include a practical plan for success. It had to bring the brand’s expertise to the table — and they had to be able to bring it to life over the next year.
This presented us with another problem. The sessions on Day 1 proved that different groups experienced social isolation differently. Their obstacles to building connections weren’t always the same.
To own our impact and deliver a concept that actually made a positive difference, we needed to lock onto a specific group’s challenges. In classic Major Tom fashion, that meant turning to the data.
With a little digging into records from StatsCan, The Vancouver Foundation, and more, we found one statistic that stood out from the rest. One third of youth 18-25 in Vancouver expressed being often or always lonely. The same was true of one quarter of youth Canada-wide.
The data told the tale. Young adults were at particular risk. Not to mention their intersections with other vulnerable groups — and the fact that many young Vancouverites are flat-out broke. To focus even further and maximize our impact, we would target youth who were already isolated — perhaps socially awkward or anxious.
We had a specific set of challenges to address. With the deadline closing in, the team just needed a plan.
Day 2: Turning insights into strategy
To get as specific as possible and produce actionable insights, the team used “Get/Who/To/By” statements. Our concept would:
GET: young adults in Vancouver
WHO: are suffering from loneliness, social anxiety, and isolation
TO: combat loneliness with structured opportunities to chat and connect
BY: offering a dedicated space to safely meet and interact with others from the same community/neighborhood
We had the beginnings of our concept. To flesh out the details, we would capitalize on two missed opportunities from 2021’s hack-a-thon.
Day 2: Adding the Major Tom touch
First: bridging the gap between a digital solution and physical connection.
As a digital agency, building a tech-first concept made sense and leaned on our expertise. We also knew that we should meet our audience where they were: online.
But in 2021, our pitch had focused exclusively on online education. For the Brand Battle and the specific challenges of social isolation, we needed a solution that would have people engaging offline, too.
Second: we needed to play to our strengths as an agency. Unlike 2021, our core values and our sense of sci-fi fun would inform the final pitch. We’d bring our skills as connectors, storytellers, and digital experts to the challenge.
Day 2: The home stretch
It all came together in a single concept: Space to Connect. A mobile-first website, Space to Connect would help socially-isolated youth take the difficult step of “meeting their first friend”. How? By gamifying the process.
We knew that our audience wouldn’t flock to simple ads for public events. They needed a nudge. Space to Connect would do that in two ways:
The concept would also invite local businesses to be a part of the solution, becoming safe and inclusive spaces for Vancouver’s youth to connect. This would benefit users with low- or no-cost meetups, while building a community connection through BIPOC, purpose-led businesses and public spaces.
We tied the concept together with an invitation to the judges and our audience: Come float with Major Tom.
The competition was stiff, and we’re chalking up 2022’s Brand Battle for Good as another learning experience. We gained valuable new insights into our processes — and how to work efficiently in the time crunch of the hack-a-thon format. Given the focus on social isolation, the Brand Battle was also a great opportunity to reconnect with each other as we planned how to reach our audience.
We’re thrilled with the lessons we learned and excited to see the winning project — hello yello — roll out in Vancouver over the next year.
Most of all, we’re excited to return again in 2023. Whatever the challenge, we’re always ready to stretch our skills and push our boundaries as an agency.
For more insights into the culture and values at Major Tom, you can visit our About Us page or follow our Mercury Blog.
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