Solutions need clever marketing and branding to maximize potential

The principles of the scientific method are applicable beyond high-school chemistry. The ability to research an idea, form a conclusion, and defend that conclusion to a panel of critical peers is essential in the board room and when starting a company.

To some, the scientific method sounds like pitching to a panel of investors or presenting to a crowd of 200 other techies at New Tech Northwest. But Helen Wang, CEO and cofounder of Redmond-based 6crickets, would say it sounds like selling.

DisruptMarketingSidebarWang has a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of California, Berkeley, and spent 14 years at Microsoft Research, including time as principal researcher. Despite her years of creating new technologies, Wang scoffed when asked whether she’s a “sales person” or a “product person.”

“I’m not just a ‘product guy’ — I’m a well-rounded problem-solver with the ability of selling and marketing,” she said. “You can call it selling, but it’s really a process of articulating that you’ve got the right solution. As a computer scientist, for anyone to solve a problem, you need to give a value proposition, why your solution is the right one, and why you add value. Sales is the same.”

Wang and her husband, Adam Costello, created 6crickets in 2014. The website is a place for parents to search for, schedule, and book children’s activities, from tutoring and afterschool programs to weekend activities and summer camps.

“You can Airbnb a home-away-from-home, and you can figure out the cheapest and best flight for your family … you can do that in minutes. When it comes to figuring out our children’s enrichment, parents are spending hours and days figuring this out,” Wang said. “Perhaps this is one of the last sectors that we need technological innovation to break through. This is where I see my background as a perfect fit.”

Wang may have created a solution, but 6crickets does not sell itself. Marketing has been a key component to the company’s success since it emerged from stealth mode in 2015.

“We’re optimizing like any other company,” Wang said. “Doing marketing is also like doing computer science research. It’s evaluating and experimenting with marketing ideas, implementing our system to check which idea yields the best results, and then double down on the ones that are effective.”

If the greatest product in the world is in the market, does it really exist if nobody knows about it? Laurent Bourscheidt, principal of L+B Design in Mercer Island, would say it doesn’t.

Bourscheidt has worked for more than 25 years in marketing and advertising in Seattle, New York, Paris, and San Francisco with brands such as Clarisonic, Wild Turkey, Accenture, and Sequoia Financial Services. He has learned brand is more than a logo.

“Branding is not what you say it is — it’s what other people say it is. Once you turn your back, and people talk about your brand, that’s the real perception and definition of what your brand is,” Bourscheidt said.

Establishing minimum brand guidelines is one way a startup can influence brand perception early on. The logo should have a defined color scheme and typography, and the brand should be associated with a clear mission statement and a set of values.

“I think the biggest mistake is to think that branding is not an important part of the business itself. Raising money is obviously very important, but allocating money to branding and marketing is as important as development of the product,” Bourscheidt said.

“(Brand identity) is a living entity that constantly evolves. There isn’t a business so successful that it’s set in stone and never has to adapt to either the customer or the competition. It’s a work in progress,” Bourscheidt said.

This article appeared in the June 2016 issue of 425 Business.