Exclusively Corporate @IMEX 2019: How Cisco implements a successful online and offline events strategy worldwide—a talk by Gerd De Bruycker, Marketing Director, Northern Europe at Cisco System

Exclusively Corporate is a conference specifically designed for the needs of corporate event managers. It offers a full day of education and networking during EduMonday, which takes place one day prior to IMEX Frankfurt, this year on 20 May 2019.

There were six sessions this year, each approximately 20 minutes in length, dedicated to various topics that can help corporate planners improve their daily processes, become informed about the latest trends and also facilitate knowledge exchange. 

One session that I found particularly interesting for my business was by Gerd De Bruycker, Marketing Director, Northern Europe at Cisco Systems regarding ‘Connecting events with your overall marketing mix.’ He began the session by asking who actually knows what Cisco does? The IT giant provides back-end support and software for the Internet—to put it simply, if you’ve sent an email today, you’ve most probably used one of Cisco’s products. Not everyone knows what Cisco does, but in fact, they are one of the largest IT companies, generating 50 billion dollars in revenue and with 70,000 employees worldwide. And, they have a global event team. 

Understanding consumer journey and putting customer at the centre

Gerd opened his session by setting the topic of his talk to demonstrate the importance of combining live and virtual events and how these events form an integral part of the company’s marketing mix. ‘We live in a hyper-connected world, where online and offline contexts are increasingly merging.’ Today, Cisco carries out marketing in a digital world, and that’s also how they approach an event. Every marketing and sales activity begins with the customer at the centre, and they call it their ‘race track’, which is the centre of their overall market approach and the ‘go to’ market. Hence, when the customer has a problem and they are looking for a solution that needs to be fixed, the marketing team at Cisco must ensure that the client knows about Cisco. When the customer goes further into the consideration phase, they need to make sure again that the customer is considering Cisco as part of their solution, and when they make a choice, hopefully they choose Cisco. 

But it’s not yet finished for sales and marketing. They need to ensure that customers are deploying the solutions that they are actually buying and that they are happy when they are deploying them. When they are happy, they will buy more, and when they buy more, they are satisfied and become advocates, leading to influencer marketing.

Understanding where the customer is on their consumer journey and creating content for each stage of the journey  

Looking at the entire race track in the overall marketing approach, Cisco creates content that matches these different stages: top, mid and bottom of the funnel. The customer experience in each of these stages can be transferred to an event. Therefore, the team at Cisco will not do the same event for a customer who is at their awareness phase, or when the customer has already bought from them and is an advocate of Cisco.    

For example, for those who are in the beginning, it’s all about the awareness. At the next stage when customers talk about deployment, a workshop format will be recommended, and it’s here where online, offline and content marketing and events come together. 

Live and virtual events

Cisco has several events designed for each target audience. Cisco Live is one of their biggest events, and they have four of them around the world (North and South America, Europe and Australia). Alongside these events, millions of people are watching the sessions online. These flagship events cover the entire consumer journey and are used as a platform for all teams to come together: to launch products, connect with press, meet analysts, bring all the advocates together and for experts to conduct workshops.

Additionally, Cisco has a purely virtual event, and is constantly exploring this space to determine the right approach to this type of event. For example: Are these webinars? Should they be two days or one day long? Should they provide short videos, long videos, interactivity? 

The latest virtual event was on a European scale and had 10,000 people who registered. Virtual event is positioned in the awareness phase for potential customers who want to learn about new technology. At the same time, the aim of a virtual event is new contact acquisition. From the 10,000 participants registered, only half actually attended the 2-day event. With sessions half an hour long, approximately 1,000 people watched each session. The interactivity at a virtual event is not the same as a live event, but that’s when people get to know about a brand and start considering it.

Combining virtual and live events, and returning to online customer journey to strengthen the relationship 

When Cisco does marketing, it’s about the customer journey online and offline. When a company wants to connect the online and offline world, they need to understand what part each channel plays in the individual journey. During the online customer journey for example, a company can make a call to action to ‘think about this event’. At the same time, it’s necessary to bring these people who are attending the live event back to the online journey so that they can continue to consume content and continue their race track while considering Cisco and being satisfied with the product. 

Another way of integrating content marketing, at events such as Cisco Live, is that there are many opportunities to create content. There is so much content creation during an event that can easily be used for the online journey post event to get new people interested. 

Three events strategy

Cisco begins with the customer at the centre of everything they do. They understand that different personas need varying products, and apart from acquiring new customers at third party events and trade shows, they also have their own proprietary event strategy, which includes a ‘three event brand strategy’: Cisco Live (big, regional worldwide events which are physical and online), Cisco Connect (County specific events) and Cisco Engage (thousands of smaller events in the offices and workshops). That’s how they approach it from a global perspective and integrate events with the overall marketing. 

Testing in the virtual event space 

Currently, both with physical and virtual events, Cisco is testing many things. For example, at Cisco Live, they are recording every session, and there are hundreds of sessions, which are then freely available online. In the beginning, they were thinking that this approach will cannibalise event attendance but in contrast, more and more people are attending the physical events as a result. While there is a significant amount of content available online, online content helps in the awareness phase and brings people to attend. 

Purely virtual events are intended for the awareness phase. At Cisco Live, they do Cisco TV shows and broadcast them online. Something that they’ve learned about the virtual audience was at Cisco Live in Australia, to simultaneously translate online sessions into Chinese, Japanese and Korean. This action resulted in 2.5 million viewers. They’ve learned that they can achieve high viewership just by doing simultaneous translation, meaning that it’s necessary to also know the online audience. 

We live in a hyper-connected world, where everyone is attempting to grab the customer’s attention, online and offline. At Cisco, they chop up the customer journey into small pieces, what they refer to as ‘micro moments’ and see where they can influence online and offline to build the experience. For example, placing signage at the airport or doing registration at the airport; before people take their luggage off the belt, they could register for Cisco Live. A further example is that they use artificial intelligence (AI) to help attendees select the sessions that are most suitable for them. There are hundreds of sessions at Cisco Live, but the AI recommendation system helps delegates find the right one for them.

The importance of analysing data

Analysing the data from the combinations of online content and events, that’s where the opportunity is for event marketing. Data without analytics and insights is nothing, so digital marketing experts should work alongside event managers. Based on the personal information they have about the customers, they can recommend the next best action for them: Is it an event? Is it a white paper? As well as with respect to booking a meeting, trial, demo etc.

To conclude, in the digital world we live in today, we need to place the customer at the centre of everything that we do. Marketers should think through what the experience is, designing events and online content to be most appropriate for where the person is on their customer journey. Cisco looks at live events, virtual events and micro moments and how they can enhance this experience, and in the end it’s all about data, and that’s where the opportunity lies to enhance the event experience. 

Based on the data collected and analysed, it’s not just saying ‘let’s do an event and invite people’. Rather, a customer relationship management system will be used to explore collaboration opportunities in certain countries. Potential customers will be invited where there is the right opportunity for them and introduced to Cisco advocates. That’s where the data can actually ensure that the most appropriate event is developed for the right audience that will drive business because that’s what an event is for. Driving business for a company. 

Photos: IMEX

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