Cisco Systems’ Global Sales Experience (G.S.X.), an internal meeting for sales staff, has been widely touted for its innovative hybrid conference model as well as its integration of virtual gaming. However, the manufacturer of networking technology has also been trying to break new ground with Cisco Live, a conference for users that attracts some 15,000 I.T. and communications professionals. In fact, Danette Veale, a strategist on the sales and partner engagements and recognition team who now works on G.S.X., was the one who introduced a virtual attendance option for Cisco Live back in 2009.
According to global marketing manager Staci Clark, the conference, which takes place four times a year, has evolved dramatically in the past four years, with an approach that was largely prompted by the cost-cutting measures of the recession. What started out as a closed environment, giving those online a small glimpse into the conference for a fee, has since graduated to Cisco Live 365, a key marketing strategy for the planning team. Introduced in April, the free, Web-based platform for the virtual version of the conference offers a constant stream of content—broadcasts of keynote speakers or a live “ask an expert” session, as well as downloadable PDFs.
“We wanted to keep a level of interaction and a level of engagement with our key audiences all year round,” Clark said. “We have four Cisco Live events and Cisco Live 365 and its predecessor Cisco Live Virtual are the key to linking those events together. The idea was that a typical event marketing model or cycle means that you essentially go dark six months out of the year, and then you ramp up and hit your target audiences really hard with a lot of messages, a lot of value propositions, and a lot of invitations to attend—you’re really selling that event. [After the event] you go dark again for six months and there’s no interaction between your brand, your content, your speakers, your company, and this key audience until the next time you start ramping up for your on-site event.”
From a measurement standpoint, the new platform gives planners a much better understanding of how the virtual environment affects a customer’s incentive to attend the physical event. Previously, surveys indicated that between 50 and 60 percent participating in the conference online intended to register for the physical version the following year, but whether that conversion rate was achieved was difficult to assess.
Cisco Live 365 also gives the company an opportunity to better integrate its social media efforts. Through the UStream broadcast, Cisco Live users were able to see comments generated by others, but in the new model, viewers will be able to share the content with their peers via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, email, and other networks.
Although building a platform designed to be accessed any time of the year, whether there’s a conference taking place or not, requires more time and effort, Clark believes that the exercise turns Cisco Live into a brand and drives loyalty, education, and investment from its core constituents.