When the events team at Cisco Systems, a networking and communications company, learned last year that its 2009 global sales conference would be canceled, it decided to bring the company's international sales team together online rather than abandon the event completely.
There was some concern, however, that a virtual event would not be engaging enough to inspire the audience. “We did focus groups and found out that 82% of our sales team are male, their average age is 39 and they have one thing in common—they're highly competitive,” said Angie Smith, Cisco manager of operations and event management. “Honestly our first instinct was that we can't motivate virtually.”
But the with help of attendee demographic research from experience marketing firm George P. Johnson, Cisco realized that by integrating a gaming experience and Cisco's own digital meeting technology into the “gathering,” the sales team would be involved enough to ensure a successful event. The company hired Juxt Interactive, a digital marketing firm and a division of GPJ, to create the in-event gaming experience and InXpo, a virtual event company, to merge the three different technologies into one cohesive, online experience.
Inspired by alternate reality games created for consumer markets by the TV show “Lost” and the Batman “Dark Knight” franchise, Juxt created a Cisco-related role-playing game called The Threshold that was introduced three weeks prior to the Global Sales Conference. Attendees who signed up for the game participated in various clue-gathering activities that included reviewing voice mail and e-mail sent by the characters within the game. Attendees were also encouraged to form teams, share clues and work together to solve various puzzles as the game progressed.
The in-game storyline culminated at the global sales conference, as game-winning clues were integrated into such standard event activities as sessions, booths and keynote speeches—all held in a customized version of InXpo's virtual event platform.
“The very final piece of the puzzle was a timed race where one of the characters left a voice mail in the player's inboxes and said: "After the closing session you have two hours to answer three questions,' ” said Bill Fleig, senior project manager at Juxt. “The whole event was a big game, so to speak. We were conscious of not letting the game overtake the conference—it had to be driven by the content and drive people to the content. We hid clues in the booths so that we were essentially forcing people out; if you were reluctant to participate in the event, but you were interested in the game, you would have to go out there. The point was to drive traffic and make it fun. There was no knowing where these things were going to show up.”
To prepare for the game, the Juxt team dedicated weeks to researching Cisco's products. “We were given access to their emerging products group, we played around with their tele-presence and we wrote these technologies into the game's story,” Fleig said.
To increase participation, the three companies integrated a leader board into the event. As players and teams earned points for their successes in the main game, individuals also earned points for playing smaller games in the event world as well as attending sessions, listening to speeches and visiting booths. Fleig said Cisco was not explicit about what attendees should receive points for in order to incentivize them to attend. Prizes were awarded throughout the event based on participation.
In the end, the event was available live through InXpo's virtual platform in 89 countries across 24 time zones, as well as in 617 Cisco conference rooms. Of the 19,000 attendees, about 13,000 participated in The Threshold game. “This was the first-ever type of game in corporate business,” said Cisco's Smith. “The game became so viral because everybody was talking about it.”
According to Juxt's Fleig, bringing out the competitive nature of attendees fostered cooperation and, consequently, increased the usefulness of the event for everyone involved.
Additionally, Fleig said, players noted they were intrigued to look closer at the Cisco products they interacted with during the game. With the interactive element, he said, “You drive interest to get somebody to start thinking about [the products] in the real world.” M