Cisco Systems, a networking and communications company, has been running a virtual component to its 20-year-old annual customer conference for years. But this year the company realized that, due to the economy and slashed travel budgets, it would need to expand the reach of the virtual component.
In addition to creating a virtual conference space to coincide with the live event, the company partnered with InXpo, a virtual events and virtual environment developer, to create Cisco Live—an always-on event environment that would enhance the event itself, then continue to run indefinitely. The goal was to provide access to a global audience for networking and information gathering year-round.
“The economy was a driver to escalating what we were doing with virtual,” said Kathy Doyle, director-global Cisco Live conferences. “We were finding a lot of our customers were having major budget cuts. This gave them a low-cost or no-cost option to participate in activities.”
The 24/7, always-on environment was accessible to attendees live at the customer conference as well as to those “attending” the event at home. When the live event was over, registrants were able to return to the virtual event space. Additionally, as Cisco's international branches hold events around the world, the virtual components of their live events will take place inside the same Cisco Live digital space.
“Right now, we have 27,000 individuals who have registration access in 170 countries,” said Dannette Veale, virtual strategy manager for Cisco Live. “For all of our live conferences, we include some form of virtual extension. [When we held an event in Australia, the] live keynote was broadcast and extended to anyone who had access to the site. With Cisco Live Barcelona, we'll have two live keynotes and live technical sessions broadcast, as well as live sponsor sessions.”
The overall goal, Doyle said, is similar to the goals for a live event. “We want to drive loyalty with our customers and provide training and education. With today's situation, where traveling becomes more difficult, we thought this was a great way to broaden the reach. In some ways, it's a funnel for an introduction [to the live, in-person event]. In a lot of cases, these customers attend virtually, and it's their first time attending the conference. Thirty-five percent of our virtual attendees indicated they are extremely likely to attend the [customer conference] live next year.”
In addition to driving an audience to the live conference, Cisco's marketing team was happy to find that the always-on virtual event created a strong global community of people evangelizing for the brand. “All of our attendees can get additional value out of the new and fresh content, and it keeps us from splintering our user community,” Veale said. “They're able to make peer connections outside of their own conference, and we create a large user community.”
This community of like-minded, global virtual attendees who can meet and interact with each other anytime and anywhere is having a big effect on the company's brand, Doyle said. “Ultimately, the more we have our customers form a community with other customers and have resources at their fingertips—and make them more successful—it's driving loyalty for Cisco products,” she said. “Post-event information shows they're not only our most loyal customers, they're evangelists. Here's an opportunity with the virtual environment that we can take that to another level.”
Cisco continues to expand its always-on virtual events. As well as providing access to live events every three months, the company regularly updates the environment with virtual exclusive events. “As the community gets larger, it gives us the ability to market to a broader audience.”