Re-examining your event portfolio in tough times

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We are seeing two key drivers in re-examining our event portfolio here at Cisco Systems: the economy and the evolving marketing landscape. In light of the economy, there is no question that it is critical to review event program performance with a goal to streamline what we do and maximize the business impact. At the same time, the marketing landscape is evolving with the mass adoption of social networking, virtual events and collaboration tools. Consequently, audiences are expecting a richer, more interactive experience. At Cisco, we use a proven methodology to define our event portfolio. At its core is understanding business objectives, identifying key target audiences, knowing what is relevant to them and creating touch point opportunities to move them down the sales funnel. In re-examining what we are doing, this may mean that there are events we will no longer attend or the participation may be dramatically different than in the past. This year, we are paying closer attention to those physical event investments that can now be replaced by virtual when it's the right strategy. We needed to reshape our portfolio to meet some key priorities, which included shifting some of our investments from traditional areas to specific growth areas and looking closely at leveraging more virtual and proprietary events. Here are some top considerations in developing your optimal portfolio: Ensure the right audience. Does this event draw the right mix from a prospect perspective? Target specific job titles. For example, are we trying to reach the line-of-business managers or the CEO? Pursue certain verticals. Are we targeting the right industries for our specific products and services? Ensure optimal geography. What is the geographical breakdown of attendees? Align event objectives. Does this event map back to campaign goals? Guarantee industry prominence. Is this a key, “must attend” industry event? Do the top partners attend this event? Does the event have a strong competitive presence? Develop the right content. Do event materials reflect our marketing focus? Secure engagement opportunity. If it's a third-party event, is the event producer a flexible partner? Are the right marketing opportunities available? Are you re-examining your stategy while taking into account whether it's a physical, hybrid or virtual event? Consider media/PR opportunities. Is there relevant press/analyst in attendance? What about the blogging community? Examine corporate leverage. Does this event provide other campaigns within Cisco with an opportunity to leverage? Investigate past performance. Has this event been effective for Cisco in the past? Has it been an appropriate platform to drive the right results? Secure speaking opportunities. Are there speaking opportunities available? The right mix of event marketing activities is also very critical to acquiring and helping nuture your customers throughout the sales cycle. And with the popularity of virtual events growing, the event platform also matters. For example, we are seeing tremendous results from our virtual events especially if that customer wants to hear about case studies or attend technical training. We are also leveraging our telepresence technology, which can make virtual roundtables very compelling and extremely cost-effective. Having WebEx in our product line also helps with our ability to host an online event targeted at an individual account or technology within a very short time line. On the flip side, if a customer's driving reason to attend an event is to “Personally touch and play with the technology” or “See like-minded customers,” then they likely want their experience to be physical, not virtual. Making sure you meet their expectations is still paramount in getting or growing a customer. And as more people accept attending meetings online, the more we will see a shift in this area. Once you define the optimal portfolio, the next step is to define the customer experience at each event to deliver desired results. We find the key to successful customer experiences is to be relevant to your customer. Depending on our audience and objectives, this may mean we have a trade show booth to create broader awareness or host strictly customer meetings if we are targeting key existing customers. Social media—such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube—has altered the marketing landscape, and it's critical to integrate these tools into the customer journey pre-event, on site and post-event. It allows the events to become more immersive and memorable to the customer due to the viral nature of the medium and the authentic flavor of the feedback. And, finally, attempt to engage your target audiences through an integrated and continual stream of relevant experiences, touchpoints and dialogue that provides interactivity and conveys your brand values and attributes in ways that bring them to life. Mary Fehrnstrom is director of strategic engagement and communications at Cisco Systems (
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