Tweeting on the road with Cisco's mobile event marketing program

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Despite the lure of all things digital, traditional marketing programs still have their place. Mobile event marketing is one of them, typified by Cisco Systems' Network on Wheels van program, in which the networking and communications technology company roams the country in four 25-foot-long, high-tech buses, demonstrating Cisco technology first-hand at channel partner-sponsored events.

But what would happen, Cisco wondered, if the 6-year-old program was augmented with social media? In the middle of last year Cisco decided to find out.

“We've done hundreds of events every year and have thousands of customers view the demonstrations in the vans,” said Susan Darby, marketing program manager for the NOW vans effort. “We really wanted to look at how to scale our reach.”

Each Cisco NOW van—an “executive briefing center on wheels,” Darby said—is outfitted with the latest e company networking technologies. The vans are solutions demonstration labs, showcasing Cisco networking, video and communications solutions, as well as products aimed at specific verticals.

The vans are dispatched to events sponsored by Cisco channel partners—they run the gamut from golf outings to sports events and parties at Starbucks—to augment their own marketing efforts to small and midsize companies

Darby started small with her social media experiment. By July she had created a Twitter account for one of her vans and picked and trained a tweeter. She also collaborated with Untitled Startup, a Seattle-based company whose Web application, TweetStats, provides data on the program's followers.

“The response was so favorable that we quickly pushed it out to the other three vans,” Darby said.

A Cool Dichotomy
“While Cisco's ‘wheels on the street' is a very old-school approach, they're heavily leveraging it with social media and community marketing,” said Kevin Kerner, managing director-U.S. with Cisco agency Mason Zimbler, Austin, Texas, a division of direct marketing company Harte-Hanks Inc.

“There's something really interesting to me about the contrast in the two models, a really cool dichotomy of old school with social,” Kerner said.

The explosive growth of social media riveted Darby's attention on the effort. “My best friend texts all the time, and I use the phone,” she said. “It occurred to me that if we're not using the same form of communications, how can we connect?”

Tweets fly back and forth about where the next van-supported event will be held, and Darby said the channel also has served to field questions about Cisco products and services.

“One of the best ways to market your product is through word-of-mouth, and the best way to hear about something is from a friend,” said Damon Cortesi, CTO and co-founder of Untitled Startup. “All this social media expands to a global level, and that's where Cisco is taking it.”

Cortesi said his TweetStats service enables Darby to take her tweets and analyze what's being discussed. This, in turn, informs her of various word usages to track and whether to alter them or boost their frequency, much like a search marketer would do with keyword choices.

To date, Cisco's NOW van program has more than 2,800 Twitter followers, some of whom are from other countries, Darby said. Also, she said customer and reseller satisfaction with the social media support is “extremely high.”

“We now have a global following. So, yes, it's changed the demographic in that sense,” Darby said. “But, primarily, this is an opportunity to communicate to people in how they want to get their messages. It extends our reach. It's exciting.”

How Cisco Supports Its Mobile Marketing Program With Twitter
Objective: To augment Cisco's mobile reseller marketing program with a Twitter outreach
Strategy: Choose designated Twitter users traveling with four solutions demonstration vans, train them in company social media protocol and tweet about upcoming appearances
Results: 2,800 Twitter followers in six months, high customer and reseller satisfaction

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