Über launch

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The March introduction of Cisco Systems' Aggregation Services Router 1000 series left industry analysts talking about more than the company's new platform. The mechanics of the unveiling itself attracted favorable reviews, as Cisco's marketing team used Web strategies to orchestrate one of the company's most successful launches.

"Cisco is using novel branding techniques," wrote Bernstein Research analysts in a report that noted the role social networking and virtual event technology played in the launch.

The comment served as an unexpected highlight for an experienced marketing team that purposefully nudged Cisco out of its comfort zone. The networking equipment supplier organized an Internet-based debut that showcased the evolving business environment which its new platform sought to accommodate.

The goal: Create buzz and educate enterprise and service provider groups about the capabilities of its new router while leveraging Web marketing strategies that could benefit from the technology.

"We wanted to use the medium [Web 2.0] to communicate and market the platform itself," said Suraj Shetty, senior director of marketing at Cisco. "We wanted to see how this viral campaign works. There is some amount of risk—probably a lot of risk—to get the viral component. We were taking risk based on gut feeling. There is no focus group that would tell you if this is right or wrong."

In this case, gut feeling drove results. Cisco counts the campaign as one of the top five launches in the company's history.

Prelaunch: Network Über-Users create buzz

The campaign's core component consisted of advertisements featuring fictional überusers, characters like Cupid, Santa Claus and the stork who use the Internet to manage social networking, complex shipping requirements and other business needs.

Cisco marketers decided to experiment with a number of online venues. They created a group devoted to the campaign on the Facebook social networking site, put the short ad spots on YouTube and drafted blog entries on Cisco's site that mentioned the campaign.

The playful campaign represented a departure from the traditionally serious face of Cisco and sought to drive viewers to register for a March 4 online launch event. The company did not reveal the subject to potential attendees, and withheld or embargoed information sent to industry commentators. Ad viewers could e-mail a link to a contact and register for the event from the online ad page

The company had modest expectations: The campaign would generate 1,000 attendees for the launch event, Shetty said. "We didn't have precedence," he said. "Web 2.0 and viral marketing are extremely unpredictable."

Viewers of the "über-users" campaign far outpaced that projection, sending more than 80,000 e-mails to their contacts. More than 50,000 unique users visited the Cisco site, with more than 7,000 people registering to attend the virtual event.

The mystery surrounding the event piqued the interest of industry bloggers and traditional media outlets. The release of a last-minute teaser—the development of a new processor that would be part of the new platform—tipped Cisco's hat just enough to fuel widespread speculation and significantly spiked those numbers, Shetty said.

"You can really see the impact of wider marketing," he said. "This is all free. All of this marketing going on is being driven by the blogs."

Launch day: Virtual events and virtual worlds

More than one-third of registrants attended the virtual event on launch day, with people tuning in to one of four sessions timed to accommodate attendees in 128 countries.

Company executives introduced the platform in an hourlong, prerecorded webcast that provided television-quality production values and also accommodated a live Q&A. A 15-member team fielded more than 250 questions during the presentation, typing real-time responses to viewer questions via a text screen that ran below the video.

The online presentation provided Cisco with a traceable database of leads—information about registrants that its sales force can use to better target its efforts.

In addition, top prospects were invited to attend telepresence sessions that allowed geographically dispersed users to telecast themselves to a conference table where company representatives discussed the new platform.

A same-day event held on Cisco property in the virtual world Second Life saw about 80 attendees opt to ride event giveaways—in this case electronic surfboards—through an online replica of the router.

"We wanted to touch on as many aspects of Web 2.0 as possible," Shetty said.

Postlaunch: The hits keep coming

Once news of the router had been made public, Cisco adapted its marketing techniques to maximize impact.

The "über-users" campaign continued to thrive, now containing links to a product page and the recorded launch presentation. Almost 4,000 unique users have viewed the archived content.

The Facebook group transformed itself from a buzz source to a lighthearted product information forum.

The company made available a multitab widget for distribution to third-party Web sites. Bloggers embedded the widgets on their sites, continuing to circulate marketing materials for the company. As this article went to press, the widgets had drawn more than 12,000 views.

The company also developed a game, which appealed to about 2,000 potential customers interested in learning about the router through the interactive format. Interest in the medium has Cisco contemplating a tournament.

"You are looking at this early phase of how Web 2.0 can be used for commercial purposes," Shetty said. Only time will tell which Web elements have earned their place in the company's launch playbook, he said. "They're all different. That is the tweaking we will do in future launches."

One thing has been established, however, he said: "We have proven that Web 2.0 can be a great mechanism for a launch."

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