Cisco’s Unique Engagement Strategies Add Emotion to their Hybrid Global Sales Meeting
Monday, January 28th, 2013
Feeling the Love at a Hybrid Event
In the digital event space – as in the networking industry – Cisco reigns supreme. From alternate reality games (ARGs) to opening their environments three weeks early to allow attendees time to “play,” Cisco has pioneered and implemented truly game-changing strategies others now copy in the digital event arena. But when its goal this year was to increase engagement and add “emotion” to its annual GSX event, some scoffed. An online event is the antithesis of emotion. Isn’t it?
A top priority for Cisco’s GSX team for their 2012 event was driving engagement and bringing back emotion into the event. GSX is the hybrid global sales meeting for Cisco’s 20,000+ worldwide sales organization. Cisco moved from an in person-only event spanning three weeks to a virtual-only in 2009 and subsequently adding back more and more in person activities. GSX 2012 had five percent of its audience in one of the main geographic hub locations (physical audiences, speakers, stage, production, breakouts and catered events. Seventy-five percent of the attendees were in satellite viewing locations, (watching a broadcast on a screen in a group), and 20 percent were participating individually online.
“Engagement, emotion and recognition, or, as I like to call it – extending the love – were major goals for the 2012 event,” says GSX Digital and Technology Lead, Dannette Veale.
Cisco started with a very prescriptive, creative process to revamp its visual identity and rework its virtual platform accordingly. A very different approach with the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) resulted in more of a website look and feel, and less of a 2D virtual environment – though they still used an INXPO platform.
At the same time, the team was highly focused on an equally engaging experience for all three audiences – in-person, satellite or individual online. Audience listening efforts became key.
Audience listening and engagement is so typical at physical events that it doesn’t even have to be considered. But in a closed, behind-a-firewall event, tools needed to be developed. So Veale worked with Cisco TV and its digital agency, JUXT, as well as their overall experiential agency, George P. Johnson, to create a home-grown dashboard system that let them gather input from Cisco Jabber for Q&A sessions and chat. “That allowed us to have a listening team go through and flag comments for review and approval to be published across the event environment,” says Veale. “We also leveraged a heuristic engine that was looking at all of that data and dynamically identifying what’s trending across all the audience segments.”
As attendees were watching, they would see bubbles in the bottom corner of their screens with comments from others, along with that attendee’s name and location. Engagement could be seen by immediate spikes in chat as these comment bubbles appeared.
“My favorite attendee quote really summed it up for us,” says Veale. “They said this was the most audience- aware event they’d ever attended.”
Recognition is important at a sales meeting, and excitement is the emotion. Cisco has a Chairman’s Club of the top 200 salespeople, who used to walk across the stage, shake hands with the CEO and get their photos taken – all in front of thousands in the audience. For 2012, Veale worked with the executive teams to get approval to pre-announce to the winners that they had won before the event actually happened. “We brought them in with local executives, and corporate execs were connected via Telepresence or Webex, and we told them ‘You’re a winner,’ and we used the technology to capture those reactions,” explains Veale. “The reactions were turned into a video montage we played as their names were being shared during the event for everyone to see. It really worked. Seeing the winners’ reactions and hearing how they felt about winning, really brought the emotion into it. The team also made a blooper video that was very fun.”
Cisco also created a “sales winner appreciation” tool that allowed attendees to send congratulations, high-fives and bear hugs to the winners. These were accessible from mobile devices, so even those watching from satellite locations could join in. Additionally, a “team appreciation” engagement was introduced which enabled anyone to honor their team with a user-generated digital e-card. Attendees selected team attributes, team members and regional affiliations, and then entered a text message and/or uploaded a personal video. A back-end engine dynamically inserted photos of team members, regionalized b-roll, and attributes dynamically created by a group of dancers in silhouette into a video e-card, then notifying team members to view their appreciation accordingly. This system was open to attendees prior to the event and could be used to appreciate anyone or team in the company, not just salespeople. The result? A record number of people logging into the environment prior to the event—another objective – and 43 percent of the audience received an appreciation before or during the event. The messages and videos were featured for everyone to see.
“Almost fifty percent of the audience got some love, and that’s just a huge, huge number,” notes Veale.
Fifty-six percent of attendees were also “connected to.” The connection tool allowed attendees to find others based on profile questions. Depending on where they were attending, they could see who else was attending a local celebration party so they could meet face-to-face.
After the event, attendees could download theses contacts into their personal contact manager – something which 85 percent of attendees did – another indicator of engagement.
Veale’s team has been working to shift the perception that ‘people don’t know how to network in digital formats,’ and the work is paying off with large increases in ‘effectiveness-of-networking’ scores in post-event surveys.
Next on the GSX team’s list for innovation is the mobile experience. Like all events, the percent of attendees wanting to connect via their mobile devices is growing rapidly and developing a high quality, highly secure mobile experience will require a good deal of planning and resource. Of course they’ll also be looking to continue the growth in the emotional engagement as well. We look forward to learning more from Cisco’s innovative digital event strategies.
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