Many tech events have as paramount objectives lead generation and communication about their products. Is that your case?
It depends on what events we attend. We have EMEA marketing objectives and events are just a way of achieving these objectives. For instance, in Cisco Live, our objectives are mostly about content sharing and networking, as most people are already in our “Cisco pool”. Another event is the Web Summit in Lisbon, in which we participate now, and there our objective is not to generate leads, rather to create brand awareness, transmit a cool company and get small startups to know we can help them.
We define our objectives thoroughly, and check that at the end of the year we have covered them, from lead generation to branding, from targeting C-level people to their IT managers. It is a matrix of people and types of objectives. We start from the top (our overall objectives) and then decline it by type of target and piece of the funnel, and decide how to maximise budget efficiency.
The event budget is the second one in marketing, after advertising. It tends to decline slightly (online is growing) but if you add webinars and other online components of events, then we are stable. It is getting hard to say which part of the marketing is in which category: many actions comprise many types of marketing means. A cisco expert talk, like a webinar, is online marketing or content marketing, but the streaming of cisco live sessions is part of the cisco live budget…
Content marketing is growing for many companies. Is it your case?
Yes, content marketing is growing big time. This tends to change our profiles as we are looking for journalists, for storytellers…
Talking about storytelling, is it also important as a component of your sessions? Do you work with your speakers on formats of sessions, trying to include new ways of communicating technical content?
We have over 600 technical speakers at Cisco Live, and they usually get very good ratings. In Cisco, you don’t need only technical skills but also soft skills to relate to others or do presentations. Technical skills are just part of the requirements. It is like an idea: the best idea is worth nothing if you can’t articulate it, convince people…
Plus at Cisco Live there is hardly any speaker who hasn’t undergone speaker training. Anyone who doesn’t score 4.5 out of 5 goes to speaker training. It is not a problem getting them to attend: it is great training we provide to them. And speaking at Cisco Live is a great point for their CV.
Are events becoming generators of profiling, segmentation, intelligence about the target?
Every interaction today is partly digital. So we have to gather this information and do profiling. We do this at Cisco Live, starting with registration information. Before the event we will do a survey about what people know and think about Cisco and its products. We do the same survey after to know the impact of the events. On-site, we work with RFID, and know exactly traffic flows (not individually, as groups), we know what session people have attended, so we know what they are interested in and what information they got during the event. The account manager gets an overview about what the person does on-site. There are legal limits but we know who went to what stand. If we know someone attended all the security sessions, this is great information about what is relevant for him/her. Also after the meeting we ask people for feedback, which is also useful information.
Then, we have to be careful how we approach these people. Normally they need to give their consent. But it makes us hugely more relevant for the attendee: rather than bombarding with newsletters, we contact them with really relevant information.
We create a timeline following all the contacts people have with us: they come to our websites, they download a white paper about a certain topic, read specific information, we know what events they attend, what software they download from us. If we have this data, and can start working with algorithms. If we see they are very interested in collaboration, then we can send them information or send an account manager.
And a lot of it is online. 70% of the sales cycle typically happens online (according to Gartner), and when people reach out to an IT vendor, their mind if typically made up. That is why content marketing is so important, because it happens during this maturation. And in this new marketing, events play a key role because at some point people will want to reach out to the vendor, which can happen at an event.
Are social networks included in this?
Not directly as data generator, but we have huge training about social selling; we enable them to be effective online, provide the right content and skills because this is not about selling skills, rather about online relationship-building, being a consultant, providing value. We offer our staff a social ambassador content hub: everyone who wants to be active on social networks can pick content there and post them with no effort.
Is data privacy a challenge?
Of course it is very important. We put in our terms and conditions that we will track people but use the data in a collective way. And we don’t see much resistance any more. It is a trade-off: people let us know more about them, and we contact them in a more relevant way. That is why young people accept it: if it makes their experience more relevant, young people say ok!
Then you have to analyse the data… Is this part, the “big data” part done specifically for events, or is it integrated in general data analysis?
As big data is so important, most companies today have data scientists who analyse, report, visualize data. They don’t really interpret the data, this is up to the managers, and we do that in events.
For instance, we ran a project to help the salespeople use better all the data they get about their clients. We involved a data scientist, and then someone with a background in sales, who knows how to read this, interpret it. This is how we handle it: We won’t have data scientists in the event team, but the event team works with data scientists and read the information they produce.
But careful: an event will never be a mere data exercise: the event is about the experience, and technology will help improve this experience, tailor it, but not define it. I can’t run an event if I don’t know what my attendee is interested in, and there, data can help me.
Technology can distract people or hinder the human part of the event, the conversation. Should we sometimes restrict it?
It is a choice people do: do they want to be in the room or multitask? Personally, in a session, I would turn off my mobile to enjoy the session, and reconnect after. But this is a personal choice and it also depends on the event, its objective. If conversation and group reflection are very important, then you shouldn’t have a mobile with you. In some other sessions it is our interest to buzz, be active on twitter and beyond. Today with Periscope and Facebook live, social networks are increasingly present as live channels for events, and we will have to see as organisers how we react to that. I think we should be open to people having a choice. I would be against people being obliged to be connected or disconnected. As long as people don’t disturb other people, it is OK.
Everything is integrated with the CRM?
In many companies, applications have grown organically, so they have different systems which they somehow integrate with APIs. And Hadoop is an open source technology which gets the data from all sources, structure it and visualize it. All big companies have this and use it for big data and analytics.