High-tech brands are known for innovation. But behind the scenes at Cisco’s biggest annual user event, CiscoLive!, technology played an entirely different role—as a strategic partner.
Thanks to a series of apps, networks, databases and software programs provided by Active Network (activeevents.com), Cisco was able to tackle some of the event industry’s most perennial challenges in ways that enhanced both the show’s backend management and the attendee experience. From pre-show exhibitor sales and hotel registration to on-site, real-time dashboards and mobile-based session surveys, technology transformed one-time roadblocks into opportunities for better and more meaningful engagements throughout the event’s lifespan.
In this special report, we break down the challenges that have plagued b-to-b and user event attendees and organizers for years (tedious registration processes, overflowing or empty session rooms and low survey response numbers, to name a few) and explain how a mix of proprietary high-tech tools enabled Cisco to innovate yet again.
Challenge: Tracking Pre-Show Marketing Tactics
Solution: For event marketers, it’s imperative to measure what’s working and what’s not in order to prove the value of the events you produce. Cisco attaches key codes (they’re like hidden URLs) to every pre-show email, social media link, web banner and newsletter so it can assess the interest rate among each of its marketing pieces in real time and determine where to spend future marketing dollars. Interest and performance is measured through open rates, click-through rates and then conversion rates. Through its integration with the Active platform, Cisco can follow a customer’s journey from the time they hit the website until the time that they purchase a package. “Through the reporting capabilities that Active gives us we can derive quite a few conclusions on audience segments and if we’re seeing an increase or decrease—any kind of a shift—in the key audience segments that we track on a year-over-year comparison,” says Staci Clark, global marketing manager at Cisco.
The technology also allows Cisco to track individuals in real time to see where they have stalled in the registration process. They can use the data to jump into action to offer incentives to attend. “They may not have followed through and purchased a package, but [the system] gives us a pool of people that we could market to the week before a registration period ended and the price point increased,” says Clark. “Whatever the message was, and it was typically a price-based message, we have the ability to go straight to ‘in process’ registrants.”
Challenge: Measuring the Effectiveness of the Show
Solution: Cisco’s real-time event management dashboard not only acts as a single, integrated portal that event managers can use to manage attendees, speakers and exhibitors and facilitate collaboration between team members, it’s a killer real-time reporting tool. “We use quite a bit on-site, especially when talking to executives who want to know how our registration numbers are, how many have checked in and what’s the current evaluation score for their session,” says Heather Henderson, global operations manager at Cisco. One of Henderson’s top internal customers, Cisco chairman and ceo John Chambers, is one such executive who wants to know within minutes of wrapping up his keynote how the session had been received. Thanks to the tool, Cisco’s event team could show him in real time how his numbers were trending, including how many evaluations had been submitted, by whom and via what device.
The on-site dashboard also gives the team the ability to track every individual attendee’s journey through the event including registration trends by month and date, key accounts as identified by Cisco, who checked in, the number of booths they attended and sessions attended and any sessions they skipped. The event team culls through the data, looks at the trends and rolls it into a post-mortem boot camp to assess what worked, what didn’t and what audiences wanted more of. “The [value of the] immediacy is that we do quite a bit of internal communications,” says Clark. “This is a company-wide event across multiple business units and the tool allows us to deliver some pretty hard hitting and telling statistics within hours of closing the show.”
Challenge: Managing Multiple Attendee Types
Solution: CiscoLive! hosts about 12 different attendee types that range from VIPs and executives to speakers, sponsors and exhibitors. The show requires about 30 different registration experiences to accommodate the unique experiences offered to each of the different groups. Thanks to the technology driving Cisco’s registration platform, all of these different attendee types can register via a single point of registration. The one-stop experience streamlines registration for the attendee both before the event and on-site and enables Cisco’s event team to manage all 15,000 attendees, speakers, exhibitors and VIPs from one central database that has the capacity to allow for complex rules for each attendee. “We try to funnel everything through the one portal,” says Henderson. “Everything links together. So we have all the data and all the records for every individual in one location.”
Challenge: Managing Hotel Room Blocks
Solution: Any event organizer who has worked with discount codes for hotel room blocks knows that it can be a tedious and time-consuming process to manage relationships with a long list of hotels. The ActiveNetwork registration platform handles hotel room block booking and management automatically, which gives Cisco’s organizers more control over the blocks. The technology also offers reporting on 10 to 20 hotels in one spot versus relying on hotels to provide block updates and code information. “It’s much easier to have it all captured because we’re controlling the information that goes to the hotel and it’s a single point of contact,” says Henderson. “It’s absolutely better than having 7,500 people contact the hotel directly.”
Challenge: Moving Slow Registration Lines
Solution: Standing in a registration line is a “have to” not a “want to” experience for most conference attendees, so Cisco once again has turned to technology to help minimize lines and speed up the on-site registration experience. The strategy kicks off before the event when the team uses the registration portal to scan the registered attendees and troubleshoot any problems or inconsistencies that might pop up. Once on-site, attendees can quickly register at a staffed laptop station and receive their badge. Walk-up attendees or those with problems registering are immediately referred to a waiting staff of Active representatives. Thanks to the mix of pre-show data scrubbing and a solid on-site system, on the first day of the show Cisco registered 1,000 people per hour. The top wait for the registration line was 12 minutes.
Challenge: Iffy Convention Center Internet
Solution: Most event marketers have a horror story about notoriously unreliable convention center internet. Or the vacuum cleaner that took down an entire network just hours before the show. Although Cisco is in the unique position of being a provider of robust networks, backup plans and redundancies are still an important part of the technology strategy. The on-site network center that hosts the registration database, for instance, is supported by a series of servers called Oasis machines and laptops that are not reliant on the convention center’s internet. If web access went down, Cisco can still run check in and swap servers dynamically—meaning no waits or downtime for attendees and exhibitors. Active also performs months of load testing before the event to make sure its mobile app and other online databases can handle the volume once the show starts.
Challenge: Getting Speaker Presentations In Advance
Solution: Cisco hosts more than 600 sessions at CiscoLive! And that means chasing down more than 600 presentations from 550 speakers before the event begins. A technology platform called the Speaker Resource Center lends order to the chaos by giving speakers a special online interface where they can register and keep track of all of the activities they need to do to move their presentation through the system. The speakers report into session group managers who are responsible for about 30 speakers each. Both speakers and session group managers can use the online tools in the Speaker Resource Center to schedule collaboration meetings with one another. “It’s such a robust and complex engagement with the speakers, you need that portal,” says Clark.
Challenge: Sluggish Survey Responses
Solution: Paper post-show and post-session evaluation forms are definitely a thing of the past. Web-based surveys are a step in the right direction, but can still create a lag between the session and the feedback. Cisco makes it fast and easy for attendees to submit their session evaluations by offering them on an Active-created mobile app that runs on iPhone, iPad, Android and BlackBerry (the app also offers attendees cool tools like session catalogs, agendas, social networking feeds, personal schedules, speaker bios and venue maps). After all, what’s more ubiquitous these days than a smartphone? One attendee at this year’s event, Jeremy DeVoll, director of architecture and engineering at Saint Joseph Health System in Anaheim, CA, said, “If it weren’t for the mobile app, I wouldn’t fill out the online survey.” And as for the paper session schedule? “I’d throw it away.” DeVoll said even an iPad is a pain to carry around so he mostly uses a mobile device. Active created a QR code to make it easy for attendees to download the app and promoted it via signs, business cards and on the main CiscoLive Registration page. At this year’s event, about 75 percent of all surveys were completed using the mobile app.
Challenge: Last-Minute Mobile App Changes
Solution: Mobile apps are great communications devices for events. They offer organizers the ability to send updates and information in real time. Unfortunately, the most popular app distribution platform, iTunes, requires a three-week lead time for new apps to become available in the store. Active solved this problem for Cisco by creating its CiscoLive! mobile app in HTML5 which allows developers to create changes on the fly.
Challenge: Boosting Exhibitor Sales
Solution: The on-site dashboard allows company representatives to show exhibitors up-to-the-minute data on how their booth is performing at the show. With an iPad or Cius in-hand, any Cisco rep can show exhibitors who is in their booth in real-time and what they’re doing based on barcodes on their badges. The tool also allows for behavior tracking by individual user so Cisco can break down the leads for exhibitors and can help them answer the question of whether or not they’re reaching their target demographic. The data gives exhibitors an instant sense of the ROI they’re receiving from their investment in the show and is easily integrated into their proprietary CRM systems during and after the show to facilitate immediate follow up. About 70 percent of exhibitors signed up on the spot for booth space at the 2012 show.
Challenge: Room Capacity Planning
Solution: No one can predict with total confidence when a session is going to pack ’em in. So to help manage capacity in each of its 600 session rooms, Cisco uses a combination of pre-show technology and on-site tools to make every session feel full and comfortable. The company posts its full session schedule about four months before the event and can track which sessions are more popular and filling up more quickly than others. They can use the trend data to assign rooms accordingly and to even reach out to speakers in advance about the possibility of repeating a popular session. An on-site scanner and digital interface shows session room capacity for session rooms, showing taken seats and open seats based on attendees scanning their barcodes on the way into the room. An attendee can see [when they arrive at the session or before the session] if the room is open, at capacity or if they’re on a waitlist—a green check equals go; a red X means there’s no room at the inn. Cisco uses about 60 scanners throughout the footprint of the event to manage its session rooms. EM