May
08

Cisco Marketing Has Gone Crazy…Like a Fox!

By on May 8, 2008

CiscoUsually, when a big company decides to get hip to the newest Marketing trend, it’s like watching your Dad trying to dance to hip-hop: painful. Cisco is as big as they come, so I was really skeptical when I heard that they were putting a full court press on Product Marketing in new media like blogs, SecondLife , and Facebook (companies != people, you’re not my “friend”). Plus, Cisco has already had some bumps in the road with regards to blogging.

On the web, knowing your limits is key, and keeping the message light and self-depreciating is a skill that most big-company Product Marketers don’t have. No one wants to read a blog about heavy specifications; it’s boring. Believe me, as someone who is (gulp) responsible for some of that Cisco datasheet content, I can attest to how dry it is. Collateral might accurately convey information, but how do you capture mindshare and get in front of people in the first place? You need a hook, and Cisco’s trying to use new media for this purpose.

Cisco Edge QuestOne innovative tactic Cisco’s using is an online game called Edge Quest. It’s silly, but fun – you “fly” a “hovering router” around a virtual arena picking up “packets” to upgrade your “ship.” It reminded me of Tron. Cisco is running an contest for $10,000 and new ASR router give-away for the highest score. Here’s what I see as the pros and cons:

Pros

  • It’s different; there aren’t a lot of these advergames out there yet, so people will play out of curiosity
  • iMedia Connection says that games like these offer better brand retention and key message absorption than other methods and…
  • Games engage us at an emotional level…the place every Marketer wants to be! As much as we’d like to think that buying, especially B2B purchasing is rational, it’s not. Remember the saying “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM?”

Cons

  • Routers and switches are complex, high tech devices. I’m all for boiling down to key messages, but are they devaluing the product by associating it with a game? Would this be more appropriate for Linksys?
  • Some people turn up their noses at games that are also try to “teach.” I think Cisco struck a good balance here, but some people will take any product info in the game as an affront. Dude – it’s free.

Overall I think this is a really cool idea and I’m curious to see how it goes.

The Cisco Team pinged me about answering some questions on this topic, so I’ll close with these:

How many hours do you game each week (sandbag accordingly if your boss will read this) and what’s your favorite one?

I’d say about 4 hours. I’m known as a merciless killer on Team Fortress 2.

What do you consider your biggest accomplishment in your gaming life? (Come on, I know you have one…! Mine was mastering the expert slope on the Intellivision ski game… If only my actual skiing were a tenth as good…)

The original NFL2K on Dreamcast had a bug where you could throw a long bomb to Randy Moss and get a touchdown every time. I exploited that and had over 200 points scored in each of 16 games against the computer, and ended the season with something like 20,000 yards and 450 TDs. Just like in real life!

How key is the speed and quality of your broadband connection when you play games, and how much (if any) would you be willing to pay your provider for a faster, better connection?

That’s a really interesting question, because 6 months ago I would have said “very important” and “yes.” Since then, I paid for the upgrade to RoadRunner Turbo, and I didn’t see much of a difference, so I went back to the standard package. I’ll still say yes, but only if I can get Japan-like speeds to my desktop. C’mon Cisco, make it happen!

I am sure you’ve seen lots of game contests where you play to win skins or stickers or a virtual t-shirt… but have you ever participated in an online gaming tournament where the winner won money, and how much of a draw was this prize to encourage you to participate?

I’ve played in online tournaments before that had money as a prize, but never with the expectation that I’d actually compete for the top spot, it was always about the competition and beating my personal best. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it since I didn’t win.

What will you do with $10,000 if you win the tournament?

To quote one of my favorite lines from my RTF-Production professor, Richard Lewis, “I have multiple projects in various stages of development.” I’m sure they could all benefit!

Also if you win, what would you do with the Cisco ASR 1002?

I dream of the day that I would actually need a router like that.

We have a lively debate going in the office along the lines of “fantasy edgequest” (you can tell we tend to live this stuff….): One camp says the eventual winner will be a technical networking type (and game enthusiast) who loves Cisco, the other says that pro gamers will come in dominate the leader board. What say you – which camp will dominate?

The Pros, absolutely. At this very moment there are teams training around the clock in China to win this contest. Of course they just want to win the ASR to reverse engineer it!

Our intent with this game is to find new ways to engage with our customers and to have fun in the process (not to create a separate gaming line of business for the Company…!) Is it effective, do you know more about the Cisco ASR 1000 as a result of playing, and should we continue to engage you with such games in the future?

Granted that I’m not Cisco’s target persona for this product, but I say at least this is different. It’s worth a try to get the feedback and then evaluate. The risk is that IT managers probably don’t want all of their vendors sending games to fill up their employees in-boxes. That will quickly devolve into “I can’t fix her laptop, I’m ‘learning’ about routers!”

The ROI may be tough to measure, but the great thing about Web 2.0 marketing is that the “I” does not have to be large, so you can try lots of different tactics and find what works.

Full Disclosure: I used to work @ Cisco until 2006, and still have many friends there.

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