Building a Community of Peers


Palo Alto Networks

When Senior Director Americas Field Marketing Ashima Singh started at Palo Alto Networks in 2014, the term “field marketing” meant something different than it does today. 

“It’s never a one-and-done event. It’s a whole journey that we’re creating now,” Singh explains—with an important caveat: “We were already doing that in some shape or form, but COVID accelerated the motion for us.” 

Currently, Singh considers her role more akin to growth marketing—so much so, she’s in favor of retiring the term “field marketing” altogether, due to its pre-pandemic connotations.

“It’s more about creating those meaningful, impactful engagements,” she says with an emphasis, adding: “I don’t want to say events anymore.” 

When the pandemic hit, from a field marketing perspective, the company prioritized the buildout of technology and platforms to streamline virtual gatherings. Though jarring, the transition wasn’t without its upsides. For one, geography was no longer a limitation. 

The smooth transition to digital worked for a while. But after some time, Singh sensed that guests were missing out on opportunities to mingle, as they would have in the past over an after-session beer.

“It was getting too dry without having that in-person engagement,”

Singh says. She resolved to rework her strategy with networking top-of-mind. 

“Marketers need to find the hook, and cultivating communities is a tried and tested way of keeping the audience engaged,” Singh says. “Building campaigns that lead to more casual conversations, creating opportunities to build a community of peers, letting attendees take an active role in planning by sharing ideas on topics for future dates — these things go a long way.”

So, of course, does substance.

“Content is key, and it’s customer-first,” Singh advises. “Think of if you’re in the seat of the customer—what would you like to learn? That’s where hearing more from the customer, less from the vendor comes in.”

There’s no better source for ideation than candid feedback from attendees themselves. But insight into customers’ needs and pain points is also extremely valuable.

“Now it’s all about personas,” Singh says with enthusiasm. She breaks it down: “You’re not selling to one person – you’re selling to different groups. And you have to engage with all of them, and each has a very different need regarding your content or engagement.” 

CXOs, for example, are more attuned to higher-level conversations about solutions

“They have to sit in front of the board of directors and say, ‘This is how we can prevent a breach,’” Singh rationalizes.

Practitioners, on the other hand, are more apt to be sold on products themselves. 

How will software integrate and affect their day to day? This type of information is even more valuable when it comes from a peer. 

“Experiences matter more than events,”

Singh says in closing. Savvy organizers recognize that their role is to facilitate fruitful interactions. It’s the guests themselves who truly make for memorable experiences.

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