Blair Christie

Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Cisco

"Just two-tenths of the things in the physical world are connected to the Internet, so we haven’t even scratched the surface in terms of the potential for Cisco, the internet, and the world."

Connection is the essence of the Cisco brand. In what ways is Cisco better than competitors when it comes to connecting with consumers?

Connection is indeed the essence of the Cisco brand. In fact, Cisco has its roots in connection going back to 1984, when our founders Len Bozak and Sandy Lerner needed a way to connect two disparate local area networks at Stanford University so they could email each other across campus. The world’s first multiprotocol router—invented by Cisco’s founders—is the result of the need for human beings to connect. Since then, Cisco has been on a mission to enable more and more connections.

So much has happened since Cisco’s inception. Today, more data traffic travels across the typical family’s home network in Silicon Valley than traveled across the entire Internet 15 years ago. But if you put things in perspective, just two-tenths of the things in the physical world are connected to the Internet, so we haven’t even scratched the surface in terms of the potential for Cisco, the internet, and the world.

Connection is clearly core to the Cisco brand, but it’s also about embracing the brand’s lasting value. We believe our brand value proposition resonates with consumers and customers because it’s more than just the concept of connection—it’s about the value that results from those connections. At a more pragmatic level, all of our communication efforts are centered on showcasing or leveraging the power of the intelligent network. Whether it’s one of our leading-edge social media programs or our successful sponsorship of the London 2012 Olympic Games as the official network infrastructure provider or connecting the US National Political Conventions, we’re connecting with consumers by making what we do real and relevant.

Cisco recognizes the importance of delivering the best technology to customers. But as technologies become more and more advanced, isn't there a risk that Cisco could become a tech-centric business rather than a customer centric one? How does Cisco avoid this trap?

Customer success is the foundation of Cisco’s culture and is core to our business strategy. It starts with listening to our customers and embedding their needs into our culture, technology and processes. I believe Cisco has a distinct advantage in that we are not in the business of merely delivering the best technology for our customers. We are in the business of helping our customers solve their most important business challenges with our technology solutions. It starts by anticipating and understanding the next wave of market transitions and being far better prepared than our competition to help our customers navigate these changes.

Digital experience gives a brand owner an immediate opportunity when it comes to evolving and furthering brand relevance. How do you view "digital" and the role it plays in furthering Cisco's relevance? Which brands are doing it well, and what sort of best practices have you been able to leverage at Cisco?

Digital allows audiences to see and actually interact with your brand 24/7. At Cisco, we plan our digital brand strategy holistically, whether it’s our mobile presence, social presence and interaction of all the major social platforms, or the plethora of interactions we get on our websites worldwide. From our perspective, digital is about engaging, listening, and participating with customers—which ultimately strengthens the brand.

There are many digital exemplars that are recognized for their leading-edge work. Dell does a great job innovating in social by responding directly to customers via Twitter. IBM is very effective at integrating social/mobile/web for their brand campaigns. Top consumer brands such as Coke and Starbucks do a great job of integrating social in their marketing approach so they can interact directly with consumers and increase loyalty. For example, consumers provided product ideas to Starbucks via "My Starbucks,” and Coke leverages their rewards program "My Coke Rewards" to engage consumers.

Other brands reach out to Cisco to hear about our best practices as well. Last year Cisco launched a social media listening center that enables us to activate our 100+ Twitter accounts to respond to consumers in real time. In 2010 and 2011, we won an award for the #1 B2B Company on Twitter.

Cisco also has a strong presence in online communities and nurtures network experts to share advice and even provide other customers with support through the Cisco Support Community. This community, available on Facebook and on a mobile app, has over two million views per month and recently won Web Marketing Association's 2012 Best Advocacy Mobile Application Award. We are also doing some groundbreaking innovations in partnership with the various social media platforms, such as LinkedIn. Recently, we delivered a personal email to the LinkedIn inboxes of 140,000 C-level executives. The message included an embedded video—the first time LinkedIn ever allowed that capability. The message also linked the executives to a landing page where they could learn how Cisco helps companies innovate, and also share the content with their peers. However, it’s not just about innovating in digital and social marketing. Our most popular mobile app, Cisco WebEx, serves as a best practice for enabling mobile collaboration. Extending Cisco WebEx to a mobile platform has contributed to the staggering 1.6 billion minutes per month that WebEx users spend using our service.

Moving into 2013 and beyond, what do you find yourself demanding more of with respect to the Cisco brand? How does this differ for North America as related to the rest of the world?

Looking ahead, we are very focused on steps we can take to create a superlative and consistent brand experience across all brand touch points—not just the marketing and communications. Our customers and stakeholders experience the Cisco brand in a myriad of ways, and we have a huge opportunity to help shape those experiences in a positive way.

As with any brand, awareness varies across different geographies, and this requires us to review our target audiences and, in some cases, adapt as necessary to continue to increase relevance for the brand. For Cisco, we must adjust to meet the needs of audiences in various regions. Toward that end, we work in partnership with our sales and marketing leads in different countries to ensure that we project one voice, globally, while also exploring innovations that originate outside of the US.

In an economic downturn, smart companies actually increase investment in their brands to gain share. But when a more pragmatic approach is called for, there are still some opportunities companies can seize to strengthen their brands. For example, Cisco has made significant investments in our social media infrastructure in the past several years and we have adjusted how we allocate our resources in terms of paid, earned and owned media, to gain the greatest leverage—even when budgets are tight. This philosophy has actually paved the way for some impressive social media innovations at Cisco, such as our Customer Listening Center, which has become so much more than a PR and marketing tool for our company.

Cisco has been ranked as a Best Global Brand since Interbrand first published the list in 2001. As Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, how has this helped you do your job better? Does this ranking inspire the company to invest more in marketing efforts and/or do you use it as a benchmark each year?

We value the longevity of Cisco’s ranking among the top 20 for over a decade. It tells Cisco employees, partners and customers that our brand is strong and lasting. We also take the opportunity to underscore for employees that we all play an important role in building the brand, and that our brand equity is the result of the goodwill and positive experiences we have instilled in all those we’ve touched.

  • About Blair Christie

    Blair Christie is the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for Cisco, with responsibility for the company’s Global Marketing, Corporate Communications, and Government Affairs groups. Previous to this appointment, she was Senior Vice President of Global Corporate Communications, focused on shaping the company’s reputation and perception. Her responsibilities included leadership of Cisco’s global investor relations, public and media relations, industry analyst relations, and employee and executive communications. She also managed Cisco’s global studios and Web 2.0/collaboration technology strategy teams, rounding out an organization designed to integrate the message and the medium in communications. She is an executive sponsor for Cisco’s Communication and Collaboration Board, the cross-functional team responsible for guiding the deployment of Web 2.0 and social networking technologies throughout Cisco.