Cisco CMO Karen Walker On Making The Cisco Brand Work Hard For Partners

Cisco CMO Karen Walker introduced a new Cisco marketing campaign intended to arm partners with strong messaging, "five-star" leads and comprehensive enablement. ‘We want the brand to work hard for you,’ she said during a keynote presentation Wednesday.


Go-To Market

Cisco Systems Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Karen Walker is undertaking what may be one of the most daunting tasks in the company's shift toward a software- and recurring revenue-focused sales strategy.

Walker and her marketing and partner demand generation team are simplifying what she calls the "jumble of names" in the company's marketing portfolio by 90 percent and laying the groundwork for a product introduction schedule that relies on fewer, bigger announcements centered on major events like Partner Summit, which is being held in Las Vegas this week.

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As part of that effort, Walker introduced a new Cisco marketing campaign intended to arm partners with strong messaging, "five-star" leads and comprehensive enablement. "We want the brand to work hard for you," she said during a keynote presentation Wednesday.

The new "Bridge to Possible" campaign emphasizes Cisco's push to offer complete, integrated systems with a focus on life-cycle management services and customer experience. Here, Walker discusses the rationale behind the new campaign and how it will benefit partners.

What follows is an edited excerpt of Walker's conversation with CRN.

What made now a good time to launch a new marketing campaign?

We felt we were at a great juncture to launch this new company campaign. We felt this way for a number of reasons, including that our business is at a great point in our transformation and business model. It’s working but it's been hard at the same time. We believe our technology story has legs and will be around for a long time in terms of how we can experience amazing opportunity. Our brand has also increased in value a lot. We’ve gained brand value by 8 percent and we’re the 15th most valuable brand in the world. Also, from a people and culture perspective, something feels different today. We are most excited, but we are engaging our employees more so now than ever and we can really feel that with the culture. We thought this was good to tie everything together.

What's the concept behind the campaign?

[Cisco Chairman and CEO] Chuck [Robbins, pictured] announced our new vision and purpose statement, and it really is tying everything together. It’s about building bridges between hope and possibility. The purpose and the vision and brand anthem all tie together, creating a lot of new excitement. We launched this with our employees yesterday and the response we got was insane. We had 98 percent of our employees say that the brand campaign was extraordinary as it represents the future of our company and culture and where we are headed. We also wanted to create a brand platform that we felt had multiple years. The feedback we’ve received have shown that this campaign is expandable. We think this will carry for multiple years. In this crazy time, we choose to be positive about the future. You can see this through our campaign. We believe that when you bring technology innovation, you can really bridge the possible. We want to share with you now how we can bring this to light a bit more.

Has it become more challenging over the last few years for Cisco to formulate plans like this as partners look to a broader range of vendors instead of focusing just on one brand like Cisco?

Of course, a partner will have multiple vendors that they engage with. I don’t think that will change. Cisco must differentiate between the different creative campaigns that are able to drive and grab the market's attention. We’re rigorous on how we launch and execute the campaign and we feel accountable. They know we are pros and have this nailed. But we really try to look at our competitors’ campaigns and try to differentiate ourselves. We try to emotionally engage with our customer, which is unusual for a B2B company. The amount of emotion from this campaign has made employees cry and be emotional. Cisco has a strong brand around trust and integrity, and we think that’s resonating in this crazy world today. We’re trying to build this emotional connection between our customers and partners. These types of stories show we try to do the unexpected—something you wouldn’t see from a B2B company.

What impact do you anticipate the campaign having on partners' success in the market?

First, they love it when the Cisco brand is doing well. Our brand value increased by 8 percent and we were the 15th most valuable brand in the world. When we launch a big campaign like this, we believe this helps our partners. That’s why we have our marketing programs where the use of the Cisco logo ties hand-in-hand. We believe they get a strong halo effect when the brand is doing well. We do make sure that we have a hard business goal. It was over $8 million, which gets passed to our partners. From this pipeline, we have a pretty good conversion rate. It’s probably around 36 percent of this pipeline converting into business. This contributes to the bottom-line growth of the partner as well.

When you pass leads to a partner, how do you expect them to use these leads and content?
It depends by partner, but we have a program where we teach our partners the latest and greatest marketing skills and technology. We enable them to be better marketing professionals. On the lead side, we’ve developed a rigorous process to help our partners determine where our leads are. Those are really the primary ways.