Cisco’s leaders like to be first.
In 2008, Cisco officials were among the initial marketers saying their brands were customer-driven, having already reoriented their marketing with that fact in mind.
Next, it will become the No. 1 IT company, “measured by relevance to our customers,” writes Cisco Chairman and CEO John T. Chambers in the 2014 annual report.
Now, the San Jose, Calif.-based computer networking products and services provider is among the first to admit most consumers have already made up their minds about paying for products and services, and they already know exactly which products and services they want to buy — before ever being in contact with the sales department. What’s more is Cisco plans to have marketing continue to work with those consumers even after they become customers, becoming an “end-to-end” customer journey facilitator.
“So much of that journey is going to be done using digital and social platforms,” says Karen Walker, Cisco’s interim CMO and marketing SVP, “that we feel that marketing is in a prime position to help shape what that journey looks like.”
Plus, so little of that digital and social journey is going to be a linear path to purchase.
As for the rest of Cisco’s customers, Walker says there’s a statistic Cisco CMO and SVP Blair Christie — now on a leave of absence — likes to share from CEB: “57 percent of the purchase decision is made before even reaching out to the company.”
Walker says Cisco’s similar experience is the result of a double-digit percentage increase in pre-decided consumers since just 2008. Cisco is immediately responding to this, despite the company being in the B-to-B space — which has the reputation of being generally less pioneering.
Cisco is meeting new customer journey needs through an integrated, customer-centric approach that makes sure channels and departments work together for the good of the buyers. Using “data-driven insights,” including predictive modeling, Walker says Cisco can understand where consumers are in the buying journey, what they’re interested in and how they’re using content and information — whether or not the leads are starting and restarting the journey “many, many times” and in many different places.
“We’re going to continue to be really strong on revenue marketing,” says Walker, whose company had $47 billion in revenue during fiscal year 2014. “We’ll change our approach to use inbound digital and social, more than the outbound method. But that’s still going to absolutely remain a focus for us.”
The First of 3 Core Principles
Cisco has a process in place to ensure those 57 percent make it to the “door.”
In this journey Cisco is taking with its customers, the marketing department is following the three core principles outlined by Christie: Content is king, Cisco needs to digitize everything and the company should obsess over its customers.
Walker says content needs to be so compelling, consumers want to “lean-in” to learn more. At Cisco, “wicked smart” copywriters create those “irresistible” whitepapers and blog posts in real-time to ensure relevance — no more outsourcing to agencies and waiting months to receive copy, says the marketing leader with an accent reminiscent of her roots in Northern England.
“It’s a massive shift for us,” Walker acknowledges.
That shift puts the first core principle in place for the non-linear customer journey. Quality, relevant content is irresistible.
“They want to learn more about you because you’re offering something that is just so awesome,” she says.
For instance, she bought her son a jacket online from Nordstrom during the 2014 holidays.