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Cisco Gears Up For Huge Consumer Marketing Push

The networking giant plans to bring the Cisco brand into the home for data, video, and music. It's a big reversal in strategy and highlights the growing impact of consumer technology.

Ask a nontechie consumer what Cisco Systems does, and odds are you'll get a blank stare. Cisco's top brass wants to fill that blank space with the image of a technology company at the center of the video, music, and data zipping around family and home office networks.

Consumers should cozy up to networks, says Cisco chief marketing officer Sue Bostrom

Consumers should cozy up to networks, says Cisco chief marketing officer Sue Bostrom
With bullish fanfare appropriate to the Broadway stage on which she stood, chief marketing officer Sue Bostrom last week told financial analysts about plans for the largest marketing push in Cisco's history, aimed at making the company and its products more recognizable to consumers.

The campaign, to begin Oct. 2, includes online, print, and TV ads; billboards at sporting events; product placement in movies and TV shows; and a new logo with "CISCO" printed in red under an updated version of the company's trademark Golden Gate Bridge image. One financial analyst likened the logo to that of Crest toothpaste.

Marketing the Cisco name as a consumer brand marks something of a reversal for the company. CEO John Chambers has insisted previously that Cisco would remain the company's enterprise brand, indicative of a high level of product sophistication and support, while Linksys and other brands would be the company's face to consumers. Yet while the business market is Cisco's bread and butter--routers and switches accounted for 56% of the company's $8 billion in fourth-quarter revenue--the campaign is a nod not just to the market potential of consumer technology, but also its ability to impact the business world. "All of us understand the consumer is setting the pace in the electronic office," Chambers says. "We're clearly not doing the branding for the CIO."

Chambers points to the collaboration space. Business users make up 30% of the customer base of voice-over-IP vendor Skype, which started as a free consumer product, and there's been phenomenal growth in the use of free instant messaging apps among business professionals. Cisco's Linksys home-office router has played a role in getting companies to think differently about their wireless LANs. Cisco itself began supporting wireless E-mail internally only after its employees started bringing in BlackBerrys and other mobile devices. In an InformationWeek survey of 238 business technology professionals in March, 75% of respondents agreed that employee use of consumer tech has brought significant changes to the way they do business.

Gold In The Networked Home
The campaign also reflects a multiyear strategy to become more than just a supplier of enterprise products, Chambers says. Since 2003, Cisco has acquired Linksys, Scientific-Atlanta, and Kiss for consumer video and entertainment, Sipura Technology for consumer VoIP, and SyPixx for networked security cameras.

In a presentation to investors, chief development officer Charlie Giancarlo called the networked home "ripe for reinvention" and said Cisco's cable boxes could become the "base of operations." Among the consumer products being considered are nanny cams, video phones, and technologies for physical security.

Cisco stopped short of saying it would stick the Cisco brand on everything it sells. Rather, it will rebrand some products, for the first time bringing the Cisco name into consumers' homes as a sign of premium technology. Cisco, in effect, will become the Lexus of the company, with Linksys and Scientific-Atlanta more like Toyota.

The company has work to do in shoring up consumer recognition: Consumers were more familiar with Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, and Microsoft than Cisco in recent market research conducted by CoreBrand. "Cisco is providing technology that interacts with the end user," Bostrom says. "I'd like consumers to understand the whole market inflection of collaboration, the role that the network plays in our lives, and how Cisco is part of that whole new environment."

But don't expect consumers to buy into Cisco overnight or for the company's entrance into your living room to be smooth. Even Chambers admitted in his presentation that Cisco's ability to move into the digital home is "probably the most challenging" task facing the company.

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