The Marketing Strategist:

Cisco’s Award Winning Thought Leadership: The Internet of Everything

May 17, 2016


As marketing leaders pull together submissions for ITSMA’s 2016 Marketing Excellence Awards – due by June 10 – we’re looking back at some of last year’s award-winning programs.

ITSMA Marketing Excellencec AwardsCisco’s Internet of Everything (IoE) initiative demonstrates the value of creating a long-term, programmatic approach to thought leadership. As the description below indicates, Cisco’s marketing leadership appreciated the need for patience and persistence, understanding that it takes time to develop new ideas, demonstrate expertise, and gain market acceptance. To ensure both near- and longer-term success with its IoE platform, Cisco  invested in an integrated approach including primary research, partnerships with blue chip third parties, and targeted outreach to key customers and other critical audiences. Most important, the company had the vision to see this issue coming and stick with it while customers began to process and act on what they are hearing.

Business Challenge

As Cisco evolves from trusted network advisor to trusted business advisor, its target audience has expanded from IT and industry influencers to include C-suite and line-of-business executives. Accordingly, Cisco must meet their demands for thought leadership (TL) that merges cutting-edge, business-relevant market discussions and the convergence of IoE-related technologies.

Program Objective

The main goal was to codify Cisco thought leadership. Cisco has already proved its ability to catch market transitions and become a market-leading vendor in a short period of time. Throughout these transitions, the company developed thought leadership but never codified, defined and packaged it in a programmatic companywide fashion. The new initiative was designed to establish a unified, long-term thought leadership agenda for the entire organization.

Program Execution

The initiative emphasized a long-term, orchestrated thought leadership journey, taking a phased approach to executing and building momentum:

  • Phase 1: THE WHAT – Identified the Internet of Everything (IoE) as a major market transition and defined it for the industry
  • Phase 2: THE WHY – Discovered significant economic value being created by IoE
  • Phase 3: THE HOW – Introduced roadmaps – how to capture IoE value

Phase 1: The WHAT

Cisco defined the “Internet of Everything” as the networked connection of people, process, data, and things, thus differentiating its approach to this market transition from other technology companies and research/analyst firms. The initiative leveraged a network of subject matter experts (SMEs) to develop hypotheses quantifying the IoE opportunity. The company then engaged a world-class economist—Erik Brynjolfsson—and his team at the MIT Center for Digital Business to help define and design a new approach combining economic analysis and primary market research. In December 2012, the first IoE Point of View positioning paper opened a provocative view to the exponential growth of the Internet and inspired audiences to pay close attention and learn more.

Phase 2: The WHY

Well-Orchestrated Releases Build Momentum: A month after releasing the initial IoE PoV, Cisco followed with the release of the IoE $14.4 Trillion Value at Stake Report for the Private Sector. This paper was presented to a select audience at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland by Cisco CEO John Chambers. In May 2013, Cisco introduced its IoE Value Index (for private sector only), which analyzed the IoE readiness of industries and countries in 2013. The company followed this with the release of the IoE $4.6 Trillion Value at Stake Report for the Public Sector in January 2014.

Phase 3: The HOW

With the foundation laid, the company was ready to introduce roadmaps for how customers could capture IoE value with practical examples and recommendations. To enable sustained market conversations, program leadership forged a platform-based approach focusing on either 1) vertical industry lens or 2) business-driven technology lens, and then promoted thought leadership to the field via internal webinars, events, and a set of internal “TL Sales Companions.” 

In FY15 (August 2014–July 2015), the program delivered five TL platforms: Public Sector, Financial Services, Retail, Oil and Gas, and IoT/Data Analytics.

Each platform is packaged with primary research yielding both qualitative and quantitative insights: in-depth interviews with executives and thought leaders from multiple countries; economic analysis and modeling to quantify the business case; video interviews with industry thought leaders that speak to the executive audience directly and provide an expert, non-Cisco voice.

Business Results

  • #1 in Share of Voice worldwide; 38% share is 2X that of the closest competition
  • High sentiment: 85% positive, 14% neutral and 1% negative
  • 258 million impressions and 901,000 engagements
  • 4% sales conversion of sales qualified leads delivered
  • Customer-validated business outcomes: 47 case studies complete and 196 in pipeline

Learn more about the categories and guidelines for ITSMA’s 2016 Marketing Excellence Awards.


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