marketing: the cisco approach

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marketing: the cisco approach

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Going Deep: The Cisco Approach

Author: Patrick Lannigan - March 2009

Summer 2004. I was tasked with completely revamping our marketing collateral (website, brochures, etc.). I estimated that this was a year long project. It had to work. (And by work I mean it had to create leads.) I then made a strategic choice that would be hard to go back on. I chose to do what Cisco did in the early nineties. I chose to go deep.

When I say "go deep" I (mostly) mean that I'm not being shy about my length of copy and that I'm aiming to build equity by teaching the reader a few things along the way. I want to earn the reader's respect. That said, it's a very tough thing to do (for a large and complex product like banking software).

The Decision to Go Deep

The decision to go deep didn't come to me immediately. First, I drew up a list of traits that fit the decision makers within our customer base, figuring that it would be these same type of people who would be seeking out a new banking system.

Existing Customer (& Prospective Buyer) Traits

  • "A-Type" personality (likes to make things happen)
  • Has budget & power
  • University education (or equivalent)
  • Deep financial knowledge
  • Exposure to technology
  • Seasoned (10 or more years in the business)
  • Doesn't tolerate "pedestrian fluff" (e.g. viral videos)

Banking Software: General Market Segment Traits

  • Banking software is (typically) expensive, ranging from as low as $50K to a high in the millions. As such, purchase decisions are not made lightly.
  • Banking software manages core assets (from $millions to $billions). Prospective customers would want to see proof and talk to references. They will not rush into a deal.
  • The ideal banking software would continue to be enhanced, adopting any new regulatory and industry changes.

The more I thought about the traits listed above, coupled with my own experiments in usability that I've executed in past web development projects, the more I thought about my memories of how Cisco first approached its market. How it had used exceedingly straightforward "no marketing fluff" copywriting to eventually win the hearts and minds of their target market. That's what I wanted to do.

I didn't want to be yet-another-website that asks prospective buyers to input their contact information to get more information. I thought that approach, for the market I was targeting, was bogus. It cheapened the experience. It was down there with "free set of steak knives." Yuck. I wanted to motivate and have readers self-qualify themselves. Like Cisco did.

I leveraged what I learned from Cisco.

Stepping Back: What I Learned from Cisco

When a growing technology company expands its sales force into multiple territories, they typically place their sales reps in shared office spaces. That was the case for me in 1990. Working for Progress Software, I shared a receptionist, boardrooms, photocopier, coffee machine, etc. with a dozen or so other companies. Thankfully, one of those companies was Cisco. What a pleasure it was.

When the Cisco rep was in town, I would wander into his office to get samples of his latest brochures. These weren't the typical four colour fluffy brochures that many other tech companies published. These brochures were black and white, word-heavy (and diagram-heavy) brochures that were a delight for me to read. Why? They educated me. They taught me something I didn't know about a particular communications protocol or routing protocol. I looked forward to every new brochure Cisco published. Over the years I read those white papers and brochures, the experience had helped build significant Cisco brand equity within me. And I ask myself, is it any wonder that when demand for the Internet went ballistic, Cisco's growth went ballistic also?

Those early black and white Cisco brochures won me over, as a technical person. Yet Cisco didn't have to do it that way. They could have pulled one of those marketing "no brainers" and gone for the four colour fluff. Someone at Cisco had the courage to do it differently. Those brochures helped Cisco win the hearts and minds of technical professionals everywhere. And those technical professionals are the ones that the senior execs turned to for complex purchasing decisions like Internet routers. Admittedly, the world of routers and networking equipment has largely been commoditizedóbut that wasn't the case in the early 90s. Cisco earned their place as the leader by working hard to teach those network engineers how to put their solutions together. And they did this, largely, through their "deep approach."

Success with the Deep Approach

At Strategic Information Technology we worked hard to extract a lot of product information that was stuck in peoples' heads and get it onto the website and other promotional material. We overlaid that knowledge with a sober yet easily readable website that would speak to the seasoned professional. Flashy graphics, "buy now" messages, and "sign up for this newsletter" approaches were eschewed. We bet on the fact that if we spoke to the pain that these executives were experiencing, they would pick up the phone or send an email. It worked. We now have a continuous inflow of leads. What was most surprising, however, was the difference between leads that were received over email versus leads from executives who simply picked up the phone. As it turns out, the quality of the leads from the executives who simply pick up the phone proved to be vastly superior compared to those leads that came in via email.

One Size Does Not Fit All

The approach we used for our website and marketing materials won't work for everyone. BlueCat Networks, as an example, sells many of its network appliances in the "under $10K price point" to network administrators. I believe their website is perfectly designed for that audience. They do rely on email lists and a more flashy approach. Their website is also more acronym-ladenówhich is something our company would never consider. But for them it works. They sell to busy network administrators who must arrive at the website and see, within a few seconds, that BlueCat Networks incorporates the latest standards.

Why Are Graphic Designers so Logophobic?

In my experience in analyzing websites for sales potential, I would have to say the most common sin is that of logophobia (fear of words). As an example, I don't know why, the hundreds of graphic design websites I have visited feature so few words about themselves and their approach. Most of the websites promoting a graphic design firm use Flash to "animate" their website. Their use of Flash is aimed to wow me. But it never does. Typically, they'll reveal their client roster and provide examples of their work. But words written about their approach to graphic design are virtually non-existent. Where's the explanation of the design goals for a particular collateral piece? Where are the words to describe how sales leads improved with the latest graphic design of a website? That's what I'd like to see.

I have long since misplaced those early Cisco black and white "brochures" I read, but you can find a good example of their educational writing style in this brochure/whitepaper on Wide Area Networks.

If you have a story about how a redesign of a website or marketing materials dramatically improved your business, I'd love to hear it. Drop me a line at [email protected]


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Email Patrick Lannigan at lannigan at gmail dot com for more information

This page was created and/or refreshed on April 12, 2017 @ 14:50:56
by Patrick Lannigan (or one of his cronies) in Markham, Ontario, Canada
The page subject is: marketing