Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Cisco Hat

While running across North Carolina on the weekends coaching and watching soccer, I regularly wear a Cisco hat. It is nothing fancy, a simple tan baseball cap with the Cisco logo – a freebie from my previous boss (thanks BTW). For many years, the hat has been a fixture while I am involved in youth soccer. My original intent was simply to protect my bald dome from the elements, but the hat has also served as an outstanding tool for parents and players to identify me in the distance.

The hat reflects my pride in my former employer of many years, but has also served as a lesson in branding. First let me state that I have no background that qualifies me as any type of expert on branding or advertising. I proudly remain an engineer that dabbles in finance.

When I first started wearing the Cisco hat many years ago, I never received much feedback while running across the state. Most people in communities outside of the RTP area never heard of Cisco, or mistook it for the other Sysco – the company in the food distribution business.

Recently this has changed, when out at soccer games in some far-distant community people come-up to me see the hat and want to talk about Cisco -- something that never occurred years ago, except for the rare “what’s Cisco” query.

What is the difference between now and years ago? During the past couple years Cisco has put forward a branding campaign focused on consumer markets. At the time this effort kicked off, I worked at Cisco. The response across engineering about a “marketing campaign” was dubious at best – after all who needs commercials, a corporate audio identity, fancy ads with models, and all this other stuff -- to sell routers?

The bottom line – despite the skepticism from many of my peers – is that the branding campaign has been wildly successful. The efforts have raised the profile of Cisco across a large nationwide audience and increased the value of the brand. It has also added to my weekend conversations -- when many people come up and ask, “What do you do at Cisco?”

Scores of these people are now Cisco customers, whether they purchased Linksys home routers, Scientific Atlanta home cable boxes, or direct Cisco equipment for their small business. Cisco is firmly entrenched in their minds at the preferred internet and security vendor. The teenagers -- are not only competitive soccer players -- but technology enthusiasts; most want to know what a career is like at company which effectively built the internet.


Glenn said...

Greg, great post and I have seen a similar growth in Cisco's brand recognition when I wear one of our many T-shirts. In fact, I recently heard a podcast where the person was talking about Sysco the food distributer and made it point to say it was not the more well-known Cisco. Talk about a shift of brand recognition!