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Why this Cisco marketer decided to cut events spend to hire data scientists

When Mark Phibbs (pictured), vice president of marketing and communications for Asia Pacific and Japan first took on the role at Cisco late last year, he realised that while Cisco had plenty of data, many had not been translated into insights.

Knowing the importance of translating data into insights, he brought in a team of data scientists and analysts to crunch the numbers, and help Cisco merge creativity and science in its storytelling efforts. But creating this team didn’t come without a price. Savings had to be made in other areas, leading to an approximate 20% total reduction of the number of B2B events and partner marketing, Phibbs explained.

While events, especially the bigger ones, have their place in Cisco’s marketing efforts, Phibbs said the company was, in his opinion, running too many B2B events and decided to reduce the number.

Additionally, in the new fiscal year, a key approach in Cisco’s new partner marketing strategy is working closely with partners to do more and provide self-serve models with digital capabilities. Phibbs added that in today’s day and age, bold decisions need to be made in marketing, banking on data. He added:

When people send me data in an Excel sheet, I send it back to them and instead ask for their conclusion and hypothesis because that’s what I want to know.

According to Phibbs, it is safe to say that the practice of having the highest-paid person (often the CEO or CMO) decide what the new brand campaign or that marketing direction should be based on gut feel is no longer effective. The days of marketing by just saying “Trust us!” are over and “marketing has to show up at the executive level” and point out what data says and how companies should be measuring “return on investment”, Phibbs explained.

Taking tasks in-house

In his role, Phibbs currently oversees about 180 employees across the region including Greater China. Besides growing the data science team, Phibbs also aims to bolster the efficiency of the marketing department with new hires. These include a regional brand manager and creative producers.

Currently, to remain cost-effective, he is building out the team of creative producers in Bangalore and expects it to grow over time.

Moving forward, Phibbs said Cisco will gradually roll certain responsibilities in-house and reduce the amount spent with agencies. He said, “I love agencies and they are right for idea factories. But I think every marketing department needs the capability to do basic tasks themselves because you need to be quick in this digital age.”

According to Phibbs:

Cisco is looking to reduce initial spend with agencies on creative production by 10 to 20%.

“An agency has to come in and understand what your marketing challenges are before they partner with you. They need to understand what the business problem is before coming up with the right elements in marketing to help solve it,” Phibbs said. However, he explained that this is usually not the case as agencies tend to focus on how to they can sell more rather than thinking strategically.

Cisco currently invests about 30% of its marketing budget on digital initiatives and while it is moving forward with ambitious plans to thrive in the digital and data-driven age, Phibbs said not everyone in the organisation is comfortable with the shift to digital.

“People are used to their ways of doing things and you need to be brave as a marketer in this day and age,” he said. Phibbs added:

One of the hardest things is to tell someone what you are not going to do.

Making IT sexy for the younger generation

Consumers today, especially the younger generation, have a shorter attention span. As such, Phibbs believes the key to capturing their attention is through 90-second videos instead of the usual whitepapers or written case studies Cisco is currently doing. When he came on board, Phibbs came with a clear intention to release approximately 200 customer videos in 2018, with each one being no more than 90 seconds long.

“I think our challenge in B2B marketing is to cut through the noise. A lot of B2B marketing is boring and can be described as wallpaper. It’s in the room but you don’t notice it because it’s so boring,” Phibbs said.

He was on a mission to turn things around. Over the past year, Cisco released two campaigns featuring American actor Peter Dinklage and English actress Millie Bobby Brown, which caught the attention of consumers and business partners alike. This was in a bid to humanise and modernise the brand, as well as encourage more young women to join the STEM industry. This led to Cisco seeing a 30% increase in engagements through its “The Network Intuitive” campaign with Dinklage. Meanwhile, Cisco’s webex campaign with Brown drew a 10% increase in engagements. The engagements were measured by how consumers and partners were interactive with Cisco’s properties, sales qualified leads and marketing contribution to the pipeline.

“We saw a real improvement in our aided and unaided awareness. It has driven so many conversations internally and externally with our customers and partners, which has been a real galvanising moment for the company. We have also had a faster migration to our new technologies as a result of ‘The Network Intuitive’ campaign,” Phibbs said.

 

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