Cisco’s evolution: Technology and branding changes over the years

As Cisco evolved from a niche router vendor to the de facto standard for all things networking, so too has its message to the world.

cisco branding intro
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From niche router vendor to all things networking

Cisco’s new campaign “There’s Never Been A Better Time” urges everyone to consider how the network can solve the world’s biggest problems. The company is on a mission to change the world, but it didn’t start out that way. As Cisco evolved from a niche router vendor to the de facto standard for all things networking, so too has its message to the world.    

Cisco The Network Works, No Excuses
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Early 1990s — The Network Works, No Excuses

This was the oldest Cisco campaign I could find or remember. The tagline was developed when networks, primarily LANs, were being deployed to deliver email and a handful of client-server applications. The key message was that networks were now stable enough to be used as a business asset and there is no excuse to wait to deploy them. 

During this time, Cisco was primarily an enterprise router vendor but had recently acquired both Crescendo and Kalpana to move into the switching market.

Cisco Empowering the Internet Generation
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Late 1990s — Empowering the Internet Generation

In the late 1990s, Cisco embarked on its first true media campaign when it started telling the world that it was empowering everyone to take advantage of the internet. The campaign included magazine ads, TV commercials and other forms of media.   

I believe it was around this time that Cisco CEO John Chambers started touting the fact that there were two equalizers in the world—education and the internet—and began phophesizing that the internet would change everyone’s lives in an almost evangelical way. While his statements seem obvious now, they were visionary at the time, as not everyone was sold on the potential of the internet. I believe this was the single best branding campaign in the history of networking and separated Cisco from many of its peers.

Incorrect predictions by industry experts about the router market also helped Cisco get ahead. At the time, the router was the connection point to the internet. Many experts thought, however, the router market would go away. That led to many of Cisco’s routers competitors, including 3Com and Cabletron, exiting the business. When the internet exploded during that same time, Cisco was still in the game and dominated router sales.

Cisco Discover All That’s Possible On the Internet
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2000 — Discover All That’s Possible On the Internet

At the turn of the century, Cisco had been empowering the internet generation for a number of years. In 2000, the company pivoted its message slightly from being focused on building the internet to what one could do with the internet.

This also marked the first time Cisco used itself as a case study for its own technology. Cisco’s customer service was the first application to go online, followed by operations in manufacturing, finance, recruiting, marketing training and sales. Cisco believed the internet gave it a competitive advantage, and the company started providing that expertise to its customers.

Cisco Are You Ready?
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Early 2000s — Are You Ready?

In 1999, Cisco launched commercials that said things that were considered ridiculous at the time, such as “all long-distance calls will be free” and “70% of company training will be done on the Internet.” This was Cisco’s first business-level brand campaign, and it was asking the leaders of organizations if they were ready to leverage the power of the internet. 

These commercials were related to “Empowering the Internet Generation.” And at the end of each, Cisco claimed that virtually all internet traffic runs though Cisco routers, pointing out that Cisco was the leader in building the internet. Cisco has used different versions of the “Are You Ready” slogan over the years, such as “We’re ready, are you?”

Initally, Cisco sold routers to business customers, but in the late 1990s Cisco lauched a line of routers to sell to telcos and internet service providers. The incubment telecom providers of Lucent and Nortel were very late to enter the router market, so as the internet grew, so did Cisco’s position as an internet technology provider.

Cisco The Power Of the Network Now
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Mid 2000s — The Power Of the Network Now

In the mid 2000s, Cisco likened the network to “The Force.” In Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope, the wise Obi Wan defined the force as “an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.”

In Cisco’s 2003 Financial Report, it said this about the network: “Networks are all around us. They are in our walls, in the air. At schools, hotels, hospitals, even coffee shops. Always there, always on.” In other words, the network surround us, penetrates us and binds the galaxy together.

Cisco was articulating that the power of the network exists now, and people that tap into this power will revolutionize their organizations, cities or countries.

By the mid 2000s, Cisco’s product line had expanded into almost anything that touched the network. Primarily through acquisitions, Cisco added security, content switching, wireless LAN and VPNs. Cisco had officially become the 800-pound network gorilla.

Cisco The Human Network
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Mid to late 2000s — The Human Network

In 2006, Cisco unveilved a new logo, changed its communicator name from “Cisco Systems” to a simpler “Cisco” and welcomed us to The Human Network. The idea behind the human network is that the network would bring us all closer together on a global level. No problem—no matter how small or how big—could not be solved if we all worked together.

In many ways, it was this campaign that shifted Cisco’s image from being a vendor of network technology sold to businesses to a company that literally wanted to change the world. In practicality, that had been Cisco’s mission for years, but “The Human Network” brought this out. 

This brand campaign expanded to include more than the network. By the late 2000s, Cisco was the market leader in collaboration technologies such as VoIP (Call Manager), web conferencing (WebEx) and video (TelePresence). The Human Network was about shrinking the world and allowing people to interact with one another across the globe as easily as if they were across a room.

Cisco Tomorrow Starts Here
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Early 2010s — Tomorrow Starts Here

In the early part of this decade, Cisco become one of the first big technology vendors to start pushing the concept of the Internet of Things (IoT), although Cisco expanded the definition and called it the Internet of Everything (IoE). John Chambers had been talking for years about Cisco becoming the #1 IT vendor as measured by value and saw the IoT era as Cisco’s best opportunity to raise its strategic position.

The thesis behind the strategy is that when we live in a world where everything is connected, everything changes. And who better to lead customers through this transition than a company that understands how to connect things better than anyone. 

Cisco has been one of the most aggressive vendors with respect to articulating the value of IoT. At a very basic level, IoT is about connecting more things to a common network, and there’s no vendor that has connected more end points to more networks than Cisco. 

However, Cisco also offers a wealth of other technology to enable scalable IoT, such as edge computing servers (what it calls fog computing), data center infrastructure, security, and an IoT platform (through recently acquired Jasper Technologies).

Cisco There’s Never Been A Better Time
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2016 — There’s Never Been A Better Time

Cisco’s lastest brand campaign, and the first under CEO Chuck Robbins, focuses on creating urgency in the digital era. Digital transformation is reshaping the world faster than at any other time in history. Businesses that understand how to harness the power of the digital era will leapfrog the competition. Those that cannot will struggle to survie, and many will go out of business.

For that reason, Cisco is telling us that there has never been a better time to do something different and something amazing. As part of the brand campaign, Cisco gives some examples about how there has never been a better time to make a city smart, save the rhinos or to change the world.  Example: There’s never been a better time to re-think manufacturing.

Cisco approaches digital much the same way it has other market shifts—with with an architectural story. The company recently launched its digital network architecture (DNA) to help customers make the transition to a digital organization. Cisco’s DNA includes infrastructure, as well a number Cisco technology partners, and spans all aspects of the network, including branch, campus, data center and cloud.

Cisco Changing the way we work, live, play and learn
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Honorable Mention #1 — Changing the way we work, live, play and learn

Although this was never an official brand campaign, it’s a tagline that has been associated with Cisco for over almost three decades. Of all of the “Chambersisms” that have been uttered over the past 30 years, this is one of the quotes that has been used most often. The internet changed the way we work, live, play and learn in a bigger way than anyone could have imagined, and Cisco was the visionary for this concept. 

Cisco Architecture for Voice, Video and Integrated Data
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Honorable Mention #2 — Architecture for Voice, Video and Integrated Data

This also was never an official branding campaign, nor was it ever a tagline. AVVID was Cisco’s first mainstream architecture that promoted the value of Cisco voice on a Cisco network. AVVID became so synonymous with Cisco VoIP that customers would ask for “AVVID” almost like it was a product. Cisco has grown into the 800-pound gorilla it is today, capturing market adjacencies faster than the competition, and AVVID played a key role in that.