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CMO CISCO Mark Phibbs on Digitalization “We have become a broadcaster and now all events are both online and physical”

Mark Phibbs
CMO & VP Marketing APJC at CISCO
Former Managing Director at SOUTHMARC
Used to be VP Marketing EMEA at ADOBE
Previous the CEO Microsoft HK at Microsoft
Former Marketing Director at IBM

You are now the CMO at CISCO, but before you were always working within big tech corporates as VP of Marketing at Adobe, as CEO in HK at Microsoft and as Marketing Director at IBM. How did you manage the transition between different company cultures?
I think if you stay true to your own values and continue to develop your skills. This way, your skills are relevant and up to date. I love the saying “ Getting it done and doing it Right”. I am passionate about making an impact on the business and the experience that our customers experience but are equally passionate about doing it in the right way. This means bringing people along with you by creating a diverse and creative team that works well together by trusting each other.

All the companies I have worked for have been technology-based organisations and all of them American Headquartered so I have learnt how to work successfully in this environment no matter what the location. I have always worked hard to do the right thing by the company and those that work for me and by doing so success will follow, which it has for me.

I am passionate about marketing, the critical role the function plays in the success of any company today and love teaching people and demonstrating how it should be done.

What was the most difficult challenge you have never overcome during your professional life?
People are the most amazing thing about the places you work but also the most unpredictable element. I love hiring the best people possible, developing them and achieving great things. I am very driven and like to move fast and have at times been frustrated by people not moving at my pace. Now I see it is my problem and I know I need to work harder to bring people with me.

How did you become C-level many times in your life? What kind of skills do you have to become such a professional?
I have a business degree from the University of Technology Sydney and have done post-graduate courses at Wharton Business School, London School of Economics and Berkeley.
The skills I have developed that have driven my success include:

  • Advanced communication skills I am comfortable being interviewed live on the BBC or keynoting to a room of 5000 people.
  • Advanced Digital Marketing skills and have ridden the wave of Digital Transformation
    Strategic Planning and thinking which allows me to spot market opportunities and adjust strategy to benefit the business.
  • Leadership skills – Over the years I have learnt you can only achieve success if you have a great team that is motivated, so I love the concept of Servant leadership and try to practice it as much as I can.
  • Global skills – understanding how to work cross-culturally is key, I enjoy it and I think I am good at it. I try to be humble and I have a great interest in other cultures and this passion shows and makes it easy to build relationships.

How are you integrating innovation into your marketing strategy? Have you ever collaborated with other partners for innovation? Do you have an example?
Innovation is absolutely essential in today’s world that is in the centre of digital disruption.
I recently completed the Marketing Academy Fellowship, run by McKinsey, which teaches CMO’s to become CEO’s and this gave me great insights into innovative ways of working with boards and the C suite.

A recent example at Cisco is that many customer events we have done have been just physical which is a huge miss. My team and I innovated to think about events as part of a campaign and an opportunity to build content. As a result, we have become a broadcaster and now all events are both online and physical. This means we can dramatically increase our reach and deliver a much greater return on investment. An example is our largest event called Cisco Live, 8000 attendees live and now up to 1 million people watching the content online via Twitter, Youtube and Wechat.

What is your digital strategy for CISCO? How did you balance the traditional way of marketing with the new digital way?
It’s no longer about digital marketing but marketing in a digital world, so marketing has changed more dramatically than most professions over the past 10 years.
Marketing Departments now need to be data-driven in order to build personalised experiences that delight customers. In order to do this, you need the right mix of people, process and technology.

At Cisco, we have reduced investment in events and partner marketing in order to invest in analysts and data scientists and social marketing.

We build content into omnichannel journeys to target each of our target audiences in a personalised manner, we deliver this via omnichannel marketing. We develop stories and content based around our customers’ use of the technology to both inform and inspire.
Our recent brand campaign is called “The Bridge to Possible”. It appeals to both the head and heart of our customers and staff. It not only features stories of our business impact but also our societal impact, for example, our program to save the Rhinos in Africa by using our technology to stop poaching.

You are responsible for the Marketing and Brand strategy at CISCO, while marketing nowadays is very disrupted with digital. growth hacking and social media. How did you take the challenge of this digitalization? user-centred or product focus?
Today the consumer is in charge and most consideration happens online before even speaking to the vendor so a new approach is needed. Marketing content must be relevant, entertaining and delivered in a way that your target audience find compelling and useful. We focus a great deal on PR and Social as these elements of the mix influence behaviour more than most and show the best ROI of any element of the marketing mix. Search, Display and Video are key to delivering a valuable and timely experience. All this requires the best marketing tech stack, people and process.

How did you position CISCO in a B2B field, what are the key areas to start with new ways of communicating to customers, is it more content or strategy? How are you positioning the brand in the digital era?
We position Cisco as the leader in Networking, Security Software and Collaboration solutions, under our Brand promise called; The Bridge to Possible. This promise is Cisco can bridge the past and the future, the challenges of our customers, chaos and wonder, endangered to protected. This leverages our heritage and demonstrates how Cisco is making a huge impact on the world by enabling our customers and our communities. It is very different to most B to B technology marketing and that is a great thing as it combines head and heart.

How are you using your private social media accounts?
I have used Facebook for years but am using it less as there seems to be a drift away from it to Instagram. My daughter uses Instagram and I have started to use it more.
I also use LinkedIn and Twitter for work and find them amazing ways to communicate with like-minded people.

How do your mornings look like?
If I have time, I will cycle along the East Coast of Singapore. Getting out in nature is really important for me from a stress management viewpoint. Simple breakfast and then head to the office around 8:30 am. Then, there may be meetings or conference calls or live television interviews like I did last week. I probably work from home 2 days a week as well; we have amazing collaboration technology. So no matter where I am, it’s like being in the office.

What are you doing with your spare time and during the weekends?
I have a lovely family. Saturdays are school sport and then it might be dinner with friends or seeing a show. I have joined the Outrigger canoeing team in Singapore.  So on Sundays, I go paddling to a tropical island and then meet up for breakfast later. When time permits, I love cooking and reading or helping my younger daughter with her homework. Oh! I am learning Portuguese so any spare moment is dedicated to this endeavour.

Books recommended by Mark Phibbs:

Read more about Mark Phibbs’ Golden Rules for Living, here.