The Inhuman Network

For several months, networking stalwart Cisco has been attempting to remake itself with its “human network” marketing campaign. Aspiring to convince us that Cisco is about far more than bluish boxes with myriad blinking lights, a mass-market media campaign shows Cisco gadgets connecting people, speeding product development, and bringing together smiling students from around the world via the magic of video conferencing. It’s a nice campaign and a good concept. Technology is always a tough sell when it’s presented as commodity hardware or software, versus a business tool with tangible benefits. If Cisco can truly make the shift, they’ll be well positioned if technology spending slows as many are predicting.

Where the human network concept falls apart is Cisco’s own website. Flashy videos with bad guitar tracks drop buzzwords like “telepresence” and “unified communications” without really demonstrating the associated business benefit. One gets the sense that all this stuff is really cool, but it’s unclear what it actually does.

Registering with Cisco for information or support is an arduous process, involving complex forms and browser refreshes that seem to work about 80% of the time. It’s also difficult to navigate through the various “solutions,” which seem more focused on buzzwords than an actual explanation of what that particular “solution” is supposed to accomplish.

One of the biggest dangers to reshaping a company’s image is in not practicing what you preach. If Cisco is living its vision of the human network, I’ll gladly take a pass.



  1. Patrick,
    I manage the Cisco Web Marketing team so I was disappointed by the experiences you’ve had moving from what you felt was a compelling marketing campaign, the Human Network (thank you!), to our web site. We would certainly agree with your comments that “all this stuff is really cool” – it really is, and we’re excited to present it to our customers and hope to do that effectively. I’ll be sharing your feedback with both the content and user experience teams; We take criticism seriously. Our site has won more than it’s share of awards, but we’re never done so thanks for pointing out where can improve. We intend to.
    ~ Mike Metz

  2. Hi Mike,

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. I’m very excited by the “Human Network” campaign as it seems to be one of the more effective examples of a tech company moving from selling commodity products to selling true business solutions. Cisco is one of the few companies that seems to actually be pulling this off despite nearly everyone in the industry making an attempt.

    The skateboard television ad does a great job of conveying how Cisco can help a company, and is one of the few tech ads that effectively targets CxO’s rather than IT guys and gals. I hope this is a major shift in thinking at Cisco rather than just a marketing campaign. If you are selling more rapid and collaborative product development (i.e. the skateboard ad) you dealing with a whole different type of buyer at a much more compelling price point than if you’re pitching the latest and greatest blue box to the folks in the server closet, where they are going to run you though the ringer on pricing, and you’re dealing with purchasing-type folks rather than C-level people who write checks.

    When I visit the website, more disconcerting than the registration process is the fact that nowhere under “Solutions” or “Products and Services” do I see anything recognizable by the CxO demographic it appears you are targeting with the “Human Network” campaign. If I’m the owner of a hip skateboard company, how do I know if I need unified communications, telepresence or Interoperability systems? I think your challenge is going to be appealing to this type of buyer, while retaining the information and support structure for the server-room folks.

  3. thank you


  1. […] one of the inaugural posts on this very blog I took Cisco to task for its lackluster “human network” marketing campaign. I found the […]

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