This is an excerpt of the full interview between Fiona Vesey and Susie Hamlin, Director of Global Strategy & Advocacy at Cisco, published in the Brand Quarterly & Brand2Global ‘Global Marketing’ Special Edition.

Brand Quarterly Global Marketing Special Edition

It was my pleasure recently to spend some time talking with Susie Hamlin, Cisco’s Director of Global Strategy and Advocacy.

As the leader of the team responsible for gathering global insights and ensuring the ‘one voice’ messaging of Cisco’s advertising, brand and digital efforts across the globe, it was a wonderful opportunity to pick her brain and learn from her experience.

Thanks Susie, not only for sharing your valuable insights with our Brand Quarterly readers but also for your time – as a brand new mom we appreciate you’re now busier than ever!

Susie, you started at Cisco in the late 90s. Looking back over those 15 or so years – do you feel that global marketing has become easier or even more complex?

You know, I think it really depends on the kind of campaign that we are doing.

I think that it is a lot easier for us to adapt product campaign messaging. It’s very direct and straightforward. As we work with brand messaging it becomes more cultural, whether it’s imagery or messaging, it definitely poses more of a challenge. We have been challenged in determining the best model for campaign creation. We have had a balance of efforts being done centrally, and others done completely in country.

There are pros and cons to both of those, and I think that the most important thing – and it continues to be a bit of a challenge – is when you start talking about a visionary message or ‘advancement’. We can talk about these areas more easily in our mature markets – because we have the big research companies, IDC and IDG communicating on the topics that we are presenting. When you start bringing a visionary message into places like Brazil, China or India you have to remember that the market readiness may not be at the same point.

We want to make sure that we are leading with visionary messages in the US, UK and our other mature markets but we have to keep in mind that in order for it to be credible in our more emerging markets, there has to be some local relevancy. It must be something that demonstrates a relevant example of how the vision can be delivered.

That they relate to…

That they can relate to, exactly.

That makes complete sense. So when it comes to maintaining your brand voice, while making yourself relevant in these different markets, what would you say is the key to success?

I think on the voice perspective – We also deal with some cultural aspects there as far as professional tone. The most important thing is that we are a technology company but we try to remain human. This voice and tone really does represent the company.

Our corporate social responsibility activities actually back up these messages in various countries. It’s not just being consistent in how you execute, but also in the voice that you are using. We want to be seen as open, not arrogant – very human and friendly.

Just as important as brand voice, is visual identity. How do you go about maintaining a high standard of visual consistency globally with the Cisco brand?

We actually have a – I would call it, a pretty advanced identity system that the brand strategy team works on. We have color pallets, imagery, iconography and various elements that are used in case studies, consistent templates and PowerPoint presentations. When we move into campaign execution that’s when we start to nuance the visuals a little bit.

We have run into some interesting challenges as we have included animals in some of our spots. The clearance factor in several countries has been extremely difficult. We have instituted a process at the beginning of production; we call it the ‘cultural view’. Through this, we get a sense of whether we’re 90 percent of the way there and we’re going to allow a few countries to make some modifications – or wow – we have a concept that just simply won’t work anywhere…

…and sometimes we do.

It happens.

Sometimes we pick up some very clear Americanisms that just simply won’t translate. From the visual perspective that’s where we allow more flexibility when working with the various countries. It may not pass legal clearance, or in order for it to be relevant in India we are going to need to include an Indian CEO in the design or a Japanese CEO in Japan, or just allow some flexibility in how the final piece of production works.

Obviously no one has unlimited budgets.

Exactly, that’s exactly right. That’s the fine balance that we are walking, which is, we try to produce as much as we can to be able to be used in as many countries as possible. But at the same time we also can’t say “you have to take this and run with it” if it’s just not going to work.




You can read the full article in the Brand Quarterly & Brand2Global ‘Global Marketing’ Special Edition.

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