Top of His
CISCO’s Ron Ricci Stands Out
January 15, 2008
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
Valley has its share of great marketing and communications thinkers.
Regis McKenna is legendary for advising start-ups like Apple,
Intel, Silicon Graphics and 3Com and putting the idea of Silicon
Valley into our mass consciousness. Geoffrey Moore authored books
like Crossing the Chasm and Inside the Tornado
that helped marketers everywhere apply the techniques of Silicon
Moore are terrific but my vote for top Silicon Valley marketing
and communications thinker goes to Ron Ricci, vice president of
corporate positioning at San Jose based Cisco Systems Inc.
struggle to get the attention of their CEO. Ricci sits at the
right arm and reports to Cisco CEO, John Chambers. He’s
one of Chambers’ “go to” guys. Many marketers
strive with limited impact to apply communications techniques
to transform their organizations. With Chambers’ support,
Ricci uses communications as a cornerstone of Cisco’s transformation
from “plumbers of the Internet” to “technology
and Moore before him, Ricci is a strategist, thinker and writer.
He loves to talk about marketing theories, concepts, constructs
and best practices. His book, Momentum: How Companies Become
Unstoppable Market Forces, was published in 2002 by the Harvard
Business School Press. Ricci isn’t satisfied simply driving
Cisco to be the best. He shares his knowledge and ideas with those
who want to learn and advance. His ideas are worth hearing.
is transforming its culture,” says Ricci, who plays a big
part in that effort. “We've helped build the infrastructure
that makes networks and the Internet work. We want to move from
being a plumber --- which is an honorable, wonderful profession
--- to become more of the platform provider for our customers.”
Cisco playing a much bigger role helping customers solve their
business problems with technology. Today’s decentralized,
global organizations make old style command and control approaches
to management outdated. In a Web 2.0 world, Ricci sees collaborative,
empowered front line teams as critical to competitive success.
He touts Cisco’s TelePresence meeting technology --- which
takes virtual meetings to a new experience level --- as simply
one way Cisco is migrating from plumber to solution provider.
Cisco is a
$35 billion company with ambitions to grow at 15% annually by
helping customers solve problems. “Our CEO believes you
cannot solve problems in a large company if you don't operate
off of a common vocabulary. My job is to provide the common vocabulary
for this transition,” Ricci adds.
at the crossroads of business strategy, positioning and communications
at Cisco. Consider Ricci’s strategic thinking about technology
brands. “Traditional, analog brands, come with a guarantee
of not being different from the past,” Ricci says. “Digital
brands come with a guarantee of being different in the future.
Digital brands are about the future, analog brands are about the
past,” he says.
there is an implied “futures contract” in a digital
brand. The digital brand is going to morph and evolve as the technology
evolves, where traditional brands will remain static and reinforce
the constancy of their quality and value.
you can’t rely on traditional branding methods to communicate
with customers about the future of digital brands. “Images,
attributes, tag lines, ads and brochures aren’t enough.
I don’t think you can do that with the future,” Ricci
says. “The only person who can convey that futures contract
is the CEO, and that CEO has to have a thought leadership message,
or else the brand is going to be behind the times.”
In the 1990’s,
that strategic concept won Ricci the respect and confidence of
Chambers. It is paying dividends as Cisco transforms today. It
has earned Ricci a place at the table among senior management
at Cisco, where he is responsible for how Cisco leverages communications
to drive the vision, strategy, culture and process priorities
of the company.
fortunate to have Ricci on his team. Ricci is smart, articulate,
analytical and a true team player. He sees where Chambers and
Cisco must go and how communications can help the company get
there. He’s both a brilliant strategist and a powerful tactician.
He’s also a downright, level headed, candid, nice guy.
it like working for one of the titans of Silicon Valley? “John
Chambers is the real deal,” Ricci says. “I'm inspired
by his vision and the quality of his intellect, but I’m
motivated by the human being. If I needed help on anything, I
know he would give me whatever help I needed,” Ricci adds.
Ricci is humble
and wants to avoid comparisons with McKenna or Moore. “What
they were trying to do was invent the next generation of thinking
about how communication affects companies and helps companies
succeed with customers. I'm self-actualizing their dream right
here, right now at Cisco.”
two pieces of advice for up and coming marketers. Pick the right
product category, one that’s growing in influence; and,
specialize and develop an area of personal expertise.
categories are good, some are bad. Some have a lot of open, green
field in front of them. Others are more constrained. Pick the
right product category,” Ricci says.
may be counter intuitive, but I believe people in marketing and
communications need to be specialists. In a company filled with
talent, you have to be really, deeply, good at something to stand
out. To stand out and truly make a difference you have to have
a point of view with a differentiated perspective,” he adds.
Ricci is really,
deeply good at marketing communications. Among Silicon Valley
marketing thinkers, I say it’s McKenna, Moore and Ricci.
Krauss is president of Market Strategy Group, based in Chicago,
and can be reached at Michael.Krauss@Mkt-strat.com