CMO of the Week: Webex By Cisco's Aruna Ravichandran

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Few marketers were more prepared for the overnight switch to remote work in the pandemic era than Aruna Ravichandran, chief marketing officer of Webex by Cisco.

Few marketers were more prepared for the overnight switch to remote work in the pandemic era than Aruna Ravichandran, chief marketing officer of Webex by Cisco. Not only was Webex among the go-to video conferencing platforms for employers who had to convert their workforce from home, Cisco as a company was already a hybrid workspace prior to the start of lockdown.

“For us, it was the snap of the finger. All 70,000 employees were able to productively work from home without disruption, which is an achievement that’s really near and dear to my heart,” Ravichandran says. “Since the time Cisco acquired Webex, and even before that, we have been a big player when you think about collaboration and networking. So when the whole company went remote, it didn't impact us because we were all well versed and used to collaborative technology.”

So while other CMOs spent the first few months post-lockdown pivoting their businesses to adapt to the new global landscape, Ravichandran used the time to accelerate a rebranding effort for Webex -- the first major brand overhaul in the company’s 26-year history. Not only did the new look include an updated logo for Webex, featuring two hands coming together to symbolize “a harmonious flow of ideas,” a suite of innovative new features was introduced on the platform with inclusivity at its core.

“When you think about rebranding, many times it's about the logo or the color. In our case, the whole idea came together because our purpose at Webex is to power an inclusive future for all,” Ravichandran says. That strategy helped unlock key features like real-time translation, which allows Webex users to automatically translate and transcribe all dialogue into 100-plus languages. For example: “I could be speaking in English and you could be consuming this conversation in Polish,” Ravichandran adds. “It’s all about making sure that we can break down the barriers across geography, or location. It’s not just about diversity or accessibility. It's about breaking the barriers around socioeconomic levels, education, et cetera.”

Next on Ravichandran’s agenda is to help translate Webex’s accelerated growth among enterprise clients during the past two years to everyday consumers, who might be more likely to flock to competitive platforms like Zoom for virtual get-togethers with friends and family. Increased consumer adoption in the coming years would also help Cisco reach its goal of increasing its share of subscription revenue from 44% at the close of its fiscal 2021 earlier this year to 50% by fiscal 2025. The rebrand effort should also help Cisco continue its post-pandemic growth streak. In its latest earnings report, the company reported an 8% increase in total revenue during its fiscal fourth quarter (to $13.1 billion), including an 8% increase in its Americas revenue and 6% from its EMEA business.

Brand Innovators caught up with Ravichandran from her office in California’s Bay Area to learn more about how the pandemic inspired Webex’s new features, how a partnership with British motor-racing team McLaren F1 is helping expand the platform’s consumer appeal and why “the future of work is going to be hybrid.” THe conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Almost two years into the global adoption of remote and hybrid work environments, what has the pandemic taught you about your business?

The pandemic taught all of us a lot. In April 2020, when all of us had to go home and work in a hurry and be in the video conference business, we ended up hosting half a billion people on the Webex platform. While I would say we don’t want to go through that all over again, it was an unbelievable experience.  

And as we got into 2021, what I started to think about is, how do you continue to innovate and enable people to do hybrid work? It's not just about hybrid work or the narrative of the product, it’s much more than that. You need to have a brand with a purpose. Everybody needs a north star, something for everybody to fight for. That’s how we came up with the opportunity to rebrand Webex. 

And through the rebranding process, it led us to features like real-time translation. Why is that important? Because everyone now feels they are included in all conversations and can understand them. We also came up with this concept called gesture recognition, which allows people to express themselves in fun new ways. We did a survey and found that 48% of people who joined meetings are very quiet, so how do you get people the opportunity to express themselves? We brought several thousand innovations to market in the last year by keeping inclusivity as a goal. Once we did that, it was about walking the walk and talking the talk. 

Webex is primarily thought of as a video conference platform for the workplace. How have you enhanced the product offering to appeal more directly to consumers?

If you think of a platform like Webex, we are the world’s number one enterprise leader. And before the pandemic, the primary buyer used to be IT. some would be in facilities, but with the pandemic that whole status quo changed. CEOs and CIOs of companies became moms and dads and grandfathers and grandmothers and started using a video conference platform. The whole market got democratized in the pandemic. Even a 3-year-old can tell you their video conference platform of choice now. 

So knowing that, if you don’t really have the ability to win the hearts and minds of end users, that market is done. While IT still continues to own the budget in order to make those kinds of decisions, when you think about collaboration, the end users have become extremely influential. This is where the driving hybrid work campaign was actually born. 

We partnered with our customer McLaren F1, who used to have Microsoft Teams as their key product, and they replaced that with Webex as a part of our partnership. When you think about Formula 1 sports, there’s no working from home. So the way they partnered with us was by bringing multiple user cases to market. 

One example is how do you continue to engage your fans when you're competing in the world of F1 racing? They have a technology called Slipstream, a platform available to all of their viewers. Now it is brought to you by Webex by Cisco -- the gesture recognition, all of that fan engagement, language translation, now you can do it with our particular platform. We launched a global media campaign at the worldwide level across 20-plus markets, and that's how the McLaren Webex campaign was born. 

And something which I’m really proud of is Jim Cramer during “Mad Money,” he randomly gave us a big shout-out for this beautiful brand campaign. And that’s hard to do, everybody doesn't look at us as an end-user product. They see us as an enterprise product. We have brought in many more capabilities to make it more endearing to the end user, and that's our main mission.   

What role does hybrid work play in Cisco/Webex's own workforce currently, and how does that compare to pre-pandemic times?

As the world changed, one of the important elements Cisco prioritized early on was employees’ well being and leading with empathy. This is where I give huge kudos to Fran[cine Katsoudas], our chief people [policy, and purpose] officer. The way the company has actually led in this particular area is just mind blowing. She’s put mental health front and center, not just during the pandemic but three years ago.

And as our employees navigate the different challenges, the focus will continue to remain with us as we go into the new era of hybrid work. Because leading with empathy, giving the flexibility and ability for employees to think of themselves and their well being is important throughout the company. So our employees have adapted very nicely when you think about this whole hybrid work area. We also have a new concept called A Day For Me, which Cisco has introduced to its employees where they declare a day per quarter where all employees can take time off.  

We’ve also started to create multiple partnerships with third party apps. For example, as part of Arianna Huffington’s company Thrive Global, she has an app called Reset. With that app, you can actually integrate Webex into a video conference call. Let’s say you're going from back to back calls, which is not going to help you when you think about mental health and employee well being. The app will send you a notification that will basically say, “Hey, you're in back-to-backs, you should go and do a meditation. Here’s some exercises for you.” So small things like that really matter. 

And within Webex, every employee is able to look at the time that they’re spending on a Webex call. That information isn’t available to anybody else, and with that you can look at your pattern and make changes to your day-to-day life. The reason we brought all of that to market is because we care about our employees and our customers’ mental health. That is another area where we continue to walk the walk. 

What's your prediction for 2022 with regard to the future of work -- what trends necessitated by the pandemic do you think will stick? 

The future of work is going to be hybrid, and people will have the ability and opportunity to work from home, from the office or anywhere in between. People are going to want to have flexible choices. We did a survey with several thousand people around the world, and 64% of people said they want the flexibility to work from anywhere and embrace hybrid work. And related to that, if they were not given the choice to have a hybrid option they would potentially not choose to work for that company. 

The second thing is inclusivity is going to become even more important. Our research tells us that 48% of meetings have attendees who do not speak during the call, so how do you make sure people have an equal seat at the table? And last but not least, I would say this whole new hybrid work era has given us a lot of additional opportunities. You now have access to talent around the globe, and inclusivity will play a predominant role in addition to empathy, employee well-being and being supportive of your employees. Those companies who embrace that narrative with respect to inclusivity and leading with empathy will find themselves emerge with much more of a heart and soul. That’s where Cisco has pioneered that effort.

Andrew Hampp is an entertainment marketing consultant for Brand Innovators and the founder of consultancy 1803 LLC, based in Berkeley, California.

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