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B2B Tech Storytelling: Leading with Purposeful Narratives

I read the book “Connecting the Dots” by John Chambers from the perspective of an industry insider, having worked within the internet sector since the mid-90s, and also previously as an employee at Cisco Systems for six years.

I believe that Mr. Chambers was instrumental in helping to make ‘strategic communications’ an essential part of the company’s high-growth culture. Therefore, I’ll elaborate on a key topic, highlighted in Chapter Four of the book -- “Embrace Your Purpose, Not Your Products.”

Cisco is often referred to as a ‘bellwether’ stock, meaning it’s a leading indicator of the direction of the economy, or of a sector of the market, or the market as a whole. How did Cisco achieve that eminence with a remarkable internet-enabled worldview? It was partly via commercial storytelling.


"Together, we did play a critical role in changing how the world works, lives, learns, and plays." - John T. Chambers

Rise Above the Me-Too Vendor Noise

In an industry that’s typically technology-centric or product-centric, Cisco was able to establish and maintain a distinctive point of view that’s positioned higher up the value chain. The core marketing principle is not to focus on ‘what you make’ (products or services) but instead focus on ‘what you make possible’ (business outcomes) for your customers.

Moreover, rather than attempting to merely lead a ‘product category’ in an industry, you instead aspire to lead a ‘transformation movement’ that people can easily understand and relate to on an emotional level. Mr. Chambers echoes this universal approach in his market-leading narratives.

Two examples are the Cisco “Connected Life” narrative and the “Internet of Everything.” Both are visionary topics we applied as a way to communicate a somewhat unique perspective that engaged people across a broad spectrum of current socio-economic issues.

Furthermore, Cisco developed two internet market trend studies that have been adopted and quoted frequently by the global business media on an ongoing basis. The “Visual Networking Index” and the “Global Cloud Index” are insightful examples of the Cisco Playbook in action.

Be Courageous: Dare To Be Different

So, in summary, I believe this is an important lesson for leadership in a startup world.

To become a truly differentiated bellwether in your market sector, start by raising the bar of expectations for your leadership team. Envision a ‘movement’ that you can passionately lead in the marketplace -- as the recognized #1 or #2 influencer. Establish and nurture your compelling point of view with real meaning and substance that will inspire all the key stakeholders.

Above all, appoint a person(s) that can train and mentor your thought leader employees to become ‘commercial storytelling’ practitioners. Consider integrating design thinking and agile methodologies into your corporate culture. And lastly, be bold, be remarkable and then you’ll be influential (do upskill your own authentic internal influencers, don’t buy external influence).

Note, I've previously shared more insights about "Story-Driven B2B Marketing."

The Forerunner: back in 2010, we launched the "Connected Life Exchange." Here is an award review by AdAge in 2013 - "The blog's editorial focus is on how networks and technology are changing the world."

Resource: Thanks to Edelman and LinkedIn for their related study findings.

Resource: Thanks to Forrester Research for sharing survey findings on what technology buyers think about the materials they get from their technology suppliers.

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