Whatever one might think of the technology that Cisco sells, few would argue against the company's success as a marketing machine. For its competitors, making progress against Cisco has often been as productive as trench warfare in World War I. But that might be changing.
Introducing Cisco plus. So began a three-quarter-page ad in a recent issue of The Wall Street Journal. Accustomed to seeing prominent Cisco ads, I read on to see what the message would be this time around. As I scanned the top of the ad, I saw keywords you'd expect: "intelligence", "optimises applications", "security", all above the fold, as they say in newspaper parlance.
It was only after I flipped the paper over to read the remainder that I realised it was a 3Com advertisement. Time to stop and rewind. What is going on here? Did Cisco acquire 3Com and I failed to notice?
In fact, it appears to be a bold example of what I'm starting to call the Friends of Cisco competitive strategy. After the boldface Cisco opening, 3Com goes on to tout what it calls its plus approach - adding intelligence and more to an existing Cisco infrastructure. Then, just below the fold, 3Com tells you what you lose by going with 3Com - Minus the forklift. Minus the lock-in. The ad ends in not-so-fine print: "Cisco ... is not affiliated with nor does it endorse the products or services of 3Com. Whoa! Big surprise [sic]. So, yes, we do compete with Cisco, but we also exist with them as an overlay to your current network."
To go back to the trench-warfare analogy, it is as if, rather than flying the white flag in surrender, one side just stood up and said, "Hey, why are we fighting? Let's go have lunch," and then uses that as a way to get over to the enemy in order to get access to areas behind the battle lines.
Beneath its logo, 3Com lists "security, VoIP, wireless, switching, routing, services" as areas with which it can help customers. Cisco has offerings in every one of these areas too. The message would seem to be: "Cisco: We come in peace . . . to try to take your business away." It might just work.
Tolly is president of The Tolly Group, a strategic consulting and independent testing company in Boca Raton, Fla. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.