How Cisco Increased Content Engagement 1,600% by Giving a Voice to Our Customers


When was the last time you went to a hotel’s company-owned​ website to book a room? It’s hard to remember, isn’t it? I’ve been using sites like TripAdvisor for years, not because their site is better or the process is simpler, but because I don’t trust companies. I want unbiased information and reviews from people who have stayed at the hotel. I don’t want to hear from a company about how great they are.

This desire isn’t exclusive to B2C buyers. It’s a human desire. We all want to learn from people who have faced the same issues as us, to hear about ways to be successful from someone who’s been in our shoes. Yet, many B2B companies still expect buyers to come to their own corporate sites to research their products. They put up a product page, list a few benefits, and then say, “Now buy it.” Even though this company-centered approach wouldn’t work on themselves, many marketers still feel the need to use it to acquire new business. 

A New Path to Customers

At Cisco, we knew we needed to shift away from this product-centered mentality into a customer-centered mentality. One that made our customer—the person—the hero. 

Customers don’t trust you, they trust each other. Harness customer storytelling to drive sales.

Like most other companies, we relied on traditional case studies that showcased Cisco more than it did our customers. But we knew we could complement our case studies with a new approach to target prospects who have become guarded against the standard branded content. It became evident that we needed to find additional paths, as I saw some of our case studies only receive around 20–30 views each.

My colleague Cristina Melluzzi started to look for better options. How could we make content that was more compelling, consumable, stickier, and snackable, while at the same time still promoted Cisco and our products? Because marketing content can’t just be interesting—it also needs to drive leads. 

We didn’t have to look far for an opportunity to change the way we handled case studies. Cisco had been using Influitive’s platform, AdvocateHub, to manage our customer advocacy initiatives, and we heard about a new offering from Influitive called Upshot. Upshot would handle the entire process, from interviewing to ghostwriting in our customer’s own voice. But these wouldn’t be traditional case studies. The end result would be a true, authentic customer story. It would highlight our customer’s thoughts and experiences, while still touching on how Cisco played a role in helping them. 

On top of the advocacy angle, the customer stories would be far more consumable for our audience. These wouldn’t be 10-page dry case studies like some other companies produce. With those, I personally can’t get through two pages before my attention is gone. These stories with Upshot would actually be interesting and at a length where we could maximize engagement. Based on what we heard, combined with results similar customers had seen from these stories, we decided to give Upshot a chance. 

I had a customer in mind who would be a great fit for our first story—Stefano Bezzon of Del Brenta. Stefano is head of innovation at the fashion manufacturer and is a big advocate for our Cisco Webex Teams product portfolio. But aside from just being a big fan of ours, he also has great insights into team collaboration. I talked to Stefano about the possibility of doing a story and he loved the idea that he just had to be interviewed, and then would get his own thought-leadership story—without any writing involved for him. The story would be a great way to promote Cisco, but to Stefano, it was a great way to share his story and expertise. 

Two weeks after he was interviewed, Stefano’s story went live to the world and was an instant hit. The story has been shared by more than 3,200 people. We went from 20 people viewing a piece of content to 3,200+ sharing it. Since it launched, that story has been viewed over 11,000 times. In fact, the story became so popular Cisco's CEO, Chuck Robbins, and our CTO for Cisco's Collaboration business, Jonathan Rosenberg, shared it.

We finally put out content that made our customers the hero. We captured the human connection I felt when I read a TripAdvisor review. 

By telling their story in a way that felt natural, more people were exposed to Cisco. On top of all that, it’s actually about 75% cheaper than what we were doing before with agencies. Stefano was also thrilled with the results. He was able to share his story and thought leadership with a broad audience without much work on his end. The process was such a fun experience for him, he actually volunteered for a video testimonial. To ensure visitors to our Cisco blog wouldn't miss out on his story, we created a landing page highlighting the major points of the story, with a link to read the full story and watch the video.

Getting Noticed

Once our first few stories went live, my colleagues at Cisco started to take notice. There wasn’t a big pushback on my Upshot initiative, but many people also weren’t familiar with this style of customer storytelling. However, once people around the office got wind of the engagement these stories could generate, people wanted in.

It’s time to ask: Do you want your case studies to speak the truth to the customer?

I had colleagues coming up to me, telling me they had a customer who would be the perfect fit for an Upshot story. My coworkers saw the benefits of our new approach: saving money, saving time, and getting a genuine customer story that produces better results than the old way. 

It felt good knowing that my team understood the power of this new initiative.

Making Advocacy a Mainstream Mindset

I get a lot of personal satisfaction being a pioneer, but more so, I love the fact that we’ve made Cisco even more successful. The next step, I believe, is to shift the entire industry’s mindset.

Every customer has a story they want to tell. The question is: Will you help them tell it?

In five years, I want customer advocacy to no longer be a niche. I hope by that time the marketing community fully embraces it as a central pillar of their overarching marketing goals. Advocacy will be the future because it isn’t about simply trying something new—it’s about results. It’s clear that allowing your customers to speak for you is what drives marketing, because prospects want to hear from people like them.

Now, Cisco is approaching customer storytelling in a different way than ever before, and I think that's a good message for the entire industry. This is something that everyone will get to, eventually, because every customer has a story they want to tell. The question is: Will you help them tell it?