Content Best Practices: How Cisco Created a Beautiful Digital Graphic Novel

By NativeAI / November 17, 2015

Looking to
create content that captivates your audience and truly feels fresh?

Then make sure to check out the exceptional World’s
Greatest Cities
campaign from Cisco for some inspiration.

Rather than
use a traditional approach to talk about how technology is transforming urban
life, the company took a chance and created a digital graphic novel. The result
is a visually engaging piece that tells the story of a tech-savvy hero
(SuperSmart) combating a Luddite villain (Dr. Analog).

Through a
series of experiences, the story takes the reader to five cities around the
world that are using things like data, mobile apps, and wi-fi is interesting
ways. The entire experience is available in six languages/dialects, which
allows for the content to be shared globally.

Recently we
chatted with Joie Healy, Senior Manager of Social Media Communications at Cisco,
to find out how the company developed the graphic novel, and what other brands
can learn from the experience.

Check it out the
Q&A below:

Q: How did the idea for creating a World’s Smartest Cities graphic
come about and what were the goals for the content?


A:  To answer that I need to step back a little
bit and talk about our Newsroom.

The team that
works on that site is our social media and corporate communications team.  We produce a lot of what goes up on our Newsroom
, and much of that is pushed
out to all of our social media handles.

We, as a team,
operate like a mini-newsroom, and I myself come from a news background.  So I produce some content, and I have two
producers on the team as well as a videographer.  We have folks that work on the back-end of
our site, to help with the look and feel, and then we have some team members that
are more focused on our social media channels.
On top of all that, we also have a writers’ program – which is about 15
journalists from around the world who are constantly picking up stories.

In those
stories a lot of the times won’t even talk about Cisco.  They’ll be about topics and trends that we’re
interested in.

All that said,
when we thought of the concept of the World’s Smartest Cities, it came out of
looking at what was trending and what our audience was interested in. We meet as
a team to discuss new ideas and how to present content.  So one day we started talking about doing a
graphic novel – and that idea lingered for almost six months. Then one day I
talked to one of the writers we work with, Kevin Maney, and he was excited by
the concept and actually knew a designer, Mark Holmes, who could bring it all

Initially, we started
with: “What if we did something on smart healthcare?” Then it evolved into:
“Hey, how about smart cities?”

It took a while
to get the storyline right, but we’re thrilled with the results.  It is actually is one of the best performing pieces
of content that we’ve ever produced.

Q: How did the production work? How’d you actually create it?

A: Myself and
Kevin worked closely together on the storyline; on what areas we wanted to
focus on and what story we wanted to tell. We didn’t want it to be strictly
about areas that Cisco is working on.

Then we had to
figure out which cities to feature. Kevin did a ton of research and found some
amazing examples. He wanted to feature places that had a lot of different
elements to them. It’s easy to say: “Hey, these 10 cities have smart parking,”
but we wanted to make sure that we highlighted different things in each city.

We reached out
to internal people in various countries for feedback. I wanted to make sure we
were telling the story in a way that was good for multiple regions. They were
very excited, because it was telling the Cisco story differently; it was
presented in a way that would really connect with consumers – which is why I
think it worked so well.

Also, in
working with those different regions, we wanted to make sure that it was
content that our employees would be able to share.  So when we reached out, I would ask, “Do you
need this localized?” And many wanted it translated into their language. We
worked closely with those partners to make sure we could bring the content to
life in those different languages.


Q: You said it was one of your best-performing pieces. How
did you build an audience?

A:  First we put it up on all of our social media
handles.  Also, all the content that’s
shared on the network goes on our corporate channels.  

The other
thing that we did was that we worked closely with our internal communications
team and our marketing team.  It ended up
on the front page of, and has been back on two more times. They
actually went through a revamp in May and the Smart Cities graphic novel is the
best performing piece of content that they’ve had since then.

I really have
to say Kevin made this come to life we went back and forth a lot and we did
have changes that needed to be made and he was extremely easy to work with and
super creative.

Q: Why do you think it performed so well?

A: I think it’s
because it’s visual and because it tells a good story.  It is interesting to follow and it makes you
want to click to the next page to see what’s going to happen.  


At the same
time, you’re getting all this information about these different cities.  So it’s totally fun, and different, which
makes people want to share it.  We see a
lot of: “Hey, check this out.  This is
really cool.  Look what Cisco did.”  Which is interesting because, like I said, the
piece doesn’t even mention Cisco aside from our logo at the bottom.

I think that
people are looking for different ways to consume content and it’s a really interesting
time right now; you’re able to break things down in different ways and then
have content socialized on so many different people’s channels.

Q: Any learning from the experience? Any advice for other
brands that want to do something similar?

A: I think the
key is to take a lot of chances. At Cisco I have a lot of support, the people
above me are constantly encouraging us to try new things. Sometime we’ll have
an idea that we don’t know will work or not – like the World’s Smartest Cities
– and we have the freedom to go for it.

You need to
take those chances because there’s so much noise out there.  People are constantly moving between their
phones, tablets, and laptops. They don’t usually have the time to sit and read
a long blog or even press release, so if you can present content in a different
way that’s fun and interesting, it’s much better.

We’re actually going to have a second graphic
novel come out in January focused on security. And I’m excited about that
because it gives us the opportunity to experiment with the format more, to make
it even easier. Right now I’m asking myself: “What can we add to it? How do we
make it even better the next time?”

Written by NativeAI / November 17, 2015