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Must-Know Topics, Companies, and People for 2016 [CCO Recap]


For all of us at CCO magazine, 2016 felt like the year when content marketing truly grew up. The year marketers transformed from dabblers – warily testing new channels and tactics – to confident practitioners focused on quality over quantity.

Our magazine focuses on the topics that will push marketers to become better: more efficient, more creative, more ambitious, and even more fulfilled. We know we’ve hit on a worthwhile topic when it’s not easy to summarize into a quick sound bite. The tough ones take time and deep expertise from our community of contributors to pull off well … but the results are worthwhile. Here are my favorites from the year.

And, if you want to stay ahead of trends, get your free subscription for 2017.

Content marketing for engineer types

February is always our content strategy issue. (Think of it as the content marketing for engineer-types issue.) We gave you a list of key content strategy terms and a beginner’s guide to structured content, but my favorite article was a profile of the amazing content team at Cleveland Clinic. The article focused on how Cleveland Clinic uses brand guidelines to tell a consistent story across the organization. (Little did we know at the time that Amanda Todorovich, the team’s content marketing director, would go on to win Content Marketer of the Year!)


Also in February there was a short little number about interactive content. We brought you an example from PotashCorp, a fertilizer manufacturer that created a web-based app to help farmers calculate how much fertilizer to use. The app includes a nutrient ROI calculator and rainfall tracker. In a world of high-utility content, it doesn’t get more useful than that.

Want an example of high-utility content? Check out @PotashCorp’s app via @SoloPortfolio. Click To Tweet


Content marketing by agencies and brands

April is our agency issue. Among other things, we always print a list of content agencies around the globe. When we started the list in 2014, it barely filled two pages. In 2016, it filled five pages and in 2017 the list will grow once again. (You can submit your agency as well.)

What CCO roundup would be complete without an entry from Kirk Cheyfitz, founder of Story Worldwide? In 2016, Cheyfitz called out advertisers for all the creepy tactics they use to get attention. Cheyfitz entreated advertisers, “If you want to serve your clients, you must be a ferocious advocate for their audiences.”

If you want to serve your clients, you must be a ferocious advocate for their audiences says @KirkCheyfitz. Click To Tweet


Among my favorite case studies published in 2016 was one about Church’s Chicken (in an article about documentary storytelling). The fast-food restaurant produced a web-based documentary series about the world of competitive speed drumming. (For a niche hobby like speed drumming, it’s amazing to think the eight webisodes generated 5 million views.)

Barry Poltermann, founder of About Face Media, which produced the series, explained: “Documentaries have huge audience appeal – just click on your Netflix menu to prove it. Documentaries also happen to be a practical and affordable way to communicate with an audience.”

Documentaries have huge audience appeal – just click on your Netflix menu to prove it via @onionbap. Click To Tweet

Content marketing riches

In our ongoing effort to profile content marketing savants, we took a long look at the content machinery behind Autodesk’s award-winning platform, Line//Shape//Space (now Redshift).


Autodesk sells software to designers, architects, engineers, developers, artists, and even hobbyists to create masterworks in their respective fields. Given that, Autodesk is in the enviable position of having many dozens of possibilities of compelling topics to write about. And therein rests the challenge: With so many ideas ripe for exploration, the company needed to tame the complexity and impose order on so much possibility. Dusty DiMercurio, Autodesk’s head of content, clearly explained the content marketing strategy underlying its highly successful blog.

Here at Content Marketing Institute, Michele Linn is my editing North Star (yeah, it sounds really corny-ridiculous but I stand by it). Sometimes if I’m stumped by a problem, I wonder, “What would Michele do?” Her article about personal branding is a great read for those of you who are so immersed in caring for your company’s message that you may have forgotten about your own. She offered examples of marketers who project a clear message about themselves – whether they are solopreneurs or enterprise leaders.

Your brand needs a point of view, but do you? asks @michelelinn. Click To Tweet


LinkedIn’s Jason Miller has a POV around a topic seemingly unrelated to marketing, but it is part of everything he does – rock ‘n’ roll.

Early in the year we interviewed Michael Frazier from the September 11 Memorial & Museum. The interview was ostensibly about the museum’s new app, but as soon as the conversation began, we knew we had a bigger, more powerful story on our hands. As a former journalist, Frazier knows intuitively what it takes to get attention from the media. His challenge at the museum is unique: How to get the media to pay attention during every month, not just September. This story is worth seeing in printed form to see Kristen Driscoll’s moving photos from the museum’s grounds.


Here in Boston, where I’m based, I was perplexed to see two brand-led museums being built within a space of a few years. Part museum, part clubhouse, RunBase is near the iconic finish line of the Boston Marathon. In a partnership between adidas and the Boston Athletic Association, RunBase pays homage to the Boston running community – and even provides public showers and lockers for downtown runners.

And the New Balance Global Headquarters Visitor Engagement Center, built in the lobby of the company’s newly built Boston headquarters, reviews the history of the company and athletic gear through artifacts curated from the athletic community as well as New Balance employees.


We wondered: Have other brands created similar museum-like experiences? The article not only looked at those companies that have built museums, but also included an interview with an exhibit content developer to understand what works (and what doesn’t).

Nostalgic on-site visitor experiences can be an effective form of #contentmarketing says @dawnpapandrea. Click To Tweet

Content marketing passion

Jonathan Crossfield is our longest-standing CCO columnist and one of my favorite people. I can always count on him for delivering wisdom wrapped in a witty (and sometimes barbed) commentary. My favorite column of the year was Crossfield’s social media post-mortems, a (sadly) hilarious look at all that can go wrong in social media when brands pay tribute to the recently deceased.


Cheerios, unable to resist dotting the “i” in its tribute with the iconic circular breakfast cereal.

Playfully including your product in a #socialmedia tribute undermines the solemnity of the message. @kimota Click To Tweet

Are you tasked with organizing and promoting events? Then you should read Amy Higgins’ tips to harness your event superpowers. What I like about Amy’s advice is it doesn’t require you to go and invest in new technology, build complex editorial calendars, or kill yourself with documentation. Her specialty is highly creative but practical advice, complete with examples of how it’s done.


Relate uses a speaker quote visual to promote the event and the speaker’s session. 

Earlier this year I was indulging my Reddit addiction and happened upon an AMA (Ask Me Anything) with Scott Berinato, senior editor at Harvard Business Review and author of Good Charts: The HBR Guide to Making Smarter, More Persuasive Data Visualizations. I was hooked. His passion for how great data visualization can transform business is truly inspiring. Read my interview with him and, if you like what you hear, buy his book (I recommend paperback over Kindle).

Scott points to a video depicting World War II death tallies as among the most recent compelling cases of great data visualization. The Fallen of World War II from Neil Halloran on Vimeo.

We also came full circle back to adidas. Earlier in the year we lauded adidas for its running museum at the Boston Marathon finish line. Later in the year, we once again looked at adidas and its new content platform, GamePlan A. Read the interview with the content team at adidas Group to learn what it takes to get an ambitious new content program off the ground, and how the group built a strategy to support its business goals.

In December, we focused on generating demand for your content. Stephen Dupont, a new contributor to the magazine, wrote a beautiful article about using one-to-one conversations to generate ideas for your editorial calendar. (Dupont’s team went on the road to speak to truckers to help their client, a trucking company, create more engaging content in a bid to attract more drivers.)


And Arnie Kuenn, among our longest-running CCO contributors, wrote a super-practical guide to creating content and headlines that get attention.

Be straightforward when it comes to headlines. Search rewards keywords over cheeky writing says @arniek. #SEO Click To Tweet


Finally, we wrapped the year with an inspiring interview with Tamsen Webster, executive producer of TEDx Cambridge, about the power of public speaking. In it, she describes her previous struggle to gain composure on stage and how she overcame her fears. It’s a must-read for everyone who has a message to share but is spooked by the idea of doing so in-person, on-stage. As Tamsen explains, “Nobody else can be you … When it comes to finding your niche, [public speaking] is an unparalleled opportunity for others to understand what makes you an individual (or what differentiates your organization).”

Stage fright leads marketers to miss huge opportunities to differentiate themselves says @tamadear. Click To Tweet

What’s ahead for 2017? So far … a look at the content applications for virtual reality, the impact AI will have on marketers, and a ton of new technologies that will make you a more effective marketer.

Want to see what CCO magazine creates in 2017? Subscribe today and we will mail you the six issues.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute