A year in content marketing: FirstWord 2016 review

Trump, Brexit or Dylon dye – content marketing has had an impact on all of them. To the world at large, 2016 may ultimately be remembered as a year of political upheaval. But it was also one when first-class content, produced outside the traditional houses of journalism, had a real world effect and impact.

With this in mind, here are the stories that grabbed our attention in 2016. Or go here if you want to look forward to 2017.


2016 was a big year for politics, when voters made it clear that they were the ones in charge. The headline events were Brexit and Trump’s presidential election victory. And content played a role in both.

Opposing sides in the Brexit debate produced a slew of different content marketing campaigns, as did many companies. In many ways, this followed on from the 2015 General Election, when all of the main UK political parties produced editorial content on their sites.

Voteleave site

Vote Leave uses a money clock to high UK contributions to the EU

The EU-referendum content was more sophisticated, yet still lacked the finesse of work produced by business interests. Perhaps because it’s easier to argue for change, the standout work came from the leave campaigns. Although this wasn’t always for the right reasons.

Vote Leave’s site leaned heavily on the amount of money Britain sends to the EU – something that became controversial not long after we flagged it. The Remain campaign seemed to focus more on galvanising existing supporters.

If the Remain work was anodyne, Leave.eu was bizarre. It came up with a cartoon-focused site inspired by fudge. It was a reference to David Cameron’s failed negotiations for a better deal from Brussels and took confectionery as its central theme. It even contained fudge recipes and an opportunity to buy some. It was easy to miss the fact that it was an elaborate Cameron-inspired gag.

In the US, content marketing has been used since Obama’s election in 2008. This time was no different. However, it wasn’t always a success.

Trump fell foul of the humble email list. Not only did a lot of his fundraising emails “get filtered out as junk”, according to Yahoo Finance, but his campaign prompted complaints to the FEC (Federal Election Commission) by soliciting foreign politicians.

The Democrats were more engaged. One of Hillary Clinton’s most successful message-distribution methods was her YouTube channel. The Briefing served as a clearing house for her news, statements and popular ads, both TV and online.

Probably the best example of political content was Bernie Sanders’ campaign news site. Democracy Daily ran stories covering the populist themes of his “revolution”.

Yet we all know who won.

Our stories

Perhaps our biggest and most popular story of the year was the analysis of Pirelli’s shift to content marketing (disclaimer: Pirelli is a FirstWord client). This included the revamp and relaunch of Pirelli.com as well as the strategic decision to do its own storytelling. The piece included an interview with Maurizio Abet, Pirelli’s director of communications.

Pirelli’s content model is a textbook study in how to do it right. First of all, it has drawn up an editorial plan covering everything from Pirelli’s latest products and its powers of innovation to news from Formula One and analyses of the automotive industry. Second, it publishes stories across multiple media platforms and, third, the response to these stories is measured to ensure the editorial plan is working. It can be refined or updated at any time to boost its effectiveness.


The new approach has enabled Pirelli to write about new innovations

Other popular stories have included our look at the use of content marketing in corporate communications, a map of content marketing DNA and a blueprint for creating thought leaders.

Social media

Distribution and therefore social media continues to be a hugely important part of the social content marketing mix. There have been a number of changes this year but the overall trend has been towards mobile.

Both Facebook and Google have been pushing their own mobile-optimised platforms. In Facebook’s case it was Facebook Instant. In Google’s, it was Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). Advantage: faster loading times. Disadvantage (with Instant at least): your content is on their site.

In terms of B2B, LinkedIn is still the social network of choice. Its acquisition by Microsoft made the headlines as one of the biggest moves of the year. At a lower level, it has brought on board the courses it owns through the acquisition of Lynda.com.

LinkedIn is not alone in looking to online training. The use of courses as content marketing could be a big thing in 2017. Among others who have been leaning in this direction is Google, which launched a beginner’s guide for businesses building websites.

Other networks are muscling in on the act. Earlier this year, we looked at the growth of vertical social networks. These include Linked:HR, IT network Spiceworks and Edumodo, which specialises in education.

Twitter has to some extent been the odd one out. It has suffered poor results and job cuts. Probably the biggest indication of trouble was its decision to close Vine – its micro-video outlet. The problem with social now is that if you have a good idea, everyone else will copy you.


As in 2015, and going even further back, many marketers are failing to set out a proper content strategy or metrics for ROI.

Taking this into account, one of the biggest stories of the year has been an interview with Content Machine author Dan Norris.

Speaking about the need for brands to justify ROI, Norris reckoned this was a red herring. In his view, content marketing is more of a brand building exercise. At the same time, he was able to provide a 10-minute content marketing strategy checklist.

He also advised B2B marketers to look beyond LinkedIn and at Facebook and even Snapchat. The fact is that you should try to reach people regardless of what a particular social network is used for.

Marketers also appear to be struggling with a definition for content marketing. According to research by the Content Marketing Institute, only 44 per cent actually had ROI metrics. https://www.firstword.co.uk/content-marketing-success-the-big-question/


There are a number of candidates for this year’s zero. BuzzFeed and dye brand Dylon has potential. They both had a hand in a native ad that got censured by the Advertising Standards Authority. Or Twitter, both for its closure of Vine and its challengingly bad click through rate.

Samsung Note7 burnt

A destroyed Samsung Note 7

However, the prize goes to Samsung for its handling of the Note 7 exploding phone fiasco. If ever there is a need for content marketing, it is in time of crisis. And there can be few worse than discovering your pocketable product has turned into a miniature bomb.

It made front-page news around the world that Samsung had to pull the same product twice. Yet Samsung was slow to react with content of its own. Instead consumers got in on the act. A switched-on hacker modified the popular game Grand Theft Auto to include an exploding phone, which led to Samsung seeking to remove videos of people playing the game from YouTube.


Sometimes slow and steady wins the race. There can be few better proponents of content marketing than GoPro. It has eased itself into a position where – in the eyes of many people – it is the only camera of its type to buy.

Aldi, GoPro and NewsCred content marketing

GoPro content marketing

It has done this on the back of content marketing. At the forefront has been its own channel where consumers are able to upload their home-made videos as well as watch those the company has produced.

The brand is also huge with millions of subscribers – all the more so since signing a deal with fellow content marketer Red Bull.

It is proof that quality above all else will always triumph.