By Ann Gynn published August 1, 2014

Content Marketing Personalization: When and How to Use It

fingers grabbing dandelion fluff-sepia imagePersonalization is the process of targeting content to individuals based on one or more of the following: who they are; where they are; when, why, and how they access content; and what device they use to access it, according to Scott P. Abel of The Content Wrangler. 

Nearly all B2B organizations (95 percent) make some attempt to segment their content based on their audience, according to CMI’s 2014 B2B Content Marketing research report. The top five ways cited include industry trends, profiles of individual decision-makers, company characteristics, stage in buying cycle, and personalized content preferences. 

Yet, personalization is difficult to do in content marketing, says Rebecca Lieb of Altimeter Group. “Content marketing tends to be both longer-form and much less automated than other types of personalized digital marketing, such as email and banner ads.”

There’s also the question of whether the returns from content personalization are worth the tremendous effort it can require. For example, Bruce McDuffee, Interim Content Director at Boeing Digital Aviation and a marketing consultant at Knowledge Marketing for Industry, feels that developing personalized content for every one of your audience personas may be a needlessly redundant exercise:

“Fundamentally, the firm that has a need you can fulfill will rally around the particular need. The need is the need no matter if it is viewed by the technician, the director, the CEO, the CFO, or the purchasing manager. By focusing more on the general needs of your target audience and creating content around that need, you will be more efficient and more effective,” he says.  

Given the complexity of the issue and its best practices, it’s no surprise that many marketers are still struggling with how to apply content personalization effectively. To help provide a bit of guidance, we asked some of CMI’s blog contributors, Online Training instructors, and Content Marketing World speakers to share their favorite tips for applying content personalization successfully. Following are their words of advice:

Secure information on individuals, be systematic

Content marketers must have access to information about individuals, not persona groups. It requires content and technology. And, it cannot be done effectively without the adoption of a repeatable, systematic approach. A component content management system that can be connected to other data sources is required to automate personalization efforts and to manage the effort efficiently. Scott P. Abel, Content Marketing Strategist, The Content Wrangler, Inc. | @scottabel

Monitor what’s popular

When distributing content to your audience, send snippets of content with links to further details. Use your marketing automation tool to monitor what your audience is interested in and personalize further communication based on this.

You also can track if your subscribers visit your website and what pages they visit. Then you can automatically trigger personalized emails based on pages they have visited. Ian Cleary, Social Media Tools Guy, RazorSocial | @iancleary

Don’t go overboard

Approach content personalization with care. You don’t want your audience to think that your marketing is creepy because it knows too much about them. Balance this against just plastering customer names on information that can be sent to anyone in the phone book.

Invest in quality content that provides your key segments with the five content marketing types every customer seeks: product information, answers to their questions, details on how to use your product, styling insights, and customer ratings and reviews. Heidi Cohen, President, Riverside Marketing Strategies | @heidicohen

Go small, then grow your efforts

Large-scale personalization takes technology. Companies are now able to target super specific audiences with Facebook ads. Shop Local does this and it’s pretty amazing how specific the targets are.

Small-scale personalization takes work. But it’s also effective, especially for B2B companies that need a lower volume of higher value leads. Come up with any reason to do personalized outreach to a few hundred contacts, and give it a try. It could be a survey, an event, or any other reason to reach out.

You’ll get blisters on your fingers from writing hundreds of personal messages, but those reconnections are golden. This kind of “brute-force” marketing is so difficult, only a tiny percentage of marketers will do it. Andy Crestodina, Principal, Strategic Director, Orbit Media | @crestodina

Take it step by step

Starting with intelligent segmentation — by discipline, vertical or geography — is a good way in. Moving to behavior-triggered content is a logical next step. Going for full-blown, dynamic personalization is a lot to take on from a standing start. Doug Kessler, Co-Founder and Creative Director, Velocity Partners | @dougkessler

Curate more than create

While much of the conversation is about creating personalized content, it’s often easier and more useful to curate content on a personalized basis. Piece together what you already have in an email digest so each recipient gets the most relevant content based on his or her preferences.

Here’s an easy way to get started: Allow email list subscribers to subscribe to a particular email newsletter that features select content from only one category of your blog. If you see success, you can get more granular by allowing users to select multiple categories, topics, and authors that they want to follow and receive personalized email digests (although part two may require some engineering). Pawan Deshpande, Founder and CEO, Curata | @TweetsFromPawan

Understand your audience

What it boils down to with content personalization is knowing your audience. It’s critical for content marketers to understand whom they’re communicating with and what type of content their audience wants to consume. Once that understanding is there, personalization can be applied through different content mediums. Sunil Rajaraman, Co-founder and CEO, Scripted | @subes01

Be human

Personalization implies knowing your customers personally. To do this well requires acquiring a deep understanding of your buyers. Most efforts fail when personalization is treated as a profiling exercise as opposed to achieving human-centered understanding.

Tips include:

  • Listen to your customers, objectively.
  • Understand the goals of your customers (this is where buyer personas can be helpful).
  • Innovate content, which speaks to helping people accomplish their goals.

Continuously iterate until you have deep understanding Tony Zambito, Leading Authority Buyer Persona | @tonyzambito

Understanding your audience is one of the most essential requirements for successful content marketing. Get helpful tips for managing this challenge — and others — in CMI’s eBook, Building the Perfect Content Marketing Mix: Internal Processes and Content Marketing Strategy Tactics.

Cover image by Coley Christine Catalano, via Unsplash

Author: Ann Gynn

Ann Gynn edits the CMI blog. She also serves as the Tech Tools editor for Chief Content Officer magazine. Ann regularly combines words and strategy for B2B, B2C, and nonprofits, continuing to live up to her high school nickname, Editor Ann. Former college adjunct faculty, Ann also helps train professionals in content so they can do it themselves. Follow Ann on Twitter @anngynn or connect on LinkedIn.

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  • Abey Mathew

    Nice article Ann. You have captured various thoughts well.

  • http://www.triblio.com David Nelson

    Love this article Ann! Customized content is a hot topic for 2015. That’s the challenge that we’ve been tackling at Triblio and have invented a pretty unique solution to deliver dynamic personalized content to website visitors. Check out how it works: http://www.triblio.com