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Why Content Creators Should Care About Adaptive Content

CMI_11.16_Adaptive-01Whether or not you’ve heard the term, you’ve probably seen adaptive content at work. By its very nature, adaptive content can be hard for an individual to spot, but chances are, it worked.

Businesses that have embraced adaptive content have seen huge returns. Website visitors who see content based on what the business already knows about them convert three to 10 times more than average. Those are the kinds of numbers of which all marketers dream.

At Content Marketing World this year, Jenny Magic and Melissa Breker discussed how adaptive content is changing content marketing, and what strategists and tech teams need to know about it. But a growth in adaptive content doesn’t just influence the work of strategists and tech specialists, it should cause meaningful change for content creators as well.

What is adaptive content?

Adaptive content was recently defined by Noz Urbina as being “a content strategy technique designed to support meaningful, personalized interactions across all channels.”

For marketers, the term often is used interchangeably with “personalized content,” as the end result is a more customized user experience that accounts for who is consuming the content and that individual’s prior relationship with the company.

A website is using adaptive content when it delivers different information to a first-time visitor than it does to a three-time visitor. The knowledge and needs of each visitor are different, meaning the best information presented at that moment is customized.

Adaptive content hasn’t reached the point of wide adoption yet, but smart marketing professionals know how important it is to get ahead of trends. Put together with the help of Magic, this information can help content creators get ready for their role in adaptive content.

What adaptive means for content planning

In a lot of ways, the best practices for adaptive content look a lot like the best practices already accepted in content marketing, but more so. The most important elements in adaptive content strategy won’t sound too surprising to successful content marketers:

  • Developing content personas
  • Understanding the buyer journey
  • Figuring out the “why” behind implementing personalized content before diving into the “what” and “how”

Getting those main elements into place quickly makes clear why adaptive content is useful. Explains Magic, “If you have five personas at five buyer stages, you have a lot of content options for mixing and matching those, and that’s where the adaptive or personalized content work comes up.”

Some content creators will want to be involved at this early stage of the process, but others will prefer to let the content strategist take care of the persona and buyer journey evaluation, and enter the process when it’s time to talk specifically about what the content will be and how it will be deployed. Regardless of who owns persona development and the buyer’s journey process, it’s imperative that content creators understand the output.

How adaptive changes content creation

“Smart content creators are going to stop talking about deliverables like the ‘white paper’ and they’re going to start talking about deliverables as they relate to personas,” says Magic. In other words, before creating the content, you want to think about all possible variations for that content.

To figure out the right content mix for each piece of content, consider:

  • Which personas are relevant for this content
  • Which stage or stages of the buyer journey (for each persona) would be useful
  • What content formats will be used for each version
  • What channels will be used to distribute the content versions

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This information will help you determine from day one how many and which versions of the content there ought to be. With that information top of mind, you can more efficiently tackle the research stage for the content itself because you don’t have to conduct any persona-focused research.

Naturally, this content mix matrix changes the scope of deliverables for most content projects. Content creators will expect each assignment to require a number of similar deliverables rather than a single version of the content, changing the amount of work involved and the way deadlines must be considered. Each content creation team will have to consider questions like these to create a better and more efficient process:

  • Should I do all the research in one phase or do supplementary research as I work on additional personalized versions?
  • Should I start with a master outline that notes which parts of the piece will need to be adapted for each version?
  • Should I create a master version of the content and amend it to create each new version or work on each version side by side?

The answers and process will look different based on the content creators’ working styles and the goals of the content marketing team.

Empathy will be more important

Unless you’re new to content marketing, you’ve probably heard the word empathy come up a few (hundred) times. Being able to get inside the head of your target audiences and speak directly to what they want and need to know is pretty much the Holy Grail in our industry.

The good news about adaptive content is that it makes that relevancy process easier on the creator. “It’s just too hard to have any sort of relevance when you’re writing for a broad or generalized audience,” says Magic. The ability to hone a more specific persona and speak to those more personalized needs makes bringing empathy into the process more natural.

Magic suggests that knowledge of personas and an ability to empathize will be what separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to the value of a content creator. Content creators who can more easily get into the heads of multiple personas and successfully adapt content for each persona will have a serious edge in coming years.

What you can do now

If you’re the rare content creator already working with a company that’s started using adaptive content, soak up all the information you can on what works. For the rest of us, there are a few things we can be doing:

  • Start thinking about personalization from day one
  • Think when planning and creating content about which persona is being targeted and at what stage the persona is in the buyer journey
  • Create content in a structure optimized for repurposing between personas

Magic suggests using a tool like Gather Content that provides distinct fields for dividing a piece of content into its main components or chunks (e.g., headline, headings, introductory blurb, main sections). Viewing the content as a collection of components simplifies the process of identifying which parts should be changed for each version. Outlines also can help with this.

Greater use of adaptive content means embracing a new and different work process for most content creators. It also means the content is stronger because it connects more deeply with viewers and provides more useful analytics for measuring success. Those are outcomes that every brand embracing adaptive content will find beneficial to their business.

Want to know more about the strategic and practical applications of adaptive content? Check out the diverse CMW sessions available through our Video on Demand portal.

Cover image by Ian L,, via pixabay