Great Content Personalization Puts People First

Personalization is a strategy, not a software solution. And to do it effectively, you need a robust library of human content.

It’s never been more important for brands to create personalized experiences for their customers. But “personalization” can mean different things, depending on the context of what your business is trying to achieve. It’s a strategy, not a software solution.

One thing’s for sure—to do personalization effectively, you need a robust library of content, with messaging that speaks to different people at different stages of engagement. If this content isn’t present, personalization efforts fall flat. 

But it’s not just about creating more content. The content you create needs to be authentic. Human. And further, to get that content to the right people at the right time, you need democratic content creation and measurement.

Let’s break it down.

Your customers expect personalized experiences

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As a recent McKinsey study showed, companies who personalize the customer experience have better business outcomes.

And that’s not surprising. We have a relationship with brands, and we want to feel that brands care about us, that they understand our pain, and have a solution for us.

We expect brands to know what we want. So we expect to be shown content that is most relevant to us, at any given moment.

It’s tempting to just buy software that will do personalization for us. 

But this is what the martech landscape looks like:

Source: Martech Map
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How can marketers navigate this field?

Personalization is a strategy, not software

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-technology. I love technology. But the technology should work for your strategy, not the other way around.

There are many ways to do personalization, and it really comes down to understanding your business, and how personalization will help your customers.

Here are just some examples of personalization strategies:

  • Serving content customized to logged-in user account preferences
  • Targeted ads
  • Self-selected user paths
  • Account-based marketing (ABM)
  • Social media targeting
  • Contextual ads
  • Multilingual content
  • Localization based on visitor’s region or time zone
  • Content/product recommendations

Let’s take a look at how one brand approached their personalization strategy.

Case study: Slate

Parse.ly customer Slate is a daily magazine offering analysis and commentary about politics, news, business, technology, and culture. In 2014, Slate launched its membership program Slate Plus.

Slate’s personalization strategy—powered by Parse.ly’s API—is contextual, based on real-time behavior, with the goal of increasing engaged time.

A shift in strategy

With this launch came a shift in Slate’s strategy to grow their subscriber audience. They realized that the priorities of readers, advertisers, and the editorial team could be aligned with a new goal of fostering intense engagement, instead of reach.

Relevant content suggestions

Slate used Parse.ly’s recommendations API to create an infinite scroll reading experience. When a reader reaches the bottom of one story, another relevant story appears. 

The next story is selected by Parse.ly’s recommended content API, which semantically analyzes the content of the current story and finds other recent stories that cover similar topics.

“If readers spend more time with content that they value, they’ll be more likely to view more ads while they’re reading, they’ll be more likely to share our content, and they’ll be more likely to join our membership program, Slate Plus.”

David Stern, Director of Product Development, Slate

(Great) content is king

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Every company has become a media company. In our Content Matters 2022 Report, we found that demand for content keeps growing. The majority of the 800+ content marketers surveyed said they’re working with more and more content creators, who are making more content, with higher budgets.

And what’s more, content has become everyone’s job. It needs to be something that everyone in the organization thinks about and contributes to.

“Content is modern marketing and now content is everyone’s job.”

Hayley Nelson, VP of Content, Salesforce
Hayley Nelson, Salesforce

But with this proliferation of content and content creators, brands need to ensure that their content is high-quality, or personalization efforts will fall flat.

Personalized content is people-first

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Personalization is about getting the right content to the right people at the right time. To do personalization effectively, businesses need to build a robust library of quality content to support customer experiences for all segments and personas.

Google’s new “helpful content” update focuses on people-first content. That means that Google will give better search ranking to original, quality content that is written by humans, for humans.

So, while companies are creating more content than ever before, they need to ensure it’s human, authentic, and valuable. We’re humans, connecting with other humans. I like to think not in terms of B2B or B2C, but “P2P” (Person to Person).

Let’s look at how another brand thought about their content reaching the right person, in the right place, at the right time.

Case study: OKdo

An agile content platform unlocked an opportunity for WordPress VIP customer OKdo to be relevant at a very difficult time.

OKdo is a global technology company focused on single board computing (think Raspberry Pi) and the internet of things (IoT), two of the fastest-growing markets in the technology space.

Content drives commerce

OKdo uses WooCommerce on WordPress VIP to power their content and commerce in multiple languages and currencies. This gives them a powerful, flexible, and cohesive system that integrates content, projects, products, and accessories.

Agile content and commerce

The platform allows OKdo agile content creation and product management, giving them the flexibility to respond quickly to a changing world.

When pandemic lockdowns happened in 2020, they launched Kits for Kids, a project hub with a specific set of products targeted at families learning from home. They were able to get this project up and running nearly overnight, tailoring their content for this newly formed audience.

Although the products were heavily discounted, making this more an altruistic endeavor rather than a commercial one, the Kits for Kids launch demonstrated how a brand that deeply understands their customer can give them valuable and personalized content that builds trust and leads to sales.

“[Kits for Kids] was a Friday lunchtime idea, and it was live by Monday.”

Adrian Goodman, Global Digital Product Owner, OKdo.com

Democratizing content creation and measurement

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Businesses are making more content than ever before. To do that at scale in a human way, you need to unlock content creation for everyone in your organization. 

When content production and measurement is put in the hands of more people across the company, the result is not just more content. It’s better-quality content that is more authentic, more diverse, more thoughtful—more human

Personalization efforts are supercharged when more people across the organization can create and measure content.

That requires agile and easy-to-use tools that allow businesses to quickly respond to a changing world and changing business needs. The best tool is the one your team will actually use.

With agile tooling, businesses tighten the feedback loop between content creation and content measurement, allowing shorter creation and iteration cycles, and more opportunities to create personalized experiences.

To see this in action, let’s look at a brand that’s benefitting from democratic content creation and measurement.

Case study: Xbox Wire

By leveraging Parse.ly’s content analytics, Xbox Wire—a Microsoft blog with news and articles about Xbox—was able to move away from vanity metrics like pageviews, to look deeper at the metrics that really matter to their business.

Agile content creation

With WordPress, the Xbox Wire team can easily collaborate on content with people all over the organization, and publish those articles in minutes. They are also able to react quickly when something is incorrect.

As content teams increase velocity and put more content out into the market, they can deeply understand what is and isn’t working.

Democratizing analytics

By using Parse.ly, the team at Xbox Wire tightens the audience feedback loop, seamlessly receiving and implementing feedback from their audience, which results in a highly personalized content program.

They’re able to get more people using the tool, cutting down on time spent in spreadsheets and freeing up the editorial team to create content. Automated reporting means they can send key reports to leadership before even being asked, proactively empowering decision makers with data-driven insights.

When content analytics is democratic, more people can focus on where they’re seeing success and tighten the content creation cycle. In short, analytics becomes a healthy organizational habit.

“I want our analytics to work for me. I don’t want to be working for the analytics.”

Will Tuttle, Sr Director of Communications, Microsoft

In conclusion: people, not robots

We love technology as much as you do! But to create human, authentic content that speaks to the right people, in the right place, at the right time, you need to adopt a people-first mindset.

Personalization is a strategy, not a software tool

Throwing personalization tech at the problem isn’t going to magically create a personal experience. Personalization is a content-first strategy, not a technology. Deeply understand your customer, develop your strategy, and then have the technology work in service of that.

Be a “contentocracy”

Agile and democratic content creation and measurement is key. Unlock content creation and measurement for everyone across your organization to stay personal and relevant.

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This piece was originally presented as a talk, Humanizing Personalization, at Interactive Minds, a monthly event for digital marketers.

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