Why One Size Doesn’t Fit All in Content Personalization

This article was originally published in iMedia Connection.

The idea of content personalization is not new. But because personalization has come to mean so many different things to different marketers, many brands have missed opportunities to choose the exact method of personalization that suits them and their customers. Brands that want to deliver personalized content experiences need to first understand the different types of personalization, and their benefits and outcomes.

Getting to know you

The most commonly used type of content personalization is based on building personas or segments of customers. Segments are typically based on basic profiling tactics that group consumers by demographics, behaviors, or other characteristics instead of actual individual interests and history. While this approach isn’t completely ineffective, it doesn’t meet the real-time engagement of tailored content (more on that later). And profiling can also be disruptive when it delivers irrelevant content. For example, it would be easy for someone to be cast into a persona of “price-conscious moms.” But the actual people in that segment probably aren’t just price-conscious, and probably define themselves by many other interests and attributes that go well beyond being a parent. According to a Janrain and Harris Interactive survey, 74 percent of online consumers get frustrated with websites when content (e.g., offers, ads) appears that has nothing to do with their interests, demonstrating how today’s consumers expect true personalization at every stage of their buying journey.

Email profiling works if it’s not spam

Another area where profiling is often employed is email marketing. While email marketing can be a highly effective platform for engaging new and existing customers, it can easily become another annoyance to customers when it produces unwanted spam. Email marketing becomes more powerful and effective when marketers don’t simply change out peoples’ names, but layer on an additional level of actual personalization. In fact, according to a recent Experian study, promotional mailings using this type of additional personalization have 29 percent higher unique open rates and 41 percent higher unique click-through rates than non-personalized mailings.

Follow the rules

Marketers often use rules-based personalization to re-engage customers with their website. With this type of personalization, marketers can automate programmed paths that deliver future marketing activities based on certain behavioral triggers. This type of personalization does not consider actual personal preferences of customers and, because it is rules-based, it is not predictive of how customers will actually behave in their buying journey.

While all of these types of content personalization have their benefits, none of them equate to communicating with a customer as if you were in a real personal relationship. After all, no one wants to be communicated with as a “persona” or based on a set of rules tied to other people with similar behaviors. The most effective type of personalization takes into account not just one, but multiple factors to influence content delivery.

Make it personal

Individualized personalization is more impactful because it happens in real time using machine learning and predictive modeling based on an individual customer’s interests, browsing history, and content with which they’ve engaged. This data intelligence can be used to algorithmically determine what content should be delivered and the ideal time to deliver it, across many different channels. Marketers can deliver content and build content-based relationships in a way that greatly reduces the likelihood that customers mistake it for spam.

If you or your team are committing to content personalization this year, evaluate the different types of personalization and what they achieve based on your brand’s needs. To foster higher levels of engagement and drive business results, the more personal you can get, the better the outcome is likely to be. The real test though is putting yourself in your customer’s shoes and asking this question: Do I want to be communicated with as a persona or a person?


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