Content Strategy

7 Questions to Answer When Planning Your Personalization Strategy

By Mia McPherson on March 21, 2022

It's no wonder personalization is one of the hottest topics in digital marketing. According to a McKinsey study, "Personalization at scale has the potential to create $1.7 trillion to $3 trillion in new value." Yet, capitalizing on this potential can prove challenging. It requires a solid personalization strategy, effective technology and seamless integrations, rich data sets and thoughtful segmentation, buy-in across organizational functions, careful goal-setting, and a powerful content engine. That's just the start.

Wondering where to begin? Here, we've included examples of successful personalization activations as well as 7 critical questions to answer as you build your framework, complete with options, examples, and resources to help you define your strategy.

What Are Some Examples of a Successful Personalization Strategy?

Whether you're planning a large-scale, multi-touch campaign or starting small with one channel or audience segment, these three personalization examples can help inspire your strategy:

  • Netflix serves as one of the most well-known examples of a brand with successful, robust personalization. With a powerful recommendation engine based on viewing history, a "watch now" feature that includes a description of why a show was recommended to the viewer, and personalized thumbnail images, Netflix capitalizes on available viewer data. This includes watch lists, ratings, and timing of when a show is paused. The streaming platform runs hundreds of A/B tests per year to perfect its strategy, according to Forbes. Perhaps most interestingly, Netflix does not take age or gender into account for its personalization; instead, it relies purely on viewer behavior.
  • Shutterfly offers a great example of how to start small with a very specific personalization use case and build on successes from there. When a user downloads the Shutterfly app and gives permission to access the user's photos, the app identifies photos with faces and displays examples of photo gifts. The key to this strategy is to explicitly seek permission to access the user's photo data to maintain trust and credibility.
  • Citrix offers an example of marketing personalization to inspire B2B personalization initiatives. In order to decrease web page bounce rate, Citrix created personalized content experiences with the help of machine learning -- offering relevant next-best offers and recommended continued reading in the form of a pop-up specific to the webpage the user was currently browsing.

Looking for more examples? Check out How Brands Can Maximize ROI with Content Personalization.

Person looking at wall of papers.

Image attribution: Pexels from Pixabay.

Here are 7 questions you'll need to answer to lay a solid foundation for your brand's personalization strategy:

1. What Are Our Goals?

Whether you're ready to plan a Netflix-scale personalization effort or you're testing the waters with a proof of concept, success hinges on defining exactly what you hope to gain from your personalization efforts —and clearly communicating that goal to everyone involved, from leadership to each team member tasked with execution.

General marketing personalization goals include driving revenue, increasing conversion rates, and improving customer loyalty. The more specific the goal, the better, both for the sake of measurement and for your own sanity.

If you're implementing your first personalization initiative, avoid trying to tackle all possibilities at once. Instead, target a specific segment, campaign, or channel first. For example, you may want to focus on increasing revenue from this year's holiday campaign by 15 percent over last year, increasing conversion rates by 20 percent within your app, or generating 25 percent more upsell and cross-sell opportunities among customers in the financial services industry.

2. How Will We Measure Success?

Once you've set goals, how will you measure them? How will leadership know if the initiative is a success, and how will your team know whether their work is hitting the mark? Setting clear key performance indicators (KPIs) and tracking metrics regularly helps keep everyone involved on target, motivated, and ready to pivot to doing more of what's working and less of what's not.

Metrics such as email open rates, unsubscribes, click-through rates, time on site, and bounce rates are the easiest to track and obtain, but they aren't necessarily clear indicators of success with personalization. In the Citrix example, where the goal is to decrease bounce rate, KPIs should include reduced bounce rate but may also include increasing visits to the website, clicks to the pop-up ad, downloads of an offered asset, repeat visits, new leads, demo requests, or meetings with sales.

While metrics and KPIs are staples of success measurement, insight from your audience is perhaps even more valuable. Don't overlook the power of feedback in your personalization efforts. Allow your user the opportunity to complete a survey, contact you, or otherwise communicate how useful the new experience actually is.

3. What Teams Will Be Involved?

Creating and executing a successful personalization initiative requires integrating teams as well as technology systems across the organization. As McKinsey notes, "The companies that overcome the barriers to personalization at scale are those that tackle both technology and business challenges in tandem, starting with the CMO and CTO/CIO working together closely."

Depending on the scale of the personalization effort and the industry in which your brand operates, the stakeholders involved can quickly expand beyond marketing and tech teams into customer service, advertising, legal, product, distribution, etc. The process of coordinating all necessary teams may seem complicated, but it's necessary—personalization can't be successfully executed in a silo.

4. What Personalization Technology Are We Integrating, and Why?

Have you ever purchased an item from a brand, only to receive an email prompting you to buy that exact item a week later? Did you wonder why the brand didn't recognize that they had already completed the sale? They could have taken that opportunity to present another relevant offer instead. This is one simple example of a disconnected experience stemming from a lack of integration between e-commerce, marketing technology, and likely a myriad of other systems, as well.

While strong technology is key to personalization at scale, tech solutions alone are not enough. Seamless integration helps ensure you get those personalized experiences right, allowing brands to collect and segment large data sets on customers and prospects from various touchpoints. From there, they can use that data to automate the process of presenting personalized content that's relevant to the viewer at the right time.

In addition to integrating a brand's marketing, e-commerce, customer service, and other enterprise systems, McKinsey reports that the technology involved for personalization at scale includes:

  • Customer data platform (CDP): Primarily used by marketers, this technology connects first-party data across systems to create an addressable customer identity.
  • Data management platform (DMP): This platform helps segment data collected by the customer data platform as well as third-party data to ready it for use in digital campaigns.
  • Identity resolution platform: This system helps supplement first-party data and build a clearer picture of a target market.

5. Who Are We Targeting?

Defining the "who" of the strategy develops a deeper understanding of how to deliver relevant, useful content tailored for that specific audience segment. Hannon Hill's An Actionable Personalization Framework offers a four-step methodology for outlining your segmentation approach, including starting with high-performing segments, obtaining the right data, assigning goals to each segment, and creating a framework of actionable offers tailored to those segments.

Your strategy won't be as robust as Netflix's overnight. Start with manageable segments that you're familiar with, aim to supply relevant and compelling offers to them, and track those metrics as effectively as you can.

6. What Data Can We Use to Segment Audiences?

Depending on your personalization goals and how granular you wish to get with your segmentation, you may want to consider any or all of the data types listed below when building your audience segments.

  • First-party data: This is data you collect on your customers or prospects, including their name, email, location, and purchase history.
  • Second-party data: This is data shared with you by a partner.
  • Third-party data: This is data you purchase from a data provider or otherwise obtain from public sources that don't have a direct relationship with the customer. It is often tracked via cookies.
  • Zero-party data: This is data that customers provide directly to you in exchange for a better customer experience, such as buying preferences.

According to a study by WBR Research, some of the most common data sources used in personalization strategies include purchase history, email activity, mobile activity, website behavioral data, POS system, sales associate data, and third-party data.

7. How Will We Create Content for Each Segment?

When you've got the technology, teams, and data sources ready, it's time to execute. What does personalization in action look like?

Content! Everything that your customers and prospects interact with, read, watch, listen to, or otherwise consume is content. The key to effectively personalizing that content is to make it genuinely helpful. This can mark the difference between establishing your brand as a trusted advisor versus coming off as invasive. Useful types of personalized content tend to center on offering customers recommendations, education, purchasing support, confidence-building, and rewards.

Personalized content, just like the rest of your strategy, can start small with just one campaign, segment, or audience. This might mean designing a personalized video series to teach a segment of customers how to use a recently purchased product, with the aim that they'll then stay on your site longer and ultimately chat with sales about available product upgrades. Or, it could mean A/B testing personalized blog headlines geared toward customers of different company sizes to increase click-through rates.

You don't need to be all things to all potential customers. That's one of the perks of personalization -- delivering true value to the right customer at the right time. You don't need to go at it alone, either. If you need help scaling content to support your personalization strategy, request a meeting with our team at Skyword. We're happy to advise you on your options.

Featured image attribution: RAEng_Publications from Pixabay.


Mia McPherson

Mia McPherson is an award-winning writer and editor specializing in B2B technology, marketing, and human interest stories. Mia is the former Editor-in-Chief of Oracle media properties including, the Customer Experience Blog, Modern Marketing Blog, and Advertising Blog. Mia was named a Women in Content Award finalist, Killer Content Award winner, and Oracle Marketing Excellence Award winner. She is also a Best-Selling Author of non-fiction and children's book author. An MBA and journalist, Mia is passionate about creating engaging, educational content with talented teams.