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The Seven Needs of a Content-Centric Marketing Organization, Part Six: Personalize

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This article is Part Six of a series on the needs of a content-centric marketing organization. Read the full series for more coverage.

In an environment where the customer experience is exalted—recent research names it among the highest priorities of global CMOs—the ability to deliver personalization reigns supreme.

You’d be forgiven for thinking it a trendy buzzword, the inevitable outcome of our obsession with data collection and ever-more-targeted segmentation. Actually, personalized marketing is fast becoming a customer expectation, and one whose fulfillment customers reward handsomely.

Segment’s 2017 State of Personalization Report found that while 77 percent of customers expect a personalized experience from online retailers, only 23 percent report satisfaction with the level of personalization they actually receive. Companies that can deliver on that expectation can expect to reap the rewards: Segment’s report found that 44 percent of consumers said they would become repeat customers after a personalized experience, and a study by Marketing Insider Group showed that 50 percent of customers were willing to pay a premium for the products and services of a company that offered a personalized experience.

That gap between expectation and reality is a massive opportunity for marketers. And while content isn’t always the first thing marketers think of with regards to personalization, it can play a key role in providing that personalized experience customers crave.

personalize, don't generalize

Beyond [Insert First Name Here]

The big winners in personalized marketing so far have been outbound demand generation and product recommendations. Email is the most obvious (and perhaps most exploited) channel for personalization—who doesn’t receive dozens of “personalized” emails daily that proudly bear your first name alongside a generic, untargeted message? But for all the lazy examples of so-called personalized email, there are many brands that fully exploit the capabilities of modern marketing automation systems to present highly individualized, responsive email marketing.

Many e-commerce sites also receive praise for offering up personalized product recommendations based on browsing behavior, gently nudging consumers along the path to purchase (or enabling a digital impulse buy). Customers look favorably on this experience—witness the phenomenal success of Amazon, in no small part for this very reason.

But personalized marketing has largely focused on the transaction, which is why it has blossomed in the retail field in particular, with its shorter time to sale and high likelihood of repeat purchases. What might a broader take on personalization look like, one that encompasses the entire marketing funnel? If content is a central component of the customer experience, then personalized content could well be the answer.

What Does Personalized Content Marketing Look Like?

By looking just outside the realm of branded content, marketers have ample inspiration to draw from. The hyper-tailored content recommendations of Netflix might be a little too aspirational (what non-entertainment brand can boast that amount or variety of content?), but they offer a model of deep user engagement via a highly personalized content experience. Similarly, social media feeds surface content that algorithms predict users will engage with based upon their past behavior and the behavior of users in aggregate, amongst other factors. Both experiences are designed to offer a steady, individualized stream of content that reflects a user’s preferences and entices them to continue to consume content—not such a far cry from the marketer’s mantra of the right message in the right place at the right time.

The lessons of these content behemoths apply well to the world of content marketing. Using personalized content recommendations, marketers can guide prospects to relevant content that deepens their engagement with the brand, increasing time on site and encouraging return traffic. These individual interactions gently nudge prospects toward conversion, serving them the most optimal content with the right calls to action for their stage in the buyer’s journey.

middle aged woman works on laptop in kitchen

Image attribution: LinkedIn Sales Navigator

Achieving Personalization at Scale

Here’s the rub: while marketers can map content against the buyer’s journey until we’re blue in the face, a manual approach to building out personalized content paths is entirely unsustainable. For an enterprise-scale content operation with a complex or long buyer’s journey? It’s essentially impossible.

The classic answer to this challenge, recommendations based on tagging, also has its limitations. It doesn’t connect users between sessions, for one, and it tends to surface the same pieces of content repeatedly, which may lead to an additional pageview or two for users who are motivated to pursue a single subject, but doesn’t necessarily move a prospect deeper into the funnel.

What marketers really need to address this challenge is predictive technology that learns over time, akin to the algorithms that power social media feeds. By learning from an individual user’s content consumption habits over time and comparing it to site-wide user behavior, these recommendations improve over the lifetime of the user, encouraging return traffic and pinpointing the optimal time to serve highly relevant conversion-focused content.

Read the full series for more on the needs of a content-centric marketing organization.

The Seven Needs of a Content-Centric Marketing Organization

Featured image attribution: Annie Spratt

Rachel Haberman is a consummate word nerd with a lifelong fascination with all things language. She holds a BA in Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences from Wellesley College. Before joining Skyword, Rachel managed content marketing for an international development and strategy consulting firm. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her husband and two cats named after physicists.

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