Like Lancelot's quest in the time of King Arthur, content personalization is the Holy Grail of digital experiences. While many pursue the goal, only those with special powers can attain it. Whatever the situation, success remains in the eye of the beholder.
In today's digital environments, customers expect useful experiences, tailored to their interests, activities and concerns. Information is at a premium, and time, for the consumer, is short.
For their part, digitally savvy business leaders continue to wrestle with the best ways to deliver just the right information to the right people at the right time -- combining relevant content with insights about customers' intent, and linking both to immediate tasks at hand.
Personalized content delivery means to achieve this. But how can business leaders best achieve this goal? Where should they place their bets? Read on to find out.
The push and pull of personalization
Let's begin by considering both content and customers. Typically, there are two ways to tailor content personalization delivery for digital experiences -- what I term the push and pull of personalization.
For instance, online publishers frequently track subscribers' interests and then personalize the articles delivered to them. They own content collections, identify relevant items and push targeted selections to satisfy customers' expectations.
Alternatively, digital marketers keep tabs on what shoppers want and buy and then personalize offers. In both B2B and B2C situations, these business leaders define target audiences for marketing campaigns and then pull content from multiple sources to promote personalized experiences.
Whether business leaders adopt a push or a pull approach -- or a combination of the two -- depends on their firm's business models and customer engagement strategies. It all boils down to what content individual firms own, how they are able to collect and manage customer information, and what kinds of digital experiences they expect to create.
Enabling technologies for personalization
Optimizing for push or pull personalization will guide an organization's investments in content management and tracking technologies. The quest for personalized content delivery thus depends on three things:
- the content itself, curated for targeted delivery;
- customer profiles that characterize relevant audience segments; and
- decision criteria that match curated content with audience segments.
Mainstream product offerings already deliver many of these enabling technologies. The question at hand is how best to harness them. Let's consider the options that decision-makers should take into account in their pursuit of a digitized Holy Grail.
Channeling personalized content delivery
Investing in a web content management (WCM) platform is one step along the path toward personalization. There's no getting around the content production tasks of creating, editing, reviewing, indexing and approving the content necessary for delivering digital experiences.
Yet, WCM is primarily a means to an end. Simply producing the words, images and other rich media assets that appear within webpages on PCs or mobile devices is just the beginning of content delivery. Websites are evolving into omnichannel experiences, encompassing push notifications, conversational UIs and augmented reality displays. Today's chatbots and social connections are the leading edge for next-generation content delivery. Content becomes an integral element of all these digital experiences.
Start by focusing on how content is organized and structured -- the categorization criteria that transform raw information into curated content. Invariably, the right information architecture is an important element for generating omnichannel experiences. The content itself should be granular, snackable and smartly tagged around relevant criteria that matter to customers and to the digital experiences that firms expect to deliver. Pay attention to the metadata and tag sets -- how they are defined, managed and updated.
Moreover, there's the issue of scale. Personalized content delivery requires a lot of content that is readily available for dynamic delivery. Needed is a content hub for storing, easily accessing and rapidly delivering the curated content. Third-generation WCM platforms that feature headless content delivery typically support the capabilities of a high-performance content hub.
Collecting customer information
Investing in customer profiling capabilities is another step along the path toward personalization. There is no getting away from the need to collect relevant customer information and identify audience segments. Yet, decision-makers must cut the Gordian knot: while the volume of available data is growing exponentially, determining what is relevant and knowing how to use it remains a black art.
In principle, customer profiling is straightforward. Begin by defining customer experiences. Segment customers into relevant audience groups based on buyer personas and related business goals. Be sure to distinguish between behavioral and background data -- what individuals actually do while interacting with a system compared to what is known about them or inferred from third-party sources. Determine the criteria that describe these different segments.
Having the tools in place to capture data about individual customers and their actions is a first step; sorting them becomes the next problem to solve. Digital experiences are a veritable gold mine -- any click, swipe or other digital event can be recorded. Needed are back-end databases and logging tools that record the relevant events and organize the data into meaningful trends.
Then comes the need to make sense out of all this data. Fortunately, many personalized content delivery tools include modeling capabilities that transform customer data into predictive indicators, which can jump-start the data analysis process. Decision-makers can rely on marketing dashboards and other reporting applications to analyze customer activities and identify trends.
Decision criteria for channeling digital experiences
Finally, personalization entails making insightful connections. Investing in the decision criteria and algorithms that match curated content with audience segments is the third step along the path to personalization. Algorithms are the engine driving the digital revolution, and as they become increasingly more sophisticated, content personalization becomes more relevant.
To date, personalization depends almost entirely on rules-based algorithms; the logic of if, then, else connections. Ever-more refined audience segments are matched with precise content categories to produce exacting results. Yet, there's a caveat -- the matchmaking criteria must be defined upfront.
Going forward, innovative techniques based on machine learning, natural language processing and deep learning promise to make personalization ever-more intuitive and relevant, capable of accurately predicting what customers want, and even suggesting things they are unaware of that they might actually need.
Three ways to bet on personalization
Business leaders do not have the option to ignore personalized content delivery. To compete in today's digital age, they must engage in their own quests for more targeted content delivery. Their customers expect nothing less than targeted content, tailored to their immediate questions and concerns.
But digitally savvy decision-makers do have a few choices to make. They can adopt different strategies to bet on personalization depending on their prior winnings, their tolerance for risk and how personal they want to become.
Here are three wagers worth making.
First, bet on content personalization: It is beyond time to replace first- and second-generation static websites. Adopt a mobile-first approach to make sure that mobile experiences produce delightful customer experiences. Restructure the underlying WCM to ensure the success of mobile access.
Second, bet on metrics tracking essential business factors. Then, ask a simple question: "Are there specific factors that are more important to one target market segment than another?" Digital marketers and decision-makers need to make these implicit criteria explicit. Identify audience segments and descriptive profiling criteria. It is going to take some work to develop relevant metrics. Expect to iterate through multiple approaches to collect and analyze the relevant indicators.
Third, create personalization keyed to business objectives. You're enhancing customer engagement in digital branding efforts and promotional campaigns. Bet on simple situations and focused objectives. Then be ready to make bigger bets as your winnings accumulate.
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The shift from B2B to B2C
Omnichannel data paves the way to customer engagement