By Dillon Baker
Back in 2015, technology market researcher Gartner published a statistic that sent waves throughout the marketing world: By 2018, companies that have “fully invested in all types of personalization” will outsell companies that have not by 20 percent.
Twenty percent is a big number, one that could mean the difference between beating your competitors and going out of business. While Gartner’s thesis won’t be tested for another year, there’s no denying that personalization is already having a dramatic effect on how companies do business.
Digital services like Amazon and Netflix are famous for placing personalization at the center of their products—programmatically generated “Recommendations for You” are everywhere. Retail and CPG companies from Walmart to True&Co to Glossier have also made personalization a critical part of their present and future. The technology has even gained some traction in the B2B space, particularly with the rise of account-based marketing (ABM). According to a DemandWave study, 29 percent of B2B marketers use personalization, and 49 percent find it effective.
Personalization technology typically applies to optimizing the customer journey on a website or in campaigns; content—as the “atomic unit” of marketing”—undergirds all of it. So how are content marketers adapting to the personalization push?
If you go by the Content Marketing Institute’s generous definition of the concept, “content personalization is a strategy that exploits visitor or prospect data to deliver relevant content based on the interests and preferences of the target audience.”
Publishers and brands alike have been creating content based on audience profiles for years; the difference today is the technology behind the process. As data collection has gotten more sophisticated—and technological functions like attribution, automated optimization, and tagging are more widely available—personalizing content has become easier in some ways, and more complicated in others.
One thing is clear: Personalization works. A Demand Metric study from 2016 found that 80 percent of marketers say personalized content is more effective than “unpersonalized” content.
So how are content marketers taking advantage of these benefits?
As a Forrester report from last July suggested, personalization is often a manual, reactive process: Marketers analyze behavioral and identity-based data from first- and third-party sources, and then use that to inform future content deployments.
The future of the practice, however, is supposed to be much more automated. Martech companies promise a customer journey filled with content automatically optimized and personalized for each customer. A/B testing headlines, content recommendations, and automated email campaigns will become more commonplace.
Optimizely, an optimization software company, goes so far as to say that the traditional notion of the customer journey will drastically change. “Moving forward, I think we’re going to see less of a linear journey,” said Brigitte Donner, VP of product marketing at Optimizely. “In reality, with all the available channels and customer touch points that exist today, decision-making is an iterative, circular process, and it will be necessary to have content available at each of these touchpoints.”
More personalization, more problems?
Getting to that point may be something of a headache for content marketers drowning in a sea of duties. Creators are already tasked with creating a steady beat of content; personalization asks them to target and customize content based on segment, behavior, and, in the case of ABM, even individual accounts. Not surprisingly, Demand Metric found that the two biggest reasons marketers don’t personalize content are “not having the bandwidth/resources” and “don’t have technology.”
Personalization requires a data-driven approach to content creation: Audience segments, behavioral data, and channel performance must all be a part of the process. Technology promises to help in multiple ways. Automatization and machine learning tools, for example, will let companies test everything from headlines to placement on a homepage. Targeted content boosting on social platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn can ensure your personalized content reaches the correct audience. And during the creation process, technology platforms like Contently can provide recommendations and insights based on industry trends and how your content performed in the past.
In other words, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for marketers looking to reach the right audience. And if new technology takes off like companies expect, the revolution will be personalized.