How to Bake Personalization into Your Content Planning

Do you like nuts in your cookies or brownies?

It’s a divisive issue. Some feel that the addition of, say, walnuts in a batch of brownies adds a nice dimension of flavor and texture. Others find this practice to be an abomination, a crime against nature, ruining the blissful experience of biting down into a soft and chewy treat.

We won’t try to sway you one way or the other. I learned long ago not to trifle with people’s dessert preferences, a subject roughly as volatile as political leanings. Instead, I’ll direct your attention to a much less controversial combination: content and personalization.

When cooking up content, personalization is becoming an increasingly necessary ingredient — more like the chocolate chips than the nuts in a batch of cookies. At the beginning of 2018, a study by Adobe found that consumer demand for personalized content had reached an all-time high, and based on the way things are trending, I suspect we’ll see an even greater level of demand at the start of 2019.

Why Is Content Personalization So Critical?

“The challenge today for brands is that there’s so much more content being created, and so it has become very competitive in terms of getting people’s attention,” says Loni Stark, senior director of strategy and product marketing at Adobe.

“It’s becoming harder and harder to stand out. That’s why many brands are setting the bar higher by engaging with customers on a personal level with content and messaging that is personalized, relevant, and more likely to garner engagement.”

Per SalesForce, three out of four marketers believe that content personalization has a strong or extreme impact on advancing customer relationships. Eighty-eight percent believe that prospects and customers expect a personalized experience.

The Paradox of Content Personalization at Scale

Clearly, marketers by and large recognize the value of personalized content. But that doesn’t mean we’re successfully making it happen, especially with bigger audiences.

Another study from Adobe found that 59% of marketers find it difficult to personalize content at scale, and SalesForce’s research indicates the that this challenge is magnified at the enterprise level:


These numbers are troubling all-around — at no company size do even 40% of marketers feel they’re getting it right with content personalization — but especially at the high end.

So let’s break down some ways that we can start getting it right, particularly when it comes to scaling up content personalization for larger and more complex programs.

How We Can Personalize Content and Better Connect with Audiences?

During her keynote presentation at Content Marketing World 2018, the great Ann Handley talked about rethinking her email newsletter, and how she had begun to approach it with the mindset of writing directly to one subscriber, rather than a big list of people.

“Be specific enough to be believable and universal enough to be relevant,” Handley urged, reciting a quote from her classic book Everybody Writes. That’s excellent advice as we contemplate the essentials of a more personalized content marketing strategy.

No, you can’t create totally customized content for each and every singular visitor. But you can narrow your messaging to hold acute resonance with that very particular type of visitor you wish to engage.

We have voluminous data at our fingertips today. Use it to refine your target audience and personalize content by orienting it toward their needs, aspirations, preferences, and pains.

Here’s something to strongly consider on this topic: while it’s obviously valuable to obtain and keep the attention of people who are in your target audience, it can be almost equally valuable to avert those who are not. In this regard, many content marketers could stand to be a bit more forthright and frontal.

For instance, leading your blog post with a bold statement like “Cookies without nuts are terrible” might initially seem like a misstep. What about all the many people who love cookies without nuts? You might upset and repel them!

But if you’re marketing for a company that sells nuts… who cares? You aren’t going to convert people who are bothered by that remark, and in fact, you’ll probably strike a better chord with those who agree.

This applies to products, services, and solutions of all kinds. As the marketplace grows more competitive, we need to be very thoughtful about the kinds of visitors we’re actually trying to convert, especially if the offering in question is more useful for a certain type of customer. If you sell to someone who’s not a fit, you’ll get the revenue up-front, but will they have a great experience? Will they advocate for your solution and tell their friends? Or will they post negative reviews online because they weren’t at all the intended users?

It’s all part of an imperative shift in focus from quantity to quality. Vanity metrics are no longer compelling to executives. Ultimately, your boss wants to see higher conversion rates and higher-quality customers. Content personalization, via target audience alignment, is the path.

More Tips for Scaling Content Personalization

Of course, the guidance above is more high-level. In terms of practical tips, Marketing Week had a great post recently discussing how marketers can produce content that keeps up with the pace of personalization. It’s a recommended read, but here’s a recap of suggested practices via Robin Kurzer:

  • Step back and strategize (they note that an editorial calendar can help you map your content to segmented campaigns)
  • Automate and simplify
  • Let templates do the heavy lifting
  • No more silos (PREACH!)
  • Trust AI to help

All good operational mainstays to keep in mind. And — I must say — all key components of DivvyHQ’s functionality. At the end of the day, scalable content personalization is about finding efficiencies that enable you to better get in tune with your audience(s) and align your strategy accordingly. The right content planning software is essential, especially for large teams and enterprise operations.

It’s time for marketing teams to start getting content personalization right. This should be a top directive as we look ahead to 2019 and beyond. By adhering to the tips and advice above, you should be well on your way to forging stronger connections with the people you care about.

Once you get there, go ahead treat yourself with a cookie or brownie — with nuts or without, whatever your personal preference.