As the story goes, it was just over 100 years ago that Henry Ford announced at a company meeting that his customers could buy any color car they wanted, as long as it was black.
Leaving aside the veracity of this anecdote, we can say that the way we understand and deal with consumers has completely changed since that time.
Customers were mere hostages to the few companies that offered products and services in the past. Today, they are central to all market practices, especially as part of Content Marketing strategies.
However, personalizing content is much more than delivering the right material to the right person.
This practice is a pillar of the modern internet, and it’s behind the success of large brands. It’s also central to current debates about the use of personal data, a theme that has been increasingly discussed by marketers.
In this context, where consumers expect personalized experiences, how can your company operate, what benefits can it obtain, and what should you know to apply this feature safely and effectively?
We’ll discuss all of these themes in this article, covering the following topics:
What is Content Personalization?
Content personalization consists of using customer (or user) data to deliver publications, messages, and offers based on the interests, behavior, or maturity of the customer within the purchase journey.
You have almost certainly seen this in practice — your name in an email, pages adjusted according to your navigation, and banners with recommended products are among some of the possibilities.
For example, what you see on Netflix or Amazon Prime is not the same as what other users see.
The content displayed is automatically adjusted according to your location, devices, interactions, and various other records. Pure customization.
But make no mistake: there’s no need to access specific platforms to witness personalized content. It’s everywhere, including on our blog.
Take this post, produced with a specific buyer persona — a very accurate representation of who we intend to draw in — as its target.
As you can see, there are several personalization levels, ranging from segmenting your audience when producing content to advanced platforms capable of creating unique experiences for each user.
What Types of Customization are There?
Personalization is hardly a new practice. In fact, companies have been investing in personalized products and communication for decades.
But we now have access to cutting-edge technology to refine our audience like never before. These resources are increasingly used by websites, e-commerce stores, social networks, and other platforms.
Combining all of these approaches, we arrive at four basic types of customization.
1. Market segmentation
This is the most common type of customization.
It’s the classic segmentation based on nationality, region, marital status, sector, position/department, or media and market trends. This information is often found under audience definition.
Such data is very useful for business and product development, as well as for creating advertising campaigns. However, they are generally broad and tell us very little about the consumer.
The biggest negative point is that the recipient can perceive that the message is aimed at a mass audience, making it difficult to build a relationship.
2. Customer journey
The customer journey covers the different stages that a consumer goes through throughout the purchase process, from the first contact with the brand to post-sale.
Mapping these stages allows marketers to understand a customer’s degree of sales maturity and develop content for each phase of their journey to lead them to close a deal.
In this case, personalization is usually based on the source of incoming traffic. Users who arrive via Google or social media may be seeking more basic information.
In turn, visitors arriving via email or landing pages usually expect more specific content.
Such context is fundamental to an Inbound Marketing strategy, where effectiveness connects to an additional step in personalized content: the buyer persona.
3. Buyer personas
Personas are not based on mere models or guesses.
Their use is justified only when created through market studies, purchase history, navigation data, social network analysis, customer surveys, and other records.
With such a wealth of information in hand, we can understand individuals’ reality, needs, pains, desires, and values.
This understanding allows us to create content, campaigns, and even products much better suited to a given public.
Furthermore, it significantly increases the chances of initiating and developing relationships between individuals and a brand.
4. Individual personalization
Finally, we reach the deepest level of personalization available, alternatively referred to as “advanced personalization”.
The focus here is on delivering truly individualized content, in a way that each consumer’s experience is unique and unequivocally directed to their particular interests.
Here we return to the platforms we mentioned above: advanced algorithms collect and analyze data to optimize the display of content according to each user’s behavior and decisions.
The root of such services involves what is commonly referred to as Recommendation Systems.
It’s a technology that encompasses resources such as machine learning and information retrieval, innovations that have completely changed our experience on the internet.
Why is Personalization Important?
Some question the evolution of content customization. But it is undeniable that we’re heading through a path of no return, especially as it’s almost impossible to imagine the modern internet without it.
Let’s take a deep dive into some arguments that reveal the importance of this practice today.
New customer expectations
In the 21st century, we’ve witnessed the consolidation of Marketing 3.0, an era of value-focused communication.
In his publication on Marketing 3.0, Philip Kotler describes this phenomenon as the moment when people stop being treated as mere consumers and begin to be seen by companies as full human beings, with mind, heart, and spirit.
Yet now we’ve reached Marketing 4.0, which incorporates the vision of its predecessor. It adds the current digital transformation context, marking the technical and cultural transition from traditional to digital processes.
In this new scenario dominated by searches, devices, and online services, consumers expect personalized experiences. They tend to avoid brands that are limited to standardized or one-size-fits-all messaging.
This fact was demonstrated in a study by the research company Segment. It revealed that 71% of respondents reported that they were frustrated with impersonal shopping experiences.
This new attitude of customers did not come about by chance. The expansive growth of competition and wide access to information has made people more demanding and increased their bargaining power.
However, through the consolidation of recommendation systems, many people became used to highly personalized solutions.
The impact of the internet on shopping experiences
Free access to virtual platforms, including search engines, webmail providers, and social networks, intrigued users for many years.
However, it didn’t take people long to realize that the great internet empires were built atop another type of currency: data.
The arrival of online advertising tools, in particular Google AdWords (Google Ads, nowadays) and Google AdSense, transformed the browsing experience.
Companies saw value in paying to appear at the top of search results. Also, blogs of all types became monetized with banners displaying ads according to each user’s profile and navigation history.
Popular content management systems launched “cookie fever”. This led almost all professional websites, especially eCommerce shops, to adopt cookies as a feature to optimize navigation on their pages.
In the race for content personalization, it didn’t take long before sophisticated algorithms for search, streaming, and social media platforms began to influence people’s behavior and, thus, the larger market.
If the internet was originally a confusing environment, full of unreliable addresses and disconnected pages, today, it behaves much more like a real host.
Experiences are adapted according to the preferences and interests of each user. It leads to lighter and more intuitive navigation, not to mention engaging consumption.
New consumer behavior
We can consider Google as a legitimate content customization tool.
It is the current gateway for users on the internet, who rely on search engine results to such an extent that users avoid typing domains in the browser.
This means that the best business cards on the internet are no longer “www” addresses, but the top positions in SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages).
For this (and several other) reasons, companies are increasingly concerned with SEO (Search Engine Optimization) strategies and resources.
The “Google phenomenon” makes it clear that people access the internet to find the content they need or are interested in. This comes in stark contrast to the experience offered by tuning in to traditional media, such as radio and TV.
Timelines also reinforce this behavior on social networks and the various on-demand services that lead the market today.
As part of this current reality, the previous invasive (and often interruptive) approach to traditional advertising has lost space for attracting attention.
By providing highly personalized information and solutions, consumers deliberately approach brands and their services.
What are the Challenges of Content Personalization?
In mid-2019, Google was the subject of yet another controversy over data privacy.
A report by the Belgian-based VRT News showed files and testimonials from employees of a third-party company that would prove that Google was recording users’ conversations without authorization.
This is just one of the countless cases of alleged invasion of privacy that accelerate debates regarding the limits of organizations and consumer rights.
We should mention here the main challenge that companies will have to face to continue offering customers efficient solutions.
Compliance with regulations
GDPR, the European data law that went into effect in 2018, was the first step towards global regulation of marketing, advertising, and sales operations involving personal information.
Such law establishes the rights that citizens have regarding how companies use their data.
It includes clarifying how and for what purpose information will be used, besides granting the user with complete freedom to limit the use of their data.
Re-education about data usage
The distrust that individuals feel towards security and the use of their data is becoming increasingly clear.
This fact recently came to the forefront when Apple and Google announced the launch of software to help monitor the novel coronavirus.
Even in the face of the chaos generated by the Covid-19 pandemic, companies have been the target of harsh questions on the internet.
For example, US senator Richard Blumenthal said that companies would have to convince the public that their technology will not violate individuals’ privacy.
Therefore, brands need to strive to make it clear that the use of customers’ information is safe, legal, and beneficial to their experience.
How to Apply Personalization Through Content Marketing?
As we have explained, there are several ways to personalize your content. Independent of the type of customization, three steps are essential:
- Capture: in this phase, it’s necessary to define what customer information will be needed and how it will be collected (through market studies, satisfaction surveys, page navigation, third-party data, etc).
- Analysis: after collecting data, it’s essential to develop ways to organize it and make it useful for marketing, often requiring the use of specialized tools and platforms, such as a CRM.
- Application: finally, it’s time to use the knowledge acquired in such strategies. This involves from building buyer personas and themes for posts to developing campaigns, sales letters, and even personalized products.
For businesses seeking to adopt content personalization at an individual level, the volume of data required demands the adoption of an advanced solution. This is where algorithms come in, able to perform all of the above autonomously.
As part of a Content Marketing strategy, personalization is added throughout several phases of the purchase process.
1. Blog posts
In Content Marketing, blog posts have a clear function: to answer users’ questions.
People turn to search engines to find solutions to various subjects. Therefore, the best way to be seen by the audience that your business serves is to answer the questions they have.
Besides directing content to a buyer persona, a professional post needs to be properly optimized in terms of SEO. It involves numerous factors, from relevant keywords to navigation improvements for mobile devices.
These principles also apply to search on other platforms, chiefly other Google search engines, such as YouTube.
2. Landing pages
These unique pages are highly optimized and filled with copywriting techniques.
They are also ideal for instigating and directing a visitor’s attention to the CTA — usually a button to download a spreadsheet, infographic, or ebook.
Landing pages must have a well-defined goal and audience. In most strategies, they are used as tools for lead generation and segmentation.
3. Email marketing
Email marketing is largely responsible for the popularization of Digital Marketing software.
It wasn’t long before companies realized that standardized messages filled with ads were perceived by users as spam, whether or not they had been authorized.
Creating lists of leads can be achieved through the strategies mentioned above. But the biggest advantage of email is that it provides greater segmentation.
Through software, we can analyze each user’s interactions and organize and manage them using internal lists.
Also, we can provide highly personalized materials to help them on their specific purchase journey.
4. Interactive content
Interactive content is the latest in online user experience. User empowerment is one of the main reasons it is a key trend in Digital Marketing.
Going beyond passive consumption of information, interactive content offers users the opportunity to actively interact.
Take a look at an interactive ROI calculator:
There are countless other methods to apply such knowledge: blog posts, landing pages, white papers, quizzes, ebooks, and more. This allows for even more personalized content, besides increasing visitor retention and engagement.
How to Measure your Results?
Personalization of content is still a novelty for many companies, who face difficulties in measuring their results.
In general, we measure the effectiveness of content through categories, such as:
- Consumption: number of views, downloads, or previously defined actions.
- Engagement: session time, conversion rate, or number of shares.
- Return: ROI calculation, lead generation, and sales opportunities.
However, such metrics are not always able to fully demonstrate the impact of a personalized strategy. It’s not uncommon to find leadership or professionals overwhelmed with incorrect indicators or unnecessary data.
To avoid wasting time and resources, it’s critical to organize your approach by defining a few key pillars, such as:
- Objective: any analysis must be guided by an objective, such as brand recognition, number of sales, or customer retention.
- Goals: to justify your objective and divide it into understandable steps, they should be clear and plausible.
- KPIs: Key Performance Indicators are metrics that relate to your goal and contribute to it.
These definitions may require in-depth studies and optimization tests. But the most important thing is that they need to be constantly improved.
As we highlighted throughout this article, consumer behavior is always changing and requiring companies to adapt to new technologies and new forms of consumption.
That is why more and more business owners are asking themselves: “Who is my client?”. Likewise, those who fail to answer this question are interested in discovering what the response might be.
Challenges exist, but there is no doubt that content personalization is one of the leading factors of the new market reality.
Customization is a key point to deliver users a good experience while consuming your content. How about learning more about this?