Let’s start by reviewing the progress made with content personalization. Content Science Founder Colleen Jones explains, “I remember talking about it in 2000 as a priority for a big website redesign. But the right technology and the content architecture weren’t there to support it. Also, users were not quite ready. Users were not using the web enough to generate enough behavioral data to drive personalization, and they often weren’t willing to share other kinds of data.”

Fast-forward to 2019, and businesses envy the level of personalized content Amazon and Apple have reached, meaning most organizations still aren’t utilizing personalization opportunities yet. A recent McKinsey survey of senior marketing leaders found only 15% of CMOs believe their company is on the right track with personalization

However, “the benefits of personalization both to business and users tend to outweigh the drawbacks, so personalization will not go away,” Jones explains. And how are we doing with customer privacy concerns compared to 2000?

Amazon and Apple's Personalization

The word that best describes the privacy/personalization tradeoff is ‘resignation.’ Meaning that regardless of the type or quality of the supposed benefits we received, Americans widely believe that there is little to nothing we can do to stop the wholesale Hoovering of our private data or the use and misuse of it by those entities that gather it. And they’re not entirely pissed off—yet. — Michael Hinshaw “Smart Customers, Stupid Companies: Why Only Intelligent Companies Will Thrive, and How to Be One of Them”

To further complicate matters, organizations must be aware of both personalization and customization opportunities. Nielsen Norman Group explains: “Customization gives control to the user and personalization gives control to the site. Both can enhance users’ experiences, but only when carefully implemented.”

What Is Content Personalization?

“Personalized experiences = Creating, managing, and delivering contextually relevant experiences that speak to your customers on a personal level, helping you deepen relationships and meet rising expectations.”—Adobe

Here’s an example of how we’ve implemented personalization at Content Science Review.

My Library Content Science Review

62% of organizations are using automated personalization for web and 56% for mobile.—Adobe

“Top growers … leverage brands effectively by not only listening to the voice of consumers but listening in a tailored way to serve them with personalized offerings backed by real-time data analytics and tailored pricing and promotion. It is notable that 2.5 times more top growers than low growers regard personalization as the core part of the customer experience.”McKinsey

Scaling is a concern for many aspects of content strategy, especially personalization. Amazon is one of few companies that excels at offering personalized recommendations, and consumers are becoming conditioned to want this kind of personalization in all aspects of their lives, including streaming music, movies, TV, and more. In fact, “56% of consumers say Amazon demonstrates an understanding of their individual preferences and needs on a regular basis,” explains Swirl Networks in their study about the personalization gap.

Users enjoy Amazon's personalized content


As this Inc. article states, “It’s much easier to start wide at scale and narrow down as you go than to do the opposite. Personalizing your content and your audience’s experience is important, but remember your process for scaling. Do what you can to set yourself up for success in the long run.”

As Gartner points out, “Personalizing even a single aspect of the customer experience, such as marketing, takes sustained investments in customer data and analytics—including spending on data management and analytic tools, hiring the right analytical talent, and developing or revamping marketing processes. It also requires technology and techniques that allow marketers to apply insight to execution, such as prioritizing marketing channels and platforms that enable audience segmentation and targeting over those that only support generic customer engagement.”

Benefits + Results of Personalizing Content

The latest Salesforce State of Marketing report found that  82% of marketing leaders credit personalization with a major or moderate boost in customer advocacy, and 92% say the same for its impact on brand building. 

The results from personalization efforts speak for themselves. As Demand Metric’s Content Personalization study revealed, “80% of B2B marketers who personalize their content believe that it’s more effective than generic content.” Swirl Networks adds, “88% of consumers say they’re more likely to shop with retailers that deliver personalized and connected cross-channel experiences.” And Forrester found that companies who fully invest in modern personalization will outsell their competitors by 20%. Not coincidentally, a McKinsey study found that companies who put data-driven personalization at the center of marketing and sales decisions improve ROI by 15-20% or more.

Nearly all marketers think their personalized content is more effective

Take the personalization initiatives that have impacted grocery stores. Nielsen found that stores with pre-cut, packaged, and seasoned products have enjoyed some of the largest growth, and this positive growth due to a focus on personalization applies to mini bakery items and more diverse delis and salad bars, too. In fact, Nielsen predicts that “vegetable butchers could be the next big thing in produce.”

Personalization can also aid in hiring the best content team members and requires telling a candidate why you’re contacting them. “You have a great background” is the same line a dozen other recruiters have used that week. Explaining why s/he has a great background, and how it aligns with the job and company is a much more personalized (and productive) way of reaching out.—Forbes


Personalized experiences use data to identify audiences and understand context. With this information, you can deliver real-time, highly relevant interactions that resonate with specific customer segments — no matter which channel you use to connect. By integrating data across every channel, marketers can deliver the experiences customers want, helping them be more engaged and more likely to promote the brand. —Adobe 

If brands fail to offer a personalized experience, 45% of consumers say they’re likely to take their business elsewhere. — Segment

Challenges to Content Personalization

Getting your foundation set is key before diving into the personalization sphere. As Edelman notes, “Personal service doesn’t replace poor service, or the malaise brought on by slow service. Consumers have extremely high expectations, and our threshold for quality being impacted by any personalization ‘add-on’ is low. Companies who miss that point and focus on one over the other are missing the point—the reintroduction of staffed checkouts in some supermarkets is testament to that sentiment.”

Organizations believe personalization should be a bigger focus.

74% of marketers believe that personalization should be a bigger priority in their organizations, and the top three obstacles that stand in the way of making it a greater priority are the lack of budget, personnel, and skills. — Evergage

grade your personalization efforts

Obviously, one of the most challenging aspects of personalization is respecting consumer privacy. Over 50% of people are willing to share personal data in exchange for personalized discounts, recommendations, or experiences. Yet high-profile data breaches have made privacy a concern for both consumers and brands. According to Salesforce, only 30% of marketers are satisfied in their ability to balance personalization with privacy.

As Pew Research Center’s Privacy and Information Sharing study reveals, people recognize that “the potential benefits of sharing personal information include saving money, gaining access to useful services or information, and facilitating commercial and social encounters. Yet even as [consumers] worry about the negative downstream consequences of sharing their personal information, these findings also illustrate that consumers understand and appreciate the benefits of sharing—at least under certain circumstances.”

82% of marketing departments lack the data framework to unify technologies. — Quantify How You Unify

Marketing departments lack the framework they need

While ‘overpersonalization’ can easily be perceived as creepy, going too far with personalization can actually result in homogeneous experiences for users. “Placing users’ interests into a narrow segment can cause content to feel boring and even dated,” Nielsen Norman Group states.

Finally, personalization also requires a commitment to agile ways of working through cross-functional teams. The ability to recruit and retain relevant tech talent will be vital for any organization seeking to develop cutting-edge personalization capabilities.

“Personalizing spaces, moments, and ecosystems will require very different skill sets from those of the traditional marketing operation today. In addition to data scientists and engineers, marketing organizations will need analytics translators who can communicate business goals to tech stakeholders and data-driven outcomes to the business.”McKinsey

The Author

Content Science partners with the world’s leading organizations to close the content gap in digital business. We bring together the complete capabilities you need to transform or scale your content approach. Through proprietary data, smart strategy, expert consulting, creative production, and one-of-a-kind products like ContentWRX and Content Science Academy, we turn insight into impact. Don’t simply compete on content. Win.

Last Updated: December 1, 2019

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