When you open up Facebook, have the ads crowding the margins ever seemed oddly specific to you? Do brands’ emails to you address you by name while mentioning some new product, event or experience you may want to check out?
Most pressing of all: Do those personalized social media or email ads ever strike a chord, making you actually want to learn more about the products they’re pressing on you?
If the answer is yes, you’ve been on the receiving end of some well-designed personalized marketing. If you’ve bought one of those astutely chosen products, then you’ve justified that company’s choice to market to you through personalization.
Now for the all-important follow-up: Making your company do the same. It’s time to take this tactic for your own, reaching out to your own potential customers with personalized posts on social media, targeted emails and more.
Whether you’re in the trendiest corner of the business-to-consumer (B2C) space or the most buttoned-down side of the business-to-business (B2B) sector, you can find a use for personalized content.
Chances are, some of your competitors have already figured out how to make this method work for them. So there’s no time to waste—learning the ins and outs of content personalization is the first step toward putting it into your marketing arsenal.
What Is Personalized Content?
Personalized content is information delivered to specific viewers because it seems to fit their interests. Every time a company serves different ads, emails or social content to different segments of their audience, that’s personalization.
The exact degree of personalization will change. Sometimes, a marketer will send out a few different messages based on generalized customer profiles. In other cases, companies will create completely unique messages for high-value potential clients. This is a B2B approach to personalized content marketing, where a single account can swing a whole fiscal year.
This content is based on hard data. Customers generate data when they interact with your brand, especially in digital spaces. If you’re collecting that information effectively, you have the raw material to launch a good personalized marketing effort.
Personalized content has become the new standard for marketing content creators because it appeals to customers’ sense of individuality.
Being constantly bombarded by irrelevant marketing messages and ads is a common experience today, and it’s enough to make a person numb. Brands are breaking through by delivering messaging that stands a better chance of getting customers’ attention based on their previously expressed interests.
The Content Marketer
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Why Does Your Brand Need Personalized Content?
In simple terms, your brand needs personalized content because it works. This tactic has become a go-to for marketers of all stripes because it’s a way to reach many different types of consumers with messages that matter.
What does that effectiveness look like in numbers? Companies best at personalizing their content report 5-15% increases in revenue, while also boosting marketing spend efficiency by 10-30%.
Any tactic that can deliver those benefits is a big deal. This has led a huge swath of companies to adopt personalization. Among email marketers, it’s the No. 1 tactic for increasing engagement. Unless you follow suit, you may end up disappointed by your marketing performance, or at least outpaced by rivals that know customers’ likes and dislikes in greater detail, and can appeal to those preferences.
With so many businesses personalizing their display ads and direct outreach, it’s becoming the default. You can’t run the risk of appearing out of touch, or seeming not to know what your audience wants when other businesses do.
In the years to come, these types of custom experiences may leave the virtual space—while only 10% of companies are customizing brick-and-mortar experiences today, that number is expected to rise significantly. The data is out there, and businesses are just looking for ways to get it into employees’ hands.
How Do You Segment Your Audience for Personalized Content?
Personalized content comes from a very specific source—information given by your customers and derived from their actions and behaviors. This data builds up through all their interactions with your brand. It’s up to you as a marketer to collect that information and create a centralized set of customer profiles that will allow you to segment up your customer base and reach out to the right people with the right message.
How granular should those segments be, and what should you use as their basis? This is one area where you have plenty of options.
You can break up the mass of your audience based on several different factors:
If you’re capable of collecting real-time data about the way your clients interact with your business, you can use that information to make very accurate and potentially useful segments. People who have browsed a certain product may get updates about that item, for instance. Collating data from across channels—website, email, social media, even in person—can really help you with this type of personalization.
Stage of the Customer Journey
This is similar to activity personalization but it has a specific thrust: It’s all about detecting how close to a purchase someone is, and then launching a message that will help them move on to the next step. Getting this method right is all about picking the right content channels. If you’re still in the awareness-building stage, you can try out targeted web and social ads, while getting closer to a purchase means it’s time to bring out more detailed assets.
Breaking up your audience by their general details and level of engagement with the brand is a good way to send out relevant messages without having to get too specific. A prior customer who checks in with your content often is different from someone who is just researching, but there’s a right asset for each. And be sure to notice when people change from one persona to another, hopefully by engaging more.
Added to these general styles are a few that apply to the B2B space, where you’re chasing corporate clients rather than individuals. Here, you can carve up your B2B audience by industry.
When your product applies to customers in multiple different sectors, it can pay to build out assets for each. For example, if you’re creating billing software, you want to highlight different features for various clients. A health care center will have its own set of needs and concerns around compliance and data safety, for example.
Either as a complement to industry segmentation or on its own, breaking up your audience based on business size can help you deliver relevant messages. Even when you’re selling the exact same product or service, large corporations may react to very different features than small companies. You may also be targeting different buyer personas across business sizes—middle managers vs. business owners.
This is essentially the most highly targeted form of content personalization. Account-based marketing (ABM) means crafting a specific strategy for each of your very exclusive list of high-value prospects. The math behind this method is simple: If there’s a corporate account that would be truly game-changing to win, it’s worth designing campaigns that reach the key stakeholders at that business.
Got all that? Now that you know some of the many ways you can divide up your customer base, it’s time to consider the exact way you’ll put personalization to work for you.
What Should Go into Your Content Personalization Strategy?
Here’s where you take the concept of personalizing content and make it part of your own marketing strategy. There are a few universal steps that, when applied to your unique situation and audience, will get you results.
1. Collect Data
Gathering and using customer data has its complexities. For example, you have to comply with rules such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). Once you’ve dotted your i’s and crossed your t’s, however, it’s time to put that data to use. With analytics and emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), you can quickly and accurately create customer segments to target.
2. Create Appealing Content
Whether you’re reaching out to customers with a paid social media ad on Twitter or you’re sending out personalized emails, you can’t neglect to actually make the content appealing and worthwhile. Reaching the right audience is only half the battle. You need to promise the answers to customers’ questions so they click through, and then deliver so they won’t be disappointed.
3. Work Toward Ever-More-Specific Customization
There’s an exciting concept on the horizon: True one-to-one personalization, even in the B2C world. With AI helping you target consumer wants and needs with uncanny accuracy, this goal isn’t far off. Until that day arrives, you can work toward it with more specific and better targeted content pieces.
When it comes down to it, personalized content marketing is a fundamental part of reaching your audience. It’s one of those must-haves in the tool kit. If you’re not already doing it, it’s time to start. If you are, it’s worth looking closely at your strategy to make sure it’s living up to its potential.
What could be more impactful than giving your customers what they want?
Editor’s Note: Updated September 2021.