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Val Swisher: The Personalization Paradox: Why Companies Fail at Personalization

Each week on the Content Marketing World blog, we’re going to feature a CMWorld 2020 speaker, one of their blog posts that dives into the topic they’ll be covering at CMWorld, and a few additional articles they’ve written to help you prepare for their session.

Today, we’re keeping the series rolling with Val Swisher, a highly anticipated speaker and more importantly, a rockstar in content strategy. Val has spoken at Content Marketing World as well as ContentTECH Summit (and Intelligent Content Conference before that)

Content personalization has become the aspiration of modern communications. Companies large and small are on a quest to deliver the content a customer needs – and only that content — at the current part of the customer’s journey. Nothing more and nothing less.

Marketing communications, human resources, training, technical documentation, and customer support are all looking to deliver content that is relevant, usable, and timely. They want to deliver:

  • The right content
  • To the right person
  • At the right time
  • On the right device
  • In the language of their choosing

Our industry has been trying to achieve this goal for a long time. So why isn’t it happening, successfully, at scale?

Two Ways to Provide Personalization

There are two ways to go about delivering personalized content.

The first way is manual. This method means that you create, manage, store, update, and retire different content for each person, persona, or customer type. Many companies have tried, and failed, to deliver personalized content in this way. The entire concept of creating personas and then writing content for each person represents an often-failed attempt at personalized content. It simply doesn’t scale.

Don’t miss Val’s session, The Personalization Paradox at Content Marketing World 2020, taking place October 13-16 virtually. SPEAKER100 saves $100 off your registration.

The second way is automated. This method emphasizes sophisticated tools that attempt to match the content to the consumer.

Some companies have tried this method. They’ve deployed expensive new software. They may have worked hard to deliver a proof of concept with a limited set of content and customer data. The problem is, they didn’t first optimize the content for reuse, automation, or personalization. They took existing content and put it into new tools and hoped that would be enough.

But it’s not.

Personalization at Scale

The only way to deliver personalized content at scale is to automate the process at the point of delivery. And for that to work, you’ve got to change how you “do” content.

Instead of creating (storing, managing, retiring) an entire information asset for a particular person or persona, you need to reuse components from a comprehensive library of chunked information. The content must be written, stored, managed, and retired using small format-free components that can be dynamically assembled, published, and delivered on the fly.

And herein lies the Personalization Paradox. To provide personalized experiences at scale, the content must be standardized.

In order to create nimble, reusable pieces of content that can be combined, on the fly, in different ways for different people and different devices, you must standardize everything about the content.

This includes the words and images you use, the ways in which you combine them, the tone and voice, and ultimately the paragraphs and sets of paragraphs that you deliver. If you do not standardize your content, you will not be successful combining various components in different ways.

Sure, you can deliver words, sentences, and paragraphs. But that doesn’t mean they will fit together seamlessly to create a customer experience that reflects your brand.

Standardization Enables Personalization

Without standards, any attempt to deliver personalized experience is hampered by content that does not flow when the consumer encounters it. It sends mixed messages. It creates confusion instead of providing clarity.

By using standards, your content can mix-and-match seamlessly. It is uniform in terminology, tone, grammar, and style. Components are tagged with rich metadata, so that systems and people can find them. Components are stored in a content management system where content is easy to find, assemble, and release to the personalization engine and delivery platforms.

The Personalization Paradox seems to elude many organizations. They do not understand that even the latest, most sophisticated technology is not enough to produce a professional, personalized experience. They must also change the way they envision, create, manage, store, and retire the requisite components.

Standardizing content to create a personalized experience might seem counterintuitive at first. After all, when we think of a personalized experience, we think of unique content that is created and delivered for a unique individual. As we have seen, creating unique content this way simply cannot scale.

This post originally appeared on The Content Rules Blog

Looking for even more from Val? Check out these three blog posts that will help you dive deeper into the science of memorable content and prepare you for her CMWorld session:

  1. Project Overload? Here’s How to Find Expert Help Quickly
  2. Why Content Transformation Is Worth the Work – 6 Benefits
  3. Three Methods for Transforming Your Legacy Content Into Dynamic Assets

Register today for Content Marketing World 2020, where you’ll hear from Val Swisher and 100+ other incredible content marketing leaders. Use SPEAKER100 to save $100 off your pass!


The 2022 session lineup is now available!
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