Content personalization is the strategy of developing and delivering targeted content that is especially relevant to groups or individuals within your broader audience. Marketers who want to engage with customers as individuals must have a personalization strategy to be successful.

Most marketers know content personalization is important, but knowing that it is important and finding a way to understand it and do it well are two different things. If you feel like your organization has room to grow in the area of personalization, you may not know where to start.

The good news is that you and your organization can take small bites of the content personalization pie piece by piece rather than feeling like you need to swallow the whole thing at once. Every small thing you do to better understand how to personalize your content will bring you closer to your goal of getting to know your audience.

As you embrace the idea of personalization a bit at a time, the anxiety you feel about making personalization work for you will dissipate. You don’t simply need to rely on your own knowledge. There are many marketers who have already tested different theories about how to best utilize personalization strategies. Use the strategies below to get started, but these strategies are simply there to help you begin. As you start to understand them, testing, measuring, and learning will help you better understand the next steps you should take.

4 Content personalization strategies to try today

Content personalization strategies to try today: Start with segmentation.

1. Start with segmentation

Rather than focusing on a single individual, segmenting your audience allows you to focus on small groups of individuals instead. Those marketers who focus on segmenting often find success. Studies report that 77 percent of email marketing ROI stems from segmented campaigns.

Despite this, many marketers are still not fully on board the segmenting train. In fact, more than 40 percent of marketers don’t segment. What’s more, only 4 percent of marketers segment with multiple data types.

A few of the identifiers you can use to segment your priority audiences include:

  • Industry
  • Job title
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Location

While segmenting your marketing based on these items will prove to be more beneficial than not segmenting at all, there is a deeper level of segmentation that will help you connect with audiences: behavioral segmentation. Behavioral segmentation takes into account items such as purchasing behavior, benefits sought, product usage, customer loyalty, and user status.

For example, if you were to focus on purchasing behavior, some of the things you would be able to learn about your audience in the decision process include:

  1. How your customers approach the decisions they make when completing a purchase.
  2. How complex the purchasing process is for your customers.
  3. Barriers your customers face along the purchasing path.
  4. What customer behaviors are most indicative of leading to a purchase and what behaviors are least indicative of leading to a purchase.

If you’re not yet convinced that marketing segmentation is a meaningful content personalization strategy, consider the words of Brian K. McCarthy:

“When we look at a broad market full of all types of customers who want different things from us — or nothing at all — we need to break it down into smaller bites so we can be focused and meet the specific needs of each group of customers. So, if we can establish segment 1, segment 2, segment 3, and really understand what they need, we are now in a position to carefully choose which customers we will serve and meet and exceed their expectations.”

2. Personalize with personas

A persona is a basic outline of common traits shared by individuals in your target audience. A persona can be valuable to your content personalization thanks to the fact that it helps you quickly understand in your own mind what the audience you are trying to reach is really like. If you don’t use personas in your marketing efforts, you’ll spend too much time guessing about what your audience wants rather than knowing how to best serve them.

A good persona certainly contains demographic information, but it goes well beyond that. The best marketers follow the necessary steps to outline and determine how to best construct a persona.

Some of these necessary steps include:

  • Imagine the ideal buyer: Think about the demographic characteristics that define your ideal customer. Then consider the individual’s job and title. How long has he been on the job? What are his areas of expertise? How does he relate to others in society or within the workplace?
  • Consider specifics: Get as specific as you can to determine your persona’s responsibilities and objectives and obstacles. Think about why your persona wakes up in the morning to go to work and what challenges he faces once he gets there.
  • Examine day-in-the-life scenarios: Ask yourself questions about your persona’s role in influencing decisions within the company, who he needs to get buy-off from, what questions he will have before making a purchase, and what keywords he may search for as he seeks information.
  • Determine personal communication preferences: How does your persona like to receive content and messages? Are there channels and platforms he uses more than others? How often does he use social media? Why? Does he gather most information while on the job or while at home?
  • Align insights with goals: Now that you know infinitely more about the personas of those you want to reach, consider your strategic goals and how these new insights relate to those goals. Sketch an engagement scenario to visualize how you would like your persona to interact with your content.

Content personalization strategies to try today: Create customer-journey-based personalization.

3. Create customer-journey-based personalization

If you plan to take a road trip to an unfamiliar destination, one of the first things you do is type the destination address into your smartphone to get an understanding of how long the trip will take, determine which roads you need to travel on, and see which landmarks, hotels, and restaurants you may pass. Creating a customer journey map isn’t much different.

When you develop a customer journey map, you first should consider which audience you want to focus on. You then should consider the different stages of the journey for this audience to make sure you are providing the right types of content at the landmark locations throughout an individual’s journey.

Creating a customer journey map may sound difficult, but HubSpot has provided an outline of eight key considerations that will assist you along your way.

  1. Set objectives for the map.
  2. Profile your personas and define goals.
  3. Highlight your target customer personas.
  4. List targeted touchpoints.
  5. Identify the elements you want shown on your map.
  6. Audit your current and needed resources
  7. Take the journey yourself.
  8. Make needed changes.

Understand that there is no single way to develop a journey map. Likewise, different types of journey maps exist. Kerry Bodine, CEO of Kerry Bodine & Co. has identified four different types of customer journey maps. Those include “current state,” “day in the life,” “future state,” and “blueprint.” Each of these journey maps warrant their own evaluation, as they are designed to achieve different results.

4. Ideate to initiate individualization

Everything else that has been discussed in this article is indicative of what marketers can do with small groups of people to personalize content. This is a good start, but true personalization really starts to occur when you are able to get your content personalization down to a segment of one.

So, then, the question remains: how do you do this? Simply put, you need to individualize. Individualizing might seem time-consuming but there are a number of small things you can do to help your audience of one feel known.

Some of the ways you can individualize include:

  • Send your emails from a human — not a brand: Receiving an email from “XYZ Company” is not nearly as personal as receiving an email from “Sarah from XYZ Company.” People who receive messages from real people want to connect as real people.
  • Use your customers’ names: Yeah, this is an old trick, but it is effective. People love to hear their own names. In fact, a study conducted by Michael Lewis and Dennis P. Carmody found that our brains will respond involuntarily when we hear our own names — even when people are in a vegetative state. If that’s true, then it would seem that continuing to address your customers in emails by their first names will always remain a good idea.
  • Write individualized content: If you know a logged-in customer made it to a certain part of your site, but didn’t complete a transaction, consider developing an automated personalized response. A response like, “We notice you didn’t complete your purchase of ________. Here is a coupon for free shipping to your home in __________” could be seen as valuable to your customer because of the coupon. But tread lightly, as this sort of individualization could also annoy some users with the amount of personal data you have.