back on the road to personalization
Despite stated interest in delivering personalized experiences, brands are stalling before they even get started PHOTO: dominique Bernardini

Did you want to jump into personalization, but saw the train move out of the station before you got started? 

Most marketers are further behind in their personalization game than you would realize. Research by McKinsey indicates that while 64 percent of retailers surveyed considered personalization among their top three priorities, only 15 percent reported having fully implemented personalized marketing.

What’s stopping them? About 67 percent named gathering, integrating and synthesizing data as their biggest challenges, with the same number stating they did not have the correct tools to create personalized offers and marketing.

In 2016, our company interviewed 50 clients and partners to find out what mattered to them. High on many of their lists was the need to personalize web content. Almost everyone wanted to do it — and thought everyone else was already doing it — but most have not gotten started. 

What was the main blocker? Fear of having to create masses of new content, each piece tailored and trimmed to appeal to zillions of individuals.

Hub for Connecting Content

Which makes me think that personalization is, above all, a content management issue. In the McKinsey study, two-thirds of respondents (67 percent) said their content management system was the most essential piece of technology they used to manage digital assets and copy for the automated delivery of personalized marketing campaigns.

Forrester (fee charged) hails content as “the soul of digital experiences” and other consultants see content management as “the physiological bedrock that makes winning, relevant digital experiences possible." Get content management right and you’ll be well on your way with personalization. 

6 Ways Your Web CMS Supports Personalization

Here are six ways to tap into your CMS features to make personalizing web content easy and efficient:

1. Flexible repositories to manage content

Don’t get caught in the divide between content and presentation: in other words, worrying about the packaging before you’ve thought about the actual meat. Break down the barrier by working with structured content.

You might have content repositories within your CMS, or in external services or databases that you can connect to. You then need an interface for interaction between the editor and the repository, making it simple to use this as a hub for creating personalized content.

Break down content into small, modular items to set the stage for further re-use and repurposing. The same modular content can be mixed and matched and used in versatile ways for website personalization.

2. Open APIs

Application programming interfaces (APIs) allow different systems to exchange data. 

Open APIs allow you to integrate your CMS with back-end systems that you rely on for your business. Let’s say you have a legacy database of insurance policies and all the associated paperwork: terms and conditions, projected values, etc. You can connect this data source to your CMS and then enrich it to present your customers with personalized insurance offers. APIs open the window to existing content that you can repackage, making personalization more practical and scalable.

You can also use APIs to connect third-party sources such as social media or digital assets in cloud-based services. Repurpose material from these sources on your site for more engaging digital experiences. If some business magnate tweets about the hidden high returns that insurance policies can reap, find a neat way to fit this tidbit on your corporate website.

3. Think components, not pages

Marketers who fear the amount of content it takes to personalize are living with the fallacy that they need to create x individualized webpages for different audiences. Stop thinking in terms of pages and go with components instead.

Components are easy to work with: you can mix and match, assemble different components on a page, reuse components in different contexts. You get more freedom and control over, for instance, how your travel portal looks: you can rearrange components (whether it’s hotels or tours), place them in different locations (a city tour could appear on the Europe page or the culture page) and avoid the restrictions of predefined pages.

4. Tagging

The real trick to make personalization scale is through tagging and strong metadata practices. Put your users at the center of your strategy and think about how they might search for content or how they might want it organized, not how your organization is structured. 

To go back to the travel portal example: your business could be structured around regional offices, and it makes sense to tag the tours you offer according to geographical region. But what else could you tag your tours with? Perhaps with attributes such as “ecotourism,” “outdoors” or “cultural” or audience characteristics such as “singles,” “family” or “retired.” When you’re done tagging, use rules, filters or triggers to vary the items in pages and components to assemble personalized content.

5. Translation support

One of the most obvious ways to personalize content is to speak the user’s language. The digital space is shrinking the distinction between “local” and “global” markets. A Forrester study (registration required) revealed 92 percent of companies face challenges as they translate content into different languages and only 29 percent integrate their CMS with a translation management system or language service provider.

Most CMS software offer multilingual capabilities through plugins or extensions. These are often not maintained in the long run. You would be better off getting out-of-the-box multilingual features or a CMS that tightly integrates the translation process within its workflow. Make sure your CMS is able to fully customize URLs and has a language switcher to ensure smooth transitions when users switch languages.

6. Match content to segments

If you’ve gotten this far, don’t trip over the stumbling block of linking personalized content with the target audience. Some marketers segment their audience too thin and end up with 10 broad personas that they can’t narrow down. Maybe their CRM has lots of data, but they can’t use it in meaningful ways to deliver relevant website content.

If you’ve got useful segmenting traits in your CRM, get this connected to your CMS. Personalization data can come from many different sources and your CMS might have ready-built integrations with these to give you a more coherent picture. If you don’t have access to data or can’t make good use of the data you have, use your CMS to collect and build on visitor data. Throw out what marketing courses have taught you about creating personas and work the other way around through analytics.

Listen to and get to know your website visitors: are they new or returning, from what geographical location are they accessing your website, what search terms do they use on your site. If you detect this information using cookies, you could actually discern patterns that would help you personalize better. By focusing on behaviors, you get away from being locked in demographics and move closer to what visitors actually do on the site.

The Data Collection and Content Creation Dance

Personalizing digital experiences is all about content management. Your CMS is a live stage where you’re continually creating dynamic interactions between the data that you collect about visitors and how you structure and serve content.

It’s not more content that you need. It’s about being smarter with the content that you have and learning to work around the data you can access. Forget complicated, big-bang approaches. Start with simple experiments that you can grow iteratively.