Part 1: Getting started with content personalisation

by , President and co-founder, ComBlu

This is the first of a three part series about content personalisation. The series will address when it’s advantageous for organisations to press pause and consider the best route to optimise its strategy and approach:

If content personalisation was easy, everyone would already be doing it. This is the inconvenient truth about personalisation which is defined as contextually targeted content to a specific person or user. While interviewing senior leaders for the Forbes “Publish or Perish” report, Mark Yolton, then senior vp of digital for Cisco shared the following:

Personalised experiences improve content performance, but create huge upstream challenges. Introducing personalisation around just three personas increased content volume 30x and created pressure to update the website every four hours, instead of every week.

Why such a large increase in content requirements? The content needed was extremely varied. It was for each persona at each point of buyer’s journey across multiple buying triggers. Instead of being intimidated by this statement, it’s important to realise that Cisco adopted this personalisation practice over time. Best practices dictate that organisations use a step strategy when introducing personalised experiences. Before getting started, you should ask questions that will help explore organisational readiness for personalisation.

Strategy Definition


Publishing Competency

The first question is the most crucial: you need to make sure you have the processes, systems, and governance to sustain your personalisation efforts. This is not a “once in a row” activity. You need to define what personalisation means for your organisation: are you simply considering a re-targeting program or are you going to commit to complete customer intimacy that allows the delivery of content that both reflects and anticipates needs.

Personalisation will not be successful unless the organisation understands the customer and has a culture of customer intimacy.

This graphic depicts three levels of personalisation. All require research and customer insights, a roadmap and content inventory, an approach to structured content that aligns with experience delivery, and systems for appropriate content assembly and distribution. The deliverables change depending on the stage of personalisation you’re adopting.

The first is the “crudest” cut. You are personalising on a cohort or segment basis. Success requires a replicable process to understand the information needs of defined segments. For example, a commercial bank may have a segment approach for healthcare finance and commercial real estate finance. Each requires different content and solutions. You need a process to identify “topics of deep interest”for each segment and have a defined process for updating and refreshing topics.

In the next level, persona or role, you need to understand how many people touch a decision and what their individual content needs are, including an understanding of preferences for format and level of detail. The use case definition considers the context from which the content is viewed. Is the persona shopping because they are undergoing a tech refresh or is there a huge cost cutting initiative happening? Different context and different content required.

The third approach is personalisation at the “person level”. For example, you may know that a customer recently purchased several iPhones for a sales team. The next time the buyer visits, you may show content for a personal wifi device. This requires the ability to capture data points from multiple sources and platforms and create a detailed view of the person or company and what content will appeal to this specific person. Information is scraped from search history, online behaviours, content engagement, product history (CRM), campaign opens, etc. This level requires sophisticated analytics and the ability to deliver content on the fly.

Fundamental to all three levels of personalisation is the buyer’s journey which is an over-arching framework that helps you understand the needs of your buyers at each point of their path to purchase. In essence, this is a matrixed content plan. For each point in the journey, how the buyer looks for content, changes, as does the type, level of detail and the format. Without going through this type of planning, it is virtually impossible to adopt even segment level personalisation.

The journey provides the data you need to build your roadmap. Once the journey is mapped, the next steps include:

The goal is to gather the right information and gain collaboration among the right people to ensure success. It’s easy to be overwhelmed without stopping and setting achievable goals.

Watch for Part Two of this series which will focus on the enterprise issues faced by an organisation as they adopt personalisation strategies.

In the second post of this series (coming soon!), we’ll look at how you can take your content personalisation to the next level. In the meantime, if you want to learn more about this topic, check out the recording of our recent webinar, How to make sure your organisation is ready for content personalisation.

About the Author

President and co-founder, ComBlu

Kathy Baughman is president and co-founder of ComBlu, a firm specializing in content strategy, community building and thought leadership programs. Kathy’s forte is content and community strategy, and influencer marketing programs. Her passions include bringing a fresh point of view to everything she does and helping organizations take their programs to the next level. Kathy is a frequent speaker at industry conferences. She has authored several ebooks including Content Supply Chain and The Alchemy of Content. She also co-authors the firm’s research report, “The State of Online Branded Communities”. Kathy can be reached at [email protected]

New year, new skills? Our free online content strategy masterclass is back! 🙌 Reserve your seat


Learn how to design a content production planning workshop

Pop in your details and we'll email you a class each day for the next 5 days.

Weekly newsletter

If you would like some content strategy goodness once or twice per week join up!

Great, welcome aboard!

That’s it! You’re signed up to our mailing list and can expect content strategy goodness in your inbox soon.