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Personalization: Content Strategy at its Finest - Content Strategy New England Meetup October 2018



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Personalization: Content Strategy at its Finest - Content Strategy New England Meetup October 2018



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The same rules that apply to formulating a robust content strategy framework apply to personalization. Strong personalization not only requires a robust content strategy, it is an aspect of content strategy. Kevin Nichols examines some considerations a content strategist must think about for personalized content.

The same rules that apply to formulating a robust content strategy framework apply to personalization. Strong personalization not only requires a robust content strategy, it is an aspect of content strategy. Kevin Nichols examines some considerations a content strategist must think about for personalized content.

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Personalization: Content Strategy at its Finest - Content Strategy New England Meetup October 2018

  1. 1. PERSONALIZATION Content Strategy at its finest? Content Strategy New England Meetup, September 2018 Kevin P Nichols Executive Director, Experience
  2. 2. 2 • A consultancy providing enterprise content strategy and digital experience solutions. • Specializing in personalization, omnichannel and performance-driven content solutions. • Co-founder of the Big Content Alliance Who are we? AvenueCX 9/25/2018 | @KPNichols | © 2018 AvenueCX, LLC. All rights reserved.
  3. 3. 3 Kevin P Nichols, Executive Director, Experience Content Champion. Author. Syfy Network and Bergman Movie Buff. • Expert in enterprise content strategy, omnichannel strategy & personalization for global companies. • Author, Enterprise Content Strategy: A Project Guide and UX for Dummies. • Former global head of content strategy at Sapient, headed up production at MIT OpenCourseWare (key architect of its content strategy and operations). Some former clients include: Verizon, HP, KPMG, Target, Intel. About myself… Helping you shape your content experience 9/25/2018 | @KPNichols | © 2018 AvenueCX, LLC. All rights reserved.
  4. 4. Personalization should function as content strategy realized in its purest form.
  5. 5. 9/25/2018 | @KPNichols | © 2018 AvenueCX, LLC. All rights reserved. 5 • Inspiration — Understanding your customers/users • Organization — Developing operational models to support ongoing content development and measurement • Systems — Leveraging systems that facilitate content production, content delivery, and metrics capture • Content — Creating content that speaks to your audience Our content strategy framework at AvenueCX. Four key areas
  6. 6. Inspiration: Getting personal — but not too personal — by understanding your customers.
  7. 7. 7 Understand who they are and what they need and they will reward you… But don’t f!@# it up! 41% of US consumers said they ditched a company because of “poor personalization” and lack of trust. — Accenture Strategy, Pulse Check, 2018 9/25/2018 | @KPNichols | © 2018 AvenueCX, LLC. All rights reserved.
  8. 8. 8 Only accurate knowledge of your customer can deliver accurate content. B2B Customer journey for ‘decision maker’ persona 1. Search for product 2. Explore product 3. Evaluate product 4. Buy Product 5. Use Product Discovery Awareness Research Purchase Loyalty Anonymous Anonymous Known Visitor Known Prospect Customer Website (desktop) Mobile search Website (desktop) Mobile Website (desktop) Mobile app Customer portal Website (desktop) Mobile app Customer portal Customer rep Customer portal Online communities Email Customer rep Featured products Thought leadership Product overviews Insights Whitepapers Product details Specifications Performance benchmarks Testing documentation Requirements checklists Vender comparisons Schematics Analyst report Original research Use case Architectural docs ROI/TCO calculator Customer profile Sales enablement content Product notifications Sales enablement content Newsletters Knowledge base UGC Task Lifecycle Channel Content User’s state 9/25/2018 | @KPNichols | © 2018 AvenueCX, LLC. All rights reserved.
  9. 9. Content: Getting it right, relevance is everything.
  10. 10. 10 Personalization done well? 9/25/2018 | @KPNichols | © 2018 AvenueCX, LLC. All rights reserved.
  11. 11. 11 Hell hath no furry like a Chloe scorned! Only 21% of consumers in the U.S. and less in Germany and the UK, both at 11%, and 10% in France find recommendations to be very relevant. — Periscope, 2018 9/25/2018 | @KPNichols | © 2018 AvenueCX, LLC. All rights reserved.
  12. 12. 12 Evolve the customer experience through hard data and real knowledge of her. Even when you are marketing to your entire audience or customer base, you are still simply speaking to a single human at any given time. — Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs 9/25/2018 | @KPNichols | © 2018 AvenueCX, LLC. All rights reserved. Data inputs for personalization Gender Age Location (Country, State, City, Exact) Channel (Mobile, Desktop, Store) Weather Events Anniversary Preferences Previous purchases Customer-centric considerations Authentic Engaging Empathetic Understanding Helpful Inspirational Exciting Moving
  13. 13. Organization: Your content operations will either stand your content up for success, or not.
  14. 14. 14 Gap, Inc., with a score of 40, sent emails featuring women’s clothing to one of Sailthru’s researchers, even though he created an online profile indicating he was a man that he was most interested in items for men or babies. A Gap spokeswoman declined to comment. —Suzanne Kapner, The Wallstreet Journal, 2017 Uh-oh. Something went wrong in the command center! 9/25/2018 | @KPNichols | © 2018 AvenueCX, LLC. All rights reserved.
  15. 15. 15 Clean, efficient, and optimized operations matter. 9/25/2018 | @KPNichols | © 2018 AvenueCX, LLC. All rights reserved.
  16. 16. 16 Leverage the customer journey to inform your publishing processes. Marketers feel they still have more work to do, when asked to grade their current personalization efforts, nearly half of respondents 46% gave themselves a “C” while 19% lower than a “C”. — Evergage, 2018 Trends in Personalization Report, 2018 9/25/2018 | @KPNichols | © 2018 AvenueCX, LLC. All rights reserved. Inspired by Hawkeye Graphic
  17. 17. 17 • Extensible messaging frameworks • Content calendar (performance- based) • Optimized publishing processes • And yes…enough content now and ability to create it in the future to support the experience… Necessary tools for the content strategist. 9/25/2018 | @KPNichols | © 2018 AvenueCX, LLC. All rights reserved.
  18. 18. Systems: It’s a performance-driven content strategy framework.
  19. 19. 19 You need to be capturing true business successes and relating them to the decisions you make in the digital channel. Personalization should then be driven by predictions as to what content will result in the best business outcomes. — Alex Genov, Head of Customer Research at Zappos True geniuses prepare, and performance anxiety does not get in the way. 9/25/2018 | @KPNichols | © 2018 AvenueCX, LLC. All rights reserved.
  20. 20. 20 Use a performance-based content planning strategy. 9/25/2018 | @KPNichols | © 2018 AvenueCX, LLC. All rights reserved. 20 Inputs Meeting Outputs Business needs • New products • New company • Marketing campaigns Content calendar Industry insights and competitive trends Analytics and metrics reports • Web analytics • Internal/operational • Sales data New ideas generated from content teams or other teams User inputs as changes in user behavior, research or consumer data Quarterly or monthly content meeting with governance and content strategy Participants: • Executive sponsor • Governance members • Content strategist Prioritized content areas of focus, such as new content creation or archival of content; ideally with strategic intent; goals and high-level objectives Content owners, sponsor and stakeholders identified Planning teams alerted of new focus area
  21. 21. Let’s recap…
  22. 22. 22 • Understand your audience, define your strategy around it • Create content that matters • Ensure your operations supports the required content, and make sure you can deliver the necessary content • Create a performance-based model to support evolution Personalization done right, is content strategy at its finest. 9/25/2018 | @KPNichols | © 2018 AvenueCX, LLC. All rights reserved.
  23. 23. 23 The loser is always a part of the problem; the winner is always a part of the answer. The loser always has an excuse; the winner always has a program. The loser says it may be possible, but it's difficult; the winner says it may be difficult, but it's possible. – Althea Gibson, first African-American woman to win Wimbledon (1957) It’s not easy, but that is never an excuse for a brand that rises to the top. 9/25/2018 | @KPNichols | © 2018 AvenueCX, LLC. All rights reserved.
  24. 24. THANK YOU! Kevin P Nichols Email LinkedIn Twitter YouTube @KPNichols
  25. 25. • “Consumers Value Personalization Up Your Game to not Miss the Opportunity.” Periscope by McKinsey. (2018). • “Making it Personal: Why brands must move from communication to conversation for greater personalization.” by Accenture Strategy, Pulse Check (2018). • “Trends in Personalization Report.” Evergage (2018). • “2nd Annual Personalization Development Study.” monetate (2017). • For an excellent presentation and webinar on personalization content strategy and operational readiness to support it, see the Big Content Alliance ( “Press Pause: Getting content ready for personalization.” • Also see AvenueCX’s work with ComBlu at the Big Content Alliance: Additional Resources I recommend the following resources and reports

Editor's Notes

  • This presentation was given in conjunction with Vijay Hanumolu, who presented a case-study that demonstrated the value of personalization and the strategic framework required to support it at the Content Strategy New England Meetup in September, 2018. Because Vijay set up the framework required for personalization, this presentation does not speak so much to the strategic framework (goals of personalization, objectives for personalization, types of KPIs to measure, audiences, etc.). What this presentation does do is offer best practices for personalization efforts from the perspective of a content strategist and content designer. For additional insights into the strategic framework, I would also suggest you listen to the Webinar from Big Content Alliance (link appears in the appendix) the goes into much more detail on personalization and operational readiness to support it. You can also read Kathy Baughman’s and my blog posts on Gather Content’s blog, listed in the appendix as well.
  • You can find us at

    For more information on our work with ComBlu, see the Big Content Alliance, at:
  • You will find much of my thinking on my personal website at and you will find very detailed information on how to create an enterprise content strategy in my book, Enterprise Content Strategy: A Project Guide.
  • AvenueCX developed this content strategy framework to illustrate the various inputs for, and aspects of, a robust content strategy. Why? Because successful personalization requires a strong content strategy framework to define it, maintain and evolve it.
  • Personalization is all about delivering contextual and relevant content to a person. As such, an understanding of who the person is, what they are trying to do—a customer segment, persona, journey, insights, etc.—should inform the entire strategy and approach for personalization. Specifically: you will want to attempt to answer the following questions about your audience(s): Who they are, what they are doing, how they do it, what the need, where they are and when (time and/or important events related to them). Once you know this information, you will delver deeper into an understanding of what motivates and triggers your audience to deliver them even MORE relevant content—Ask: What really drives my customer or audience to action? All of this requires a thorough understanding of their motivations and behaviors. Often, this is where businesses fail—such as with creepy antics or personalization that mimics a ‘stalking’ approach. This happens because businesses get too eager or sloppy with personalization efforts. And they fail to understand their customers and they put the needs of the business and short-term conversion goals--sell a product using any means possible regardless of the consequences—above the needs, wants and desires of the customer.

    Source for the tweet: by Gemma Joyce. (2017).

    Accenture report: “Making it Personal: Why brands must move from communication to conversation for greater personalization.” by Accenture Strategy, Pulse Check (2018).

  • A customer journey is a very effective tool you can use to define your customer’s lifecycle with your brand and identify the specific tasks she needs to achieve certain goals (Buy a product, download a paper, etc.). Here we see an example of a high-level customer journey, where content is mapped to each step required for that journey.

    All customer journeys should start with a persona or customer segment and speak to how each persona behaves and the steps she takes to accomplish a task. You can map content to each step. Notice in this example, how we include “user states” in the personalization journey: “anonymous, known, customer,” and the channel engagement (which channel is used for each step). We see here the customer journey represents a variety of inputs that come from data and customer insights and research.

    In addition to a customer journey, other important customer considerations include: user research, focus groups, customer insights, empathy maps, customer profiles, data from customer support and CRM, any analytics such as web analytics or other channels, email, social, etc. And so forth.

    And of course, testing and validation of all tools, including testing of the customer journey are necessary. Only with a thorough understanding of customers, should we begin to define the objectives for our personalization strategy and we should keep those customer-focused. E.g., “Increase user engagement of decision maker persona with insights on Internet of Things (IOT) by providing her compelling content such as quarterly reports and industry and trends analysis on IOT.
  • OK: so as we have seen, knowing the customer and understanding them is the key for successful personalization. Lets now turn and talk about the content.
  • I received this offer from PetSmart, because I am in their loyalty program. Let me just say that everyone loves free things. Free things are great, right? But we really only love free things that we can actually use. (Unless we have an eBay business and we wish to sell the free thing to someone else who can use it, or we have a sister-in-law we wish to re-gift it to.)
  • Unfortunately, my cat Chloe only likes Pounce Treats: Caribbean Catch, Tuna Flavor. Although a good-faith measure, the Purina treats offered in the “free offer” are worthless to me. And to add insult to injury, I could not offer the coupon to a fellow cat owner because my name was on the offer and it contained explicit instructions that only I could redeem it. (I was going to offer you all a free coupon for cat treats.) Pet smart had a good start, but they could have taken their personalization strategy so much further, had they looked at my previous purchasing behavior and seen what Chloe really likes. I understand this was a cross-sell measure. But PetSmart would be smart if they followed my behavior and saw that I opened the email, clicked on the ad, but that I did not convert. And then, checked my previous purchase behavior. Maybe in the he'll offer Chloe a free container of Caribbean Catch!

    Let’s look at the Persicope by McKinsey statistic mentioned above. Now let’s cross-reference that with another one:

    “91% of consumers are more likely to shop with brands who recognize, remember, and provide relevant offers and recommendations.” [From the Accenture report (referenced above) ”Making it Personal: Why brands must move from communication to conversation for greater personalization.”]

    Today, it is not enough to cross-sell or offer personalized content based on the basic elements of who your customer is. To be relevant, you really have to go deeper and provide content that speaks to your customer’s needs. Those who do this well, will set themselves apart from those who just do the basics. This is especially true for after you know who you customer is, or you wish to increase a customer’s loyalty.


    Periscope quote: “Consumers Value Personalization Up Your Game to not Miss the Opportunity” Periscope by McKinsey (2018).

    “Making it Personal: Why brands must move from communication to conversation for greater personalization.” by Accenture Strategy, Pulse Check (2018).
  • There are data inputs, as in hard data inputs for personalization. These work well when you are just getting to know the user, such as when they are still anonymous or in the early stages of their personalization lifecycle with you. But to really engage the customer, with compelling content, you have to go further. You need to provide messaging to them that really speaks to their drivers and motivations. For personalization in 2018, relevance is everything. This requires an extensible messaging framework that speaks to your different customers considering their unique needs and motivations.

    Ann Handley quote:
  • Sailthru, an analyst firm, examined over 100 companies and then scored them on a scale of 1 to 100 in their ability to deliver personalization. Over 60% of the companies they examined received a score under 50! (By the way, Sephora, The Body Shoppe and Urban Outfitters received the highest scores.)

    So personalization is great, but without the right content to support it, it breaks down and can even fail. People need the right content for their needs. And when they don’t get it—even when they tell you what they need—as in the case with Gap cited here, you have an epic failure. My guess is that here, we have an issue with system integration and more likely than not, gaps in the operations. Operational readiness to support personalization is critical. And a lack of readiness is often a point of failure.

    Quote source:
    “Retail’s Emails are Misfires for many Holiday Shoppers.” Suzanne Kapner. The Wallstreet Journal, Business Section (Nov 27, 2017).

    Sailthru Personalization Index 2018 Report source:

    Image Source:

  • Operational readiness to support personalization continues to be one of the biggest challenges for brands.

    According to an article entitled: Personalization Marketing, Where We Are at 2018 in CMS Wire by Dom Nicastro:

    “Personalization has been the most demo’d but least implemented function of DX (Digital Experience) platforms for over a decade,” said Tom Wentworth, chief marketing officer for RapidMiner and former CMO of Acquia, which provides personalization technology. “Marketers were sold a vision of personalization that required way too much effort from marketing teams to make it work.”

    Quote source:

    Image source:
  • How do you get your operations right? You start with requirements that are built around your customer’s journey. And create a publishing and content model that supports that. Then you build a tech stack and implement technology solutions to support it.

    We work with the Big Content Alliance, which is AvenueCX and ComBlu, a Chicago based firm. On our website, you can see our research and webinars we offer including one on personalization readiness in the appendix here. This graphic comes from our presentation on personalization. A user-centric publishing model allows you to start with the user, his or her needs, and work backwards to develop a publishing model. So, your content delivery can include cross channel experience. It’s silo-agnostic and it’s more responsive to being able to react to changes in user and technology trends. Keeps’ content customer-focused content.

    One of the key things Evergage’s report makes clear is that organizations are not operationally ready to track customer profiles across channels. This becomes important in delivering cross-channel personalization. Another point the report makes clear is the overall lack of operational readiness for a variety of factors, which includes the right resources, business process, etc, to stand up personalization successfully. In my opinion, this will be the single-biggest challenge we see for personalization.

    “Trends in Personalization Report,” Evergage (2018).
    Image source:
    Press Pause: Getting your content ready for personalization. Big Content Alliance (2018). You can view this Webinar here:

  • So what tools do you need to support personalization? Take the following example. We are now finding that weather presents a unique opportunity to offer personalization; for example, sell raincoats to folks when it is raining out by featuring them on the homepage or instore display. This requires understanding the location and current environment of the customer. It also requires tracking weather patterns per region. We can see that offering raincoats when it rains yields incredible response rates. According to Getelastic, “An estimated $3 trillion worth of private sector business is driven by the weather, and thanks to climate change, the traditional four-season model is not a reliable predictor of sales.”

    To personalize for weather, you must have an extensible messaging framework and some sort of componentized content management in place to support that.
    your content lifecycles and workflows are necessary and should be informed by the customer journey.

    A content calendar is critical, should be updated monthly, and requires the necessary content to support it.

    And as we also see above,
    Finally, enough content and the right content, to support the experience is critical. More than one personalization project has failed without this.

    Quote source:

    Image Source:
    “Zip-Topper” by Printzess. Life Magazine, page 24. The Printz-Biederman Company: Printzess Square, Cleveland, Ohio (March 17, 1941).
  • Genov offers this great insight above. Additionally, he states: “If you see people as just a user or just a buyer then you don’t see the whole person and, as a result, you don’t see the whole opportunity.”

    Now all of this requires a plan in place to measure ongoing performance of your solution.

    Do you think Louis Armstrong went into a performance unprepared? Perhaps he did have some anxiety before performing but this clearly never stopped him from excelling and offering his audiences riveting performances.

    “Are you doing personalization wrong.” Adrian Swinscoe, Forbes (28 July 2018).

    Image source:
  • The approach you see in this slide is proven and it works. It’s performance based. Let’s break down each category by walking through the above chart. I developed this approach for a performance-driven model of content strategy and provide much more detail for it in my book, Enterprise Content Strategy: A Project Guide. But it is perfect for personalization. We (AvenueCX) revamped the image and approach with ComBlu for our Big Content Alliance presentation on personalization.
  • OK: let’s recap and go through each of these bullets.

    Image source:
    Dancers from American Ballet Theatre Perform at White House.
  • Image source:
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