Back in 2014, Mark Schaefer rocked the marketing world with a bold prediction: content marketing as we know it is not sustainable. With the volume of content growing far faster than users’ ability to consume it — a phenomenon for which Schaefer coined the term, content shock, — the cranking out of gigabytes of vanilla, one-size-fits-all articles simply will not cut it. What will? Content personalization.
What Is Content Personalization… Really?
A decade ago, Content personalization amounted to little more than slapping a first name in an email subject line and greeting. Now, marketers have access to advanced data capabilities, thus creating a true one-to-one contact experience. This is within the reach of even the smallest of businesses.
According to the Content Marketing Institute, content personalization is defined as:
…a strategy that relies on visitor data to deliver relevant content based on audience interests and motivations. It ranges from a highly targeted call to action to a revolving landing page based on geographic or industry-specific segments. It’s a user experience shortcut that connects your audience with the information it needs more quickly, enhancing the chance of converting the lead.
In other words, we’ve come a long way from the “Hello, <>” emails of years past. As intent monitoring enables us to gain deeper insights into the “who, what, when, where, why, and how” of online behavior, we have a unique opportunity to spin that data into a personalized B2B outreach experience. This personalized experience gives visitors exactly they want … without making them wade through irrelevant details.
Why Content Personalization Is the Future of Content Marketing
Imagine yourself tearing open a piece of mail addressed to “Resident,” hardly able to contain your excitement. This picture is ridiculous, right? But, marketers are asking the same thing of our audiences when we churn out content geared toward the least common denominator.
As Mark Schaefer pointed out in his “content shock” article, the supply of online content is growing at an exponential rate, (and will continue to do so), while people can only consume so much of it. The B2B audiences we’re trying to reach have neither the time nor the inclination to sift through reams of generic content, in order to find the insights they need, and figure out how to apply that knowledge to their organizations. And frankly, they shouldn’t have to.
Does true content personalization take time, effort, and resources to achieve? Yes. Is it worth the effort? Absolutely, and here’s why.
Reason #1: Attention
There’s a reason why we use the phrase “pay attention.” In today’s crowded content environment, attention is the new currency.
With only so much time at their disposal, the people in your B2B audience scan the deluge of resources available, searching for clues — clues that tell them, “This is for you … yes, you.” By customizing your approach to the specific needs and interests of those users, your content can stand out like just as a beacon does for weary travelers.
Reason #2: Engagement
Once we’ve attracted attention, our next objective is engagement, and nothing engages users more successfully than personalized content. When people find that one-to-one contact point that speaks to their specific pain points, needs, and ambitions, they want to respond to it, and those likes, comments, and shares flow in naturally. Not only that but they become emotionally attached to the content, and making it even more personal for themselves than it already is.
Reason #3: Trust
People do business with people they know, like, and trust. We can become known by getting our content out there, and we can become liked by taking a friendly, engaging approach to our content. Trust is more challenging, and it doesn’t happen with just a few B2B outreach efforts.
Over time, as the people in our audiences recognize our consistent commitment to delivering premium-quality, personalized content that’s tailored to their needs, they begin to trust us. Once that trust is established, it’s usually just a matter of time before those contacts are ready to enter a sales conversation.
Why Intent Monitoring Is Key
With advanced intent monitoring capabilities, marketers have access to unprecedented insights on what the people in their B2B audiences want, why they want it, and how they want it. The data we collect is a goldmine of information, that we can leverage to create highly personalized, targeted B2B content.
Six Sample Paths to Personalized Marketing
Forrester tells us that, by leveraging different combinations of data sources and tactics, marketers can develop their own targeted approaches to leveraging personalization for B2B outreach. Here are just a few examples of how marketers are laying the foundations for content personalization strategies tailored to their own customers.
1. Leverage loyalty programs to deliver personalized offers. Every time you scan your valued-customer card at your local grocery store, gas station, or coffee shop, the retailer is gathering valuable information about the products and services you purchase, when you buy them, how often you buy them, etc. The same principle works for B2B outreach content. By analyzing the habits of your returning customers, you gain deep insights that can fuel new and exciting personalization opportunities as you develop your future offers.
2. Use behavior-based data to develop content based emotional insights. Consumer neuroscience, (also known as “neuromarketing”), has gone mainstream, as marketers aim to take a peek inside the brains of their current and potential customers. On the content side, these insights give us a snapshot of the emotions (fear, frustration, delight, etc.) which drive purchases for your specific audience, allowing us to build content that speaks to that emotional experience.
3. Use customer data to publish individualized content on a channel-specific basis. Not everyone gets their content from the same source, and not everyone has the same expectations of every channel. For example, a contact may be equally likely to engage with content from email and from social media, but have different expectations from the content experience on each venue. By mining our customer data, we can build channel-specific strategies for delivering personalized content that speaks to customer needs, according to their content consumption preferences.
4. Integrate customer data to create individualized content and offers that span across channels. Marketing-specific data is only one area in which we gather data about our customers, while other areas can be equally helpful in creating personalized content. For example, our call centers keep detailed analytics on incoming inquiries: when and how often specific types of requests come in, who they come from, which topics they concern, etc. This data offers a unique insight into customer challenges, and uncertainties, which can inspire new content, a new offer, or even an entire campaign.
5. Use customer demographics to create targeted content and offers. In this age of advanced data, it can be tempting to look down on demographics as “too basic” to serve as a foundation for targeted content. However, customer demographics help us create detailed personas based on age, gender, geographic location, income level, etc. Those personas can inspire countless content assets and offers. For example, knowing that most of your customers share a certain geographic profile opens the opportunity to research what’s going on in the area, and use those insights in your content personalization initiatives.
6. Use demographic categories to create some level of personalization for unidentified prospective customers. The biggest challenge in delivering personalized content to unidentified prospective customers is that they’re … well, unidentified. We may not know exactly who these people are, but we can make educated guesses, based on those for whom we do have data. Just knowing gender tendencies, for example, can go a long way in helping us personalize our content for those yet-unknown prospects.
Bringing It Down to the Bottom Line
At this point, you may be asking yourself — or your CMO may be asking — “Sure, I get that people like personalization, but what does it mean for ROI?”
According to studies cited in the Harvard Business Review, marketers have shown personalization to deliver 5-8x the ROI on marketing spend, and to boost sales by 10% or more. Even in the long, complex journey that is the B2B outreach process, content personalization is proving to be a key asset in guiding prospective customers one step closer to a sales conversation.
Like content itself, personalization is no longer a “nice to have.” We are all trying to compete in a world where the “content shock” Mark Schaefer spoke of, is the norm, and personalization is emerging as the solution for earning the attention, engagement, and trust that will let us turn unknowns into prospects, prospects into customers, and customers into evangelists.