reel in content marketing personalization strategy

I have a childhood secret.  I was one of those kids who bee-lined to the souvenir shop trinket racks in search of my name on a vanity keychain or bicycle license plate.  Karen.  Kathy.  Kim.  But where was Kristin?  There was a Christine, but not a Kristin to be found.  I hated my name some 40 years ago, because it was unusual.  Now, it’s everywhere.  Let’s be honest: who doesn’t love our name in lights?  We live in a “me” world.  Recognized B2C brands like Amazon, Spotify, Netflix and others pioneered the art of content marketing personalization. Now it’s gaining momentum in the B2B mix.    

First and foremost, the goal of a personalized marketing campaign is to ease and expedite the buyers’ journey. That means getting information to your customers that follow the three Rs – right, relevant and relatable.  We must motivate desired behaviors and favorable outcomes by inviting them into an engaging digital environment that looks, sounds and feels like it’s built just for them. 

At the heart of this experience is creating an exclusive emotional connection that “speaks” directly to our audience.  It starts with a customized content strategy.  Personalizing content is defined as “the process of targeting information to individuals based on one or more of the following: who they are; where they are; when, why and how they access it; and what device they use to access it.”

While 95% of B2B organizations make some attempt to segment content based on their targets, many marketers still struggle to apply content personalization effectively. A recent McKinsey survey of senior marketing leaders found that only 15% of CMOs believe their company is on the right track with personalization.  To help, here are five steps to steer your content development and marketing voyage for maximum impact:

1. Size up the Catch

Every savvy marketer has heard the “know your audience” mantra. However, a smart content strategy dives much deeper than personalized email salutations.  On that note, there’s nothing wrong with addressing your target by their first name – just make sure you get it right.  Send me an email spelled “Kristen”? Hmmm.  Start with “Dear Debra”? She was my client 15 years ago.  Delete.  Greet me with “Hi, Michael!” Yep, that’s an instant credibility crusher I keep just for laughs.

Similarly, beyond the obvious greeting, directing the right content to the right individual is what really matters.  In order to make your content resonate, we’ve got to understand the behavioral science behind how humans make decisions.  Tailoring content begins with developing bespoke personas. To start, map these to your targets’ roles, responsibilities and decision-making authority, but also probe for granular insights.  For example, defining moments that make/break their career, thought-leaders and social influencers they follow, where they go for industry scoop and how they like their content served up. 

The more we understand the nuanced behaviors that inspire audience subgroups – right down to the individual customer or account level – the more impactful our content.

2. Lure Them with Bait

McKinsey claims personalization can reduce acquisition costs by up to 50%, lift revenues by 15% and increase marketing spend efficiency by 30%.  Once we’ve identified our targets, our content becomes the emotional hook that lures them to action – whether lead generation, conversion or a sale. 

At the core, personalized content should accomplish three goals:

  • Address real needs – to connect on an emotional level, your audience must believe that you understand their unique pain points.  Beyond mere lip service, your content must prove you’ve walked in their shoes. Solved a vexing problem. Or fill a void unlike anyone else on the market.  It must trigger a sense of sincerity and empathy. 
  • Earn trust – creating empathetic content is the first hook, but personalization is ultimately about earning your customers’ trust and building a relationship.  Your content should show your human side, offer a dash of humility and invite customers to share honest experiences.  As a result, this builds a community of credibility. Your audience can identify with others that look like, sound like and behave just like them.
  • Build a case – the ultimate objective is helping your customer succeed.  After all, their success is your success.  According to a Demand Gen Report’s 2020 B2B Buyer Behavior Study reported on LinkedIn, the most important factor (62%) to winning buyers’ business? “The vendor provided content that made it easier to build a business case for the purchase.”

3. Don’t Go Overboard

Additionally, a common mistake that marketers make in their content strategy is to overdo it.  This can take the form of casting your net too widely and inundating your audience with too much too soon.

When plotting a personalized content campaign, less is more.  Small, bite-sized chunks go a long way.  Business professionals suffer a high cognitive overload, and when content is too complex, too long or too frequent, they shut down.  Show what’s most relevant upfront, such as a concise, one-page executive summary tailored to the individual’s needs and preferences, to preface a longer report.  Also, make sure that your content strategically aligns with your target’s buyer’s journey and is delivered at intervals that make sense. Check out how we moved the needle by auditing, prioritizing and aligning content to the buyer’s journey for a fleet management software company

Finally, content packaged in a narrative, storytelling fashion further personalizes the experience.  Our brains are programmed for stories that gradually unfold and hold our attention by keeping us baited and hungry for more.  So, don’t drive your audience away by dumping a boatload at their digital doorstep.  Keep them engaged by “teasing” them with relevant drops of content that guide them down the stream to purchase. 

4. Swim in Their Lane

Knowing your target audiences means understanding their environment.  Therefore, developing the right content is only half the battle; you’ve got to deliver it how they like to digest it best.  Take personalization to the next level by following these principles:

  • Use preferred channels – mobile device? Laptop? iPad? Cell phone? Email? Text? Video? Website? Create a content-rich experience that’s based on their platform(s) of choice, and tailor the digital environment (i.e., via individualized landing pages) to personalize their engagement even further.
  • Allow self-customization – customers like to build their own adventure, and that means giving them choices.  For example, you can allow email list subscribers to opt-in for a particular digital newsletter that features select content from specific categories.  You can enable your audience to specify which blog authors they want to follow.  You can even ask them how frequently they wish to receive communications from you or which types of offers they want.
  • Keep it consumable – research shows that our brains digest more when content is served via a clean, simple user interface when formatting your website, blog, email or presentation content.  Font choices and use of call-out boxes, columns and graphics that break up copy increase absorption and retention.  Dynamic, visual and interactive content – built for the right medium used to access it – helps ensure that it will resonate.

5. Prepare to Re-Cast

Finally, while a content marketing strategy shouldn’t be a fishing expedition, recognize that personalization is a journey.  Slow and steady wins the race, and you have to be prepared to pivot along the way.  Thanks to advances in technology and data analytics, marketers are able to create much more personal and “human” experiences across moments.  For example, the use of AI, machine learning and emotion-recognition algorithms will help companies more quickly detect buyer moods, behaviors and loyalty patterns.  This way, we can evaluate and measure how our content is performing (or not) and readjust in near real-time. 

These days, as we plunge deeper into the digital ecosystem, McKinsey asserts that “personalization requires a commitment to agile management, including cross-functional teams dedicated to specific customer segments or journeys with the ability to execute rapidly.  Performance measurement must evolve similarly and become more focused on testing velocity, success rates and creative boldness.”

Simply put, depending on how your audience behaves, you’ll want to be ready to re-cast your line with a sharper aim and explore new depths to optimize your content marketing strategy.  An Accenture report found that 41% of customers left brands behind because of poor personalization, while 43% were more likely to convert when brands make an effort to personalize experiences.  Which side of the marketing tide do you want to be on?

Let Outlook Marketing Services help you create and execute a content marketing strategy with assets that propel personalization into action.  Our supporting campaign design and deployment services can deliver your content to targeted audiences with even greater precision and impact.  

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Author: Kristin Fayer, Senior Vice President, Outlook Marketing

Kristin Fayer

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