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Content Personalization—The State of the Art in 2013

By John McTigueAug 5, 2013

content personalization state of the artWe talk about content personalization as if it's just on the horizon, a dream that marketers have that hasn't quite come true. You might be surprised to know there are already several contending technologies out there that can be used effectively today. Before we dive into a list of available apps, let's survey the issues and criteria facing the content and marketing technology team in choosing a direction for personalization. Then we'll unveil some of the best new options.

A great resource for content personalization was published by GigaOM Research earlier this year—Sector RoadMap™: content personalization in 2013. In this in-depth report, Mark Mulligan describes several key challenges, or "disruption vectors," that will strongly influence the acceptance of personalization by content consumers and shape the marketplace for the new technologies.

Post-programming Curation

Despite the murky title, this techie buzzword is all about how people find your content. In the old days, you had control over that, programming your web pages with titles, headings and links to influence the search engines. Now, you have very little control over discovery. It's all about people sharing your content on social platforms, their recommendations and links to your blog posts. As Mark Mulligan states, "...in the era of post-programming curation, content owners need to achieve relevancy more than ever before. They must start by assuming that audiences are most likely to leave as quickly as they arrive, unless they can be hooked in with relevant content." This is where personalization comes in, grabbing and holding visitors' attention with content that's precisely tuned to their needs and timing. Readers are far more likely to curate and share content that "speaks to them" at the moment.

The Tyranny of Choice

Simply put, there's so much content out there, it's becoming impossible to choose, so we tend to ignore all of it. Tracking a user's behavior and classifying them based on content preferences allows marketers to stand out above the madding crowd. This applies to all kinds of published digital content, including blogs, social updates, download offers and even the entire website experience.

The Recommendation Gold Rush

User reviews, comments and lists have become ubiquitous on websites and search engines. So much so that they have become easy targets for spammers and trolls seeking to discredit a brand or just create havoc. If every site has a content recommendation widget, and those are packed with carefully selected positive comments, how do we extract any value from them? We have learned to take user comments with a grain of salt, but which ones are real? What do those 5 stars really mean next to the must-read blog posts or websites in someone's recommendation list? It really boils down to trust. If you trust the author and feel confident in his or her recommendations, that goes a long way toward earning a click. How this landscape develops over the next few years will shape the way we share and value customer feedback and recommendation lists as a core personalization strategy.

The Demise of Patience

This is a corollary of the Tyranny of Choice. Too many choices, too little time. If your content isn't top notch, in addition to being relevant, you risk losing your audience forever. In other words, content personalization is just a step in the direction of earning attention and engagement, but it isn't enough. You still have to publish high quality content on a consistent basis.

The Social Graph

The rule of thumb in digital marketing is to publish your content on all of the relevant channels relevant to your potential buyers. The problem is, each person's social media preferences, shared content and choice of followers/friends are different. Just because I'm a marketer doesn't mean everyone I follow or engage with is also a marketer. So, it makes no sense to tailor all of my personalized content exclusively to marketers. Even with more sophisticated algorithms tracking individual user experiences, it becomes difficult to use social media data as a determinant factor for content marketing. Without care, this entire strategy can backfire and cause a nasty backlash.

The Interest Graph

This is an emerging subset of the Social Graph. Which LinkedIn Groups and Google+ Circles and Hangouts do I participate in? Can we establish a prioritized list of my interests from those engagements, and, if so, can we use that list to tailor the content I see on a website or receive via email or other channels. Can we fold in other indicators of my interests, such as hash tags and keywords used in my posts and comments? The question is, how accurate are those behaviors in nailing my true interests, and is this also a high-risk strategy that may alienate visitors?

The Current Players

Based on these disruption vectors, GigaOM goes on to list and rank the current best-known vendors in the content personalization space:

  1. Gravity
  2. DemandBase
  3. TruCentric
  4. BloomReach
  5. Rovi
  6. OutBrain

I'll admit, we currently don't have any experience with these platforms, but we are researching them to find solutions for our enterprise inbound marketing customers. There are other major players on the horizon, and there will probably be a lot of consolidation in the coming months. We look forward to hearing from you about your experiences and strategies with content personalization. This is one of the most exciting (and challenging) frontiers in digital marketing today, and the way things go, it may become mainstream in a matter of months.

Photo credit: by Guerrilla Futures, Jason Tester


john mctigue blog photoWith over 30 years of business and marketing experience, John loves to blog about ideas and trends that challenge inbound marketers and sales and marketing executives. John has a unique way of blending truth with sarcasm and passion with wit. Connect with John via TwitterLinkedIn or Google Plus.


Personalized Content: Generate More Revenue with a Dynamic Web Experience
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The Author

John McTigue

With over 30 years of business and marketing experience, John loves to blog about ideas and trends that challenge inbound marketers and sales and marketing executives. John has a unique way of blending truth with sarcasm and passion with wit. You can connect with John via LinkedIn, Twitter and Google Plus.
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