They share a common goal (to deliver content that reflects what the reader, viewer, or listener wants). But each technique approaches it differently.
Think of it this way.
Media companies such as Disney segment their TV audiences into groups with shared interests. The audience for The Disney Channel is different from the audience for ESPN, for example.
Streaming brands such as Netflix personalize their programming by recommending new shows based on what it knows about the viewing behavior of a person or household.
Your content marketing program may use personalization, segmentation, or both at different times for different reasons.
We asked some of the experts who are speaking at ContentTECH Summit next week for their take on the similarities, differences, and practical implications of each approach. Here are their (lightly edited) explanations and advice.
Segment during planning, personalize for delivery
I would gather segmentation data for planning your content calendar, narrowing the target, and understanding the complexities of the audience. Personalization entails using segmentation and other data to serve up contextually relevant content at delivery.
Without understanding audience segmentation, you won’t get personalization right. For example, Netflix uses machine learning algorithms to segment their customer bases, then personalizes the delivery of content by showing recommended content based on the idea that if you liked X, then you’ll probably like Y. The system believes you’ll like Y because people within the same segments as you also liked X and liked Y. – Megan Gilhooly, vice president customer experience, Zoomin Software
Use rules and tagging to avoid manual overload
Segmentation is something that happens when preparing marketing assets – the go-to-market approach, the various channels of distribution, and ultimately the destinations or experiences that you’re going to send the audience to.
The personalization element is really where that starts to come to life for the buyer. When that happens, you can introduce personalization in ways as simple as knowing their first name all the way down to delivering the content that someone’s looking for at that exact moment.
It’s tough to think about personalizing for every single buyer manually, one at a time. That’s why you need some segmentation rules. When you can apply those through content tags, you can start to think about matching everything together. – Randy Frisch, co-founder, chief marketing officer, and president, Uberflip
Invest in infrastructure to scale content reuse for efficient personalization
Personalizing content and scaling content marketing have the same issue – the need for more and more content to satisfy the ever-increasing desire for a customer’s attention. That solution is content reuse.
To reuse content effectively and efficiently, you must:
- Take long-form content and chunk it into small, nimble, reusable components that are free of format
- Create new content using small, nimble, reusable components free of format
- Develop components using best practices for writing for reuse
- Organize and tag your content so it is easy to find
- Build as many information assets as you need by mixing and matching your components
- Apply format to your information assets at the point of publishing
You also need an infrastructure that supports component-based authoring and single-sourcing. Reusing the same content for new and different deliverables saves time, money, and allows you to personalize content and scale at the same time. – Val Swisher, CEO, Content Rules
Employees are great personalizers
Personalization means you have to send real people marketing communications from other real people. Personalization is not some automated approach to pretend that you care about your prospects.
That is why we believe that employee activation is the future of marketing. Encourage your employees to get active on social, create content, share what they know, and connect with real people. That’s the only way to achieve personalization that works to attract the best employees and new customers to your business. – Michael Brenner, CEO, Marketing Insider Group
Personalization means sending real people information from other real people – that’s why employee activation is the future of marketing, says #ContentTECH speaker @BrennerMichael via @CMIContent @semrush. Click To Tweet
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Segment to resonate – and measure the impact
In a Contently study we just released, only 56% of marketers said that they created personalized content with specific audience personas in mind. This number is troublingly low. If you want to break through, you need to have a specific persona in mind when creating content.
You need to know your audience inside and out. Speak to their challenges, needs, and opportunities. And ideally, you should leverage a content marketing platform that allows you to tag each piece of content by persona, measure how well your content is performing against each target group, and optimize your program accordingly. – Joe Lazauskas, head of content strategy, Contently
Tag each piece of #content by persona, measure how well it performs against your target group, and optimize accordingly, says #ContentTECH speaker @JoeLazauskas via @CMIContent @semrush. Click To Tweet
Personalize for ABM success
A hyper-personalized strategy can be a game-changer for an account-based marketing program. The individual should feel like they are getting all the answers they need – almost like they have a personal shopper. They should feel like you are there for them in every part of their journey.
Companies need to watch out for heading down the dark creepy path, however. If they’re on your site and you haven’t spoken to them before, it’s not about showing them that you know who they are. It’s about listening to and leveraging the right signals and showing them personalized value. – Jeff Coyle, co-founder and chief strategy officer, MarketMuse
Go for dynamic personalization – but don’t make it too complex
Both personalization and segmentation shine when they are dynamic and responsive to the customer journey. Some static segmentation, such as creating and distributing content by persona, is worthwhile (especially if personas are robust and up to date). But, ultimately, real-time personalization based on customer behavior will be even more effective because it’s timely, individualized, and hyper-relevant to what the person is seeking at that moment.
A potential pitfall of both personalization and segmentation is the temptation to get overly complex. With seemingly endless ways to slice and dice audience data, content marketing initiatives can get hyper-personalized and muddy the waters in evaluating which personalization is most effective. It’s best to start simple and choose the most important one or two criteria on which to focus. – Ali Wert, director of inbound marketing, SmartBug Media
You need both
The biggest mistake for both personalization and segmentation is to not embark on either strategy. Brands are missing out on key customer insights and optimization if they’re not focused on personalizing or segmenting audiences (and scaling those efforts.)
Segmentation has value because it groups customers based on similar identifiable characteristics, such as demographic information or similar digital behavioral patterns. Brands can provide recommendations for “customers like you” while helping to improve marketing campaign performance. Segmentation enables brands to learn more about their audiences so that messages and outreach can be better tailored toward customer needs.
Personalization provides value in that it is making sure customers are receiving the most optimized and relevant experiences and messages for their individual needs. Personalization presents the right information for where a customer is in their specific journey with a brand and can help ensure their questions are being answered. Personalization also helps drive conversions, retains customers, and helps build trust between customers and brands. – Jill Grozalsky, product marketing director, Experience Platform, Sitecore
As Jill said, the key to success is to have a strategy for personalization and segmentation. Yes, your audience wants content that’s relevant to their individual needs. It’s also a smart practice to gather collective intelligence on groups within your audience.
Are segmentation and personalization part of your content marketing strategy? How are you approaching them? Please share in the comments.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute