Personalized content: Steps to success
More customers are demanding personalized content, and your organization needs a plan to deliver it. But where do you start? How do you assess where personalization should fit into your content lifecycle? How do you coordinate your efforts to ensure that personalization is consistent across the enterprise? This white paper explains what steps you can take to execute a successful personalization strategy.
What is personalization?
Personalization is the delivery of custom, curated information tailored to an individual user’s needs. Some of those needs might include:
- Owning a product or product line
- Requiring training on some aspects of product functionality
- Occupying a designated role (such as administrator, editor, author, etc.)
- Having a certain level of experience (such as beginner, intermediate, or expert)
- Living in a specific geographic location (categorized by country or region)
- Speaking a particular language, which may or may not be tied to location
When you personalize, instead of providing all customers with the same content, you provide individual customers with only the content they need based on these and other factors.
Personalized delivery methods
Personalized content can be delivered in the following ways:
- Author-controlled personalization: content creators develop subsets of the content intended for different segments of the audience
- User-controlled personalization: users filter the content to the subset they need by selecting facets that apply to them
- System-controlled personalization: a delivery platform automatically delivers the relevant content based on information contained in each user’s profile
Your company may choose one of these approaches or a combination depending on what your customers demand. In all cases, it helps to maintain the content in a semantically rich structure. This allows authors to tag the content according to the ways it should be divided and distributed to customers.
Content with author-controlled personalization can be delivered in both print-based and digital formats. Examples might include:
- Creating user-specific training modules from hand-picked sets of lessons
- Publishing a subset of chapters from a user manual as a custom document
- Tailoring presentations on what’s new in your products to each specific audience
Typically, author-controlled personalization is managed in one of the following ways:
- Authors sort out the relevant information from their entire body of content before delivering it to the user
- Authors create one set of common content (which is delivered to all users) and numerous smaller sets of content that are personalized for individuals or groups
With user-controlled personalization, your company hands over the controls to the customers. They can use checkboxes and dropdown menus to help them narrow down your content to the pieces they need. These facets can be used to personalize search results so that customers find the right information more quickly.
To support this functionality, user-controlled personalization requires digital delivery, such as a website, help system, or e-learning environment. The delivery platform must be set up with all the facets a customer might need to find the relevant content.
System-controlled personalization takes user-controlled personalization one step further: instead of requiring customers to narrow down the content manually, the delivery platform serves up custom content automatically based on information in each customer’s profile. All customers have to do is log in to access the personalized information they need.
Much like user-controlled personalization, system-controlled personalization also requires digital delivery, typically through a dynamic delivery portal. The portal must be equipped to store and manage user profiles and all the relevant demographics, product history, and other information needed for personalized delivery.
Why personalize your content?
Delivering personalized content can be a challenge, especially if you’ve never done so before. So what makes it worth the effort?
Personalization offers several benefits, including:
- Better findability. When customers search a set of personalized content, that means they’ll get personalized results. This will make it faster and easier for them to pinpoint the information they need.
- More satisfied customers. The easier it is to consume your content, the happier customers will be with the overall experience of using your product. For example, customers who can start by selecting which products they own will have an easier time using the content than those who have to pick through instructions like “If you have product A, do X; if you have product B, do Y.” Delivering content that isn’t personalized requires extra work from them to find what they need.
- Fewer support calls. Customers are more likely to remember what they read (or read your content at all!) when they don’t have to sift through irrelevant information. This reduces the volume of support calls your organization receives—and improves the quality of the questions that still come in.
- Contextually relevant content. Based on the support calls you do receive, personalization can help you develop more specific content for certain situations (for example, troubleshooting information). That content can then be used to create personalized FAQs and instructions to help your customers further.
All of these benefits can save your organization time and other costs. To determine whether it makes sense to pursue personalization, it’s important to assess those savings and estimate your return on investment.
Steps to personalization
Once you have decided to deliver personalized content, you need a plan to achieve that goal. A personalization strategy can help you navigate some of the most common challenges organizations face, such as a large volume of content or a lack of semantic tagging.
The following steps will set you up for successful personalization:
- Determine the needs
- Develop the roadmap
- Prepare the content
- Support the solution
Determine the needs
The first step in any good content strategy is assessing your current situation to determine what you need, and personalization is no different. Because personalization requires labels in your content to help sort it by different user requirements, a helpful place to start is by looking at the metadata and terminology your company uses. Do you already have a taxonomy in place, and if so, how can you leverage it for personalization?
Personalized content is designed to benefit your customers, so they will also be an important source of information for this part of your plan. Each content producing department should gather feedback and metrics from customers to help answer the following questions:
- How do your customers use your products (and their associated content)?
- What information are they required to know to perform a task using your products?
- Which products are they most likely to buy based on their past purchase history?
- What would make their experience better with using your products?
- How do they search for the information they need, and what challenges do they face in finding it?
If your organization hasn’t been collecting this type of customer information, it’s never too late to start. You don’t have to collect this data ahead of time—you can ask customers questions like “What is your experience level?” or “Would you like information on product A or B?” when they access your content. You may also be able to get some useful information from your support team, who can tell you what kinds of customer questions and complaints they receive most frequently.
Once you have a solid set of data, compare notes across departments. Do customers have a difficult time finding what they need in the user manuals? Would they respond better to more targeted marketing materials? Are there patterns in your metrics that show similarities among different groups? This analysis will show you where departments can coordinate on an approach to personalization.
Develop the roadmap
Once you’ve gathered your metrics and used that information to determine your needs, the next step is laying the groundwork by developing a roadmap. The roadmap is a document that captures the details of your personalization strategy and how you will put it in place.
Your personalization roadmap should include:
- A timeline with short-term and long-term goals
- A budget with resource requirements and return on investment
- An analysis of where personalization fits into the content lifecycle, including:
- Which content you plan to personalize
- What data you need to collect to do so
- How you will collect and manage that data
- How you will apply that data to the content
- A list of needed content development process changes
- A plan for personalization governance
Personalization is most effective when it’s a consistent and coordinated effort across the enterprise. Therefore, it’s important for departments to use their combined metrics from the previous step to inform the roadmap.
Prepare the content
Once you have your roadmap, the next part of the process is setting up your content for personalized delivery. If you’re already personalizing your content and need to make improvements, this step may not require much effort. However, if you’ve never developed personalized content before, you may require significant updates to the structure of your content and the processes you use to create it.
Some constructs you may need in your content to allow for personalization include:
- Metadata for different facets of personalization (product, user role, experience level, etc.)
- Scripts that can sort and filter your content based on the applied metadata
- A taxonomy that ensures your metadata is consistent across all content
In addition to these structural changes, your content may also require some reorganization to make personalization possible. For example, if a single deliverable contains content about multiple products, you will need to separate or label that information before you can deliver product-specific personalized content.
Once you’ve prepared your existing content, create a set of rules to future-proof your new content for personalization. How should content be grouped into different deliverables? What additional facets might you need over time as you personalize your content in new ways? Thinking about these questions ahead of time will help you avoid having to retrofit new content as your personalization strategy grows over time.
Support the solution
Your content may be ready for personalization, but there are several other areas where your organization will need to prepare. That’s why the last step in your strategy is to make sure you have everything you need to support the solution.
The types of support you will need include:
- Technological support. Once your content has the right structures for personalization in place, you’ll also need tools that facilitate filtering, packaging, and delivering it to your customers. Many structured content environments use a component content management system in conjunction with a dynamic delivery portal for personalization. If you’re employing system-controlled personalization, you will also need a way to store and manage the data associated with each user’s profile.
- Financial support. Adding new tools to your content workflow will cost money, so you’ll need support from your managers or executives to fund your personalization strategy. You’re more likely to get their buy-in if you can show them how personalization will benefit the company and estimate the return on investment.
- Resource support. In addition to funding, you’ll need to build in time to execute your personalization strategy. You may need to invest in additional personnel to help your writers with restructuring and reorganizing your content for personalization. It’s also crucial to train your content creators on any new processes related to personalization.
Do you need to start delivering personalized content to your customers? Are you already personalizing but looking to improve your processes? Contact Scriptorium to discuss how we can help with your personalization strategy.