The maturation path to personalized content, endless possibilities

Expanding on our Marketer’s Guide to Composable Content: Kala Elkinton, Content Strategy Director at VML, discusses the path to content personalization.
December 7, 2023


Marketers and other less technical users can feel left behind when organizations adopt content solutions that require developer-level skills to use. Fortunately, that’s changing with new solutions, like the Contentful Composable Content Platform, which give marketers access to powerful tools and features.

This post is part of a series that expands on the Marketer’s Guide to Composable Content. Kala Elkinton, Content Strategy Director at VML, explains how the maturation path to content personalization is a journey, not a destination. 

The other hot topic in content marketing

While Generative AI has become the hot topic in content marketing, there’s something that has been simmering on the back burner for several years  solidifying its role as a necessary player in the digital marketing ecosystem — personalized content. 

A Forrester report shows that 54% of U.S. online adults say personalization is an important part of loyalty, and half say they like having personalized customer experiences after purchasing a product or service.* Many organizations are striving to deliver personalized content for their consumers, but few slow down to examine the best path to get there. 

The same Forrester report shows that 71% of digital executives can anticipate the needs of their customers, but only 33% of U.S. online adults say that companies are creating relevant experiences for them. The size of this gap in personalization from the data to the customer is determined by your organization’s content maturation, which we’ll get into here in a moment. 

VML is the largest creative company in the world, with a global network of strategists, creatives, and technologists  across 64 markets. With the interconnectivity of brand experience, customer experience and commerce capabilities, VML supports associations, B2C, B2B, healthcare, and technology organizations through their digital transformations to develop data and human-driven content and campaigns that drive personalization and growth. 

Our clients often point to organizational silos, competing stakeholder priorities, and budget or bandwidth constraints for preventing them from telling more thoughtful, omnichannel personalized stories. A whopping 41% of global B2C decision-makers say that personalizing communications, experiences, and interactions is their biggest marketing challenge.* The key, as you’ll see here today, is to just get started where you are and to move forward.

Steps to personalization 

Scalable and data-driven content strategy 

It's natural to feel overwhelmed and not know where to start — you’re not alone! A human- and data-centered content strategy is the first step in creating a foundation for personalization. Your content strategy should strike the right balance between what your brand cares about and what your audience cares about. It should find where stories your organization wants to tell, stories that you’re currently telling, and stories that your audiences are interested in overlap. Defining audiences and their needs is critical to this human-centered strategy. By nailing down the content strategy first, your organization can then begin to structure content founded in your audience needs and ensure stakeholder alignment as we start to plan, create, publish, repurpose, and track composable content on the path to personalization. 

To determine where your organization is in content maturation, assess your current content strategy and production against these benchmarks: 

  • Reactive: Content is handled on an ad hoc basis, with little strategy to its planning, management, or measurement. 

  • Tactical: Multiple publishing processes exist, often in silos, without clear connections or coordination between channel plans. 

  • Integrated: There is shared clarity and consistent cross-channel planning that results in more cohesive, human-centered storytelling. 

  • Managed: Modular content design and management is powered by a headless CMS that enables efficient products, thoughtful distribution, and reuse. 

  • Personalized: You’ve achieved a well-oiled, connected experience ecosystem delivering personalized content across channels that proves ROI and gets smarter over time. 

Nearly every client we work with at VML initially struggles to break the “one and done” content cycle, meaning their marketing teams create one piece of content, one time, for one channel, and that’s where it stops, putting them in the tactical level of content maturation. When we work with clients in the beginning phases of content maturation, our recommended road map will always start with developing a foundational customer-centric and data-driven content strategy.

Once you’ve established where you’re starting from, you’ll be able to build a road map to personalization that feels achievable. 

Prioritize personalization efforts

Prioritization is key to not getting in over your head with personalization. Take a look at your digital ecosystem and determine where personalization would make the biggest impact for your primary target audience. Personalized content could be beneficial on your homepage, but if another page is working hard for you, and could be working harder, consider that as a starting point. Here are several other options to consider to help you prioritize your personalized customer experiences: 

  • Audience – Based on business objectives, is there an audience that needs to take priority over others? 

  • ROI – What levers can be pulled to help maximize your return on investment? Consider prioritizing those to show a bigger payoff for your efforts. 

  • Organizational readiness – Is there a segment of your organization that is more ready to dive into personalization efforts with you? It may help to work with the willing, in order to build your case to other segments. 

  • Channel – There is likely  a channel where personalization could be more impactful, or possibly low-hanging fruit for getting started. 

Processes drive consistency

A content governance model built to support your content strategy is the next step in ensuring your organization is set up for successful content modeling. Governance establishes the right editorial team to bring your content strategy to life — this team will be responsible for strategically establishing the composable components and content types that will ultimately drive endless possibilities in personalization. It’s pivotal that they’re a future-focused team, and that stakeholders are involved at the right moments to ensure efficiency and effectiveness of content activation. 

Speaking of stakeholders, this is the time to bring in business, design, and technical leads to ensure each expert weighs in on the processes, timelines, and requirements. Establishing all these pieces with the right players in the room will help your path to personalization move swiftly and efficiently. Once you’ve established your strategy, governance, and priorities, you’re ready to get started. 

Dive in 

Designing with accessibility in mind

A crucial consideration in developing structured content is accessibility. You need to make sure your content is accessible to everyone, regardless of their abilities. This means designing your content with accessibility in mind, using alt tags for images, using colors and sizes that are easy to scan, and providing transcripts for videos. But accessibility isn't just about making your content available to everyone. It's also about making it easy to find and understand. Keep this in mind as you begin to model your content to business and audience priorities. 

Use content modeling for personalized content  

Content modeling is the process of defining the types of content you have and how they relate to each other. This allows you to create a framework for your content that makes it easier to manage and reuse. This modeling creates structured content

For example, let's say you have a blog post about artificial intelligence. You might have different types of content within that post, such as tips, case studies, and statistics. By defining these types of content that will be in the blog post, and how they relate to each other, you can create a template for future posts that pulls in relevant data points or pieces of structured content based on what you know about your audience — that’s where tech like Contentful’s Composable Content Platform comes in. 

Composable content is critical in VML’s mission to create connected brands and deliver connected experiences that address the emotional and functional needs across the whole customer journey. It means we, with our clients, can seamlessly deliver flexible content to different audiences, at various points in their journey. 

Data is the key to seamless personalization

With your content modeled, you can start thinking about how to personalize it. The key to continuous personalization is data. You need to collect data on your audience's behavior, interests, and motivations and use that data to determine how your content would be relevant to them. Collecting the data, analyzing and delivering personalized content requires an artful combination of technology and strategy. 

Wrapping up

The maturation path to content personalization is a journey, not a destination. It requires a commitment to strategy, governance, accessibility, content modeling, and sometimes a steady partner like VML to guide your team through the mess. But the rewards are endless. By delivering personalized content, you can engage your audience on a deeper level and build lasting relationships.

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