Wrapped Around the Axle of Personalization? Extract yourself.

Avoid the trap of putting your cart before the horse. Focus instead on creating the relevant, rather than the personalized.

Content personalization: it's a hot content marketing item considered by many B2B marketers to be their top priority.

According to the Content Marketing Institute's whitepaper, 2016 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends Research, the following percentages of marketers see content personalization as part of their top 5 priorities this year:

  • 20 percent and 29 percent of B2B and B2C marketers in North America, respectively
  • 27 percent of nonprofit organizations in North America
  • 25 percent of for-profit organizations in Australia
  • 20 percent of for-profit organizations in the United Kingdom

In another white paper, Chief Strategy Advisor of the Content Marketing Institute Robert Rose writes, "Marketers are making the delivery of data-driven, relevant content experiences across new and existing digital channels their biggest priority."

In the associated webinar, Rose adds “Marketing has gotten wrapped around the axle of personalization and the thing with personalized content is — it's rarely personal.”

The case for and against one-to-one personalization

  • It certainly  makes sense to target content at specific people in your audience, factoring in:
  • Who they are
  • Where they are from
  • When they see your content
  • Why they are interested in your content
  • How they consume it and on what kind of device

By doing this, you can produce strategically targeted content for a wide variety of individuals likely to be potential customers.

Yet even if more than 90 percent of B2B organizations try their hand at audience segmentation, this doesn't necessarily mean it's what you need.

In the same white paper, Robert Rose also adds, "For marketers, there is probably no bigger challenge than using data to deliver more contextual or personally relevant content to their target consumer."

While most personalization efforts do help with conversion rates for B2B marketers, these efforts just open the door for conversation. Until you have enough data, you can only do so much to meaningfully personalize. However, delivering relevant content based on buyer personas allow you to continue the conversation while you collect enough data to become increasingly tailored.

"Persona-ize" instead of personalize

The debate over personas vs. personalization is by no means new, and usually comes up whenever someone mentions the idea of using data to categorize audiences into specific segments. Audience segmentation is an easy strategy to understand. The more specific your content, the more likely it is to resonate with the right people. But while content assets should always be targeted at the right people, the challenge with one-to-one personalization is the sheer difficulty of tailoring different content assets for thousands of "audiences of one." And don't forget, you need to support the customer experience by creating enough individualized content for everyone.

Such a hyper-focused approach can be overwhelming, and the more personal your content experience becomes, the more likely it will alienate the larger part of your audience who may not 'get it' because it's simply not relevant in that way to them. Additionally, highly personalized content is usually less shareable, severely crippling its viral potential.

The more viable alternative is to target your audience at the lowest level of personalization, which you can do by creating personas. This lets you create content that's more relevant than personal—but feels personal because it's relevant.

Instead of focusing on a specific person, focus on people with similar attributes that make them your ideal buyers. Although no two people are exactly alike, the things that make individuals similar are greater than those that make them unique. Personas let you target people who share concerns and interests, roles and responsibilities, and positions in the buying cycle.

As Stephen H. Yu points out in a write-up for Target Marketing, "Personas are more updatable, as they are much more agile than a clunky segmentation tool."


Admittedly, persona-driven content casts a wider net when reaching out to audiences. Still, you get to target your content assets at the right group of people, and more importantly, do it in a cost-efficient manner.

Avoid the trap of putting your cart before the horse. Focus instead on creating relevant content by targeting personas, rather than individuals to get your content personalization program off the ground. You won't be delivering one-to-one personalization, but you will be delivering something that feels personal, simply because it's relevant.