According to the “Online Personal Experience” study by Janrain, 74% of online consumers get frustrated with websites when ads, promotions, and other content appears that is unrelated to their interests. With numbers such as this, it is imperative that you get it right. When choosing a CMS, Oliver Jaeger, VP of global marketing and communications for e-Spirit, a software company based in Germany, notes it is important to first determine what you are looking to accomplish with such a system.

“What I think is important when I look at personalization is [to ask yourself] what do you want to provide people,” says Jaeger. What kind of information do you want to provide? Which channel do you want to provide it on? When and to whom will you be delivering the information?

Jaeger believes a hybrid approach that involves predictive analysis and self-segmentation is the best way to go when it comes to getting personalization right. “What I usually prefer is a combination of both … so I can click on what I want to see, but then I get sports stuff selected, for example, based on the predictions of what somebody like me would like to look at or what I have bought before,” says Jaeger. “I think that the combination of both is maybe the best result.”

Predictive analysis calculates what people might like to see when they get to a website based on statistics-think Amazon. With respect to self-segmentation, a person proactively selects, for example, who he is (i.e., a marketing manager from the financial industry), and he gets information presented to him based on that information. “In both cases, people get to see what they are, hopefully, interested in so they get engaged with your brand/offering,” says Jaeger. “They don’t have to find what they need; they get it delivered.”

Jaeger stresses that you want to avoid irrelevant personalized content “because what you don’t want to do is annoy people with stuff that is not relevant,” says Jaeger. “The content you are providing needs to be relevant; it needs to be something people want to read.”

Jaeger, not surprisingly, stresses that content producers need a CMS to manage all of the different types of content they have, and he also underscores the importance of integrating other technologies-such as customer relationship management (CRM) tools-when working on improving personalization, which helps to create a platform that creates an “outstanding customer experience.” According to Jaeger, there are many technologies that might make sense to integrate such as your own existing systems (CRM, media asset management, and email marketing), but also external solutions such as Google communities, social media, analytics, or SEO tools.


Even when you think you know what your customer wants, if you don’t take the entire context into account, it’s easy to make a big personalization mistake-and miss an opportunity to make money. For instance, take Jaeger’s example centered around online Christmas shopping. Say a woman searches for a snow blower on a retailer’s website before Christmas and eventually buys it as a gift for her husband. Then, when she visits the store in June, she receives mobile ads for snow blowers. In this case, the advertiser is acting on outdated information and failing to take other contextual factors into consideration.

According to the Janrain study, 50% of respondents said they would leave a site if they were shown a recommendation to buy underwear that is for the opposite sex-a clear sign consumers want relevant content-but many advertisers and content providers continue to fail to put all the puzzle pieces together. As USA TODAY puts it, everything we do online “leaves cyber footprints that are rapidly becoming fodder for research without you ever realizing it,” and social media content’s use in academic research is “accelerating and raising ethical concerns along the way, as vast amounts of information collected by private companies-including Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter-are giving new insight into all aspects of everyday life.”

While content producers may not want to reveal everything they know about those “footprints,” Jaeger stresses that being up front about what you’re doing with the information you collect can be helpful for customer relations. “We, most often, voluntarily agree to cookies and other methods of supplying our personal data, and most readers know what they’re subscribing to by doing so,” Guseva says. “Personalization done right works in favor of both the publisher and the reader-if it’s done elegantly and provides value.”

Bloomstein agrees that transparency is key when it comes to personalized content, as it can provide peace of mind for the web surfer. “Some websites offer content that is personalized with instructional copy or sidebar messaging that says, ‘Why am I seeing this?’ Or ‘Tell me more about this,'” says Bloomstein. “Certainly, there are a lot of ad networks now that let you know why you are seeing certain ads, and it is because of the profile they have built up on you.”

Val Swisher, founder and CEO of the Los Gatos, Calif.-based Content Rules, stresses that, when done well, personalized content “makes a lot of sense.” She continues, “It is a matter of the right content, understanding your audience, and presenting that information at a logical time.”

Swisher points to the online home store Wayfair as a brand that she feels has mastered personalized content-and notes it has made a lasting impression on her and could have an effect on future purchases she makes. “Their ad keeps coming up at just the right moment for me,” she explains. “It is so appropriate when they do pop up; I just think to myself, ‘Wow, that is the right ad at the right time.’ They tend to appear when I have just looked at something in that home decorating arena; they aren’t out of the blue.”

Swisher sees that as a sign Wayfair is paying attention-and it made a good impression on her. “It didn’t come up when I was looking at cheesecake; it didn’t come up when I was looking at shoes,” she observes. “It came up when I was looking at a decorating site, and it sticks in my mind because I have never actually bought anything from them, yet they made their presence known to me because they have appropriately given me personalized content.” And, in the future, Swisher says she will remember that excellent experience: “At the moment, I’m not looking to buy an ottoman, but next time I am, I will go back to them.”


Ultimately, Bloomstein says there is a trade-off when it comes to personalized content. “I will give you some information in exchange for you giving me more customized content and that’s nice-sometimes, it’s a good balance where I don’t feel I have to wade through a lot of general information because you remember my last session,” she says.

A survey of marketers conducted by Adobe and the Direct Marketing Association found that 60% of marketers report that they are still struggling to personalize content in real time-and yet, 77% believe this ability is crucial. As those kinks get worked out, Bloomstein notes that “things that are creepy now won’t be in 5 years.” She adds, “There are things people are comfortable with now, but 5 years ago they would have needed a broader explanation.”

To put things in perspective, Bloomstein points to a real-world example of “customized content” that would likely not scare the average consumer. “When you get coffee at the same place every day and the barista remembers your order, you don’t say, ‘Oh my goodness, are you a stalker?’ No, they know my order, so I am going to reward them by going back there,” she explains. Bloomstein feels that same attitude can be transferred to websites as people continue to grow more comfortable with the level of knowledge sites have about them.

“Things like Foursquare that make recommendations based on who your friends are, where they go, or your past check-in history-those are things where we are opting-in to-saying, ‘Yes, I am giving you this information about where I go and how frequently I go and who my friends are, because in exchange, I want you to give me customized content.'”

Personalization is now par for the course on the web. While some less-savvy users may be disturbed or surprised by the information you collect about them, chances are that your customers want a certain level of personalization and expect that-in return for their privacy-you will deliver an exceptional experience. Anything less will turn off your customers and possibly lose you revenue.