The Promise of Content Personalization: Best Practices and Cautionary Tales

July 7th, 2020 | Sean Stanleigh, Head of Globe Content Studio, The Globe and Mail

Complex customer data networkLet’s start with the bad news. According to a survey by McKinsey & Co., very few businesses are satisfied with their marketing efforts around personalization, which involves applying data and artificial intelligence on individual users to deliver them relevant offers and information.

The good news is that there’s lots of room for improvement, and therefore plenty of opportunity.

The proof comes from two hugely successful companies that have achieved unsurpassed scale through content personalization: Amazon and Netflix.

Amazon personalizes user home pages and makes individual product recommendations based on how people search and purchase. Netflix had a hard time keeping people engaged on its platform until it started providing them with automated options based on what they had previously watched.

How is this relevant to the average marketer? Consider the typical user experience. They might notice run-of-site ads that rarely engage. They receive generic email blasts. They visit dense websites that make quests for relevant information a chore. And the personalized advertising they do come across is often irrelevant (think fridge ads that retarget you for months after you’ve already bought a fridge).

Here are a few starting points for marketers looking for meaningful ways to get into the content personalization game:

Customer data platform (CDP) software

There are a number of providers but they generally combine predictive modelling with real-time data to determine how individuals and organizations are interacting with your business. Multiple sources, applications and channels can be consolidated to paint a complete picture.

Data collected can include:

  1. Identity: Who they are, where they live
  2. Descriptive: Job, family, lifestyle
  3. Behavioural: Transactions, online activity
  4. Qualitative: Motivations and opinions

The more data collected, the better. Robust individual profiles can also be bundled into audience segments that lead to more knowledge about the overall client base and improved decision making.

But ultimately it’s about providing tailor-made services to keep customers engaged with your business and spending more dollars because they’re getting the right messages at the right times.

Give interactive content a try

Email capture is a core component to personalization efforts. Creating experiences through interactive content such as maps, tools or quizzes provide value to audiences in exchange for their contact details. Plus you get the added benefit of learning more about them if, say, they need to submit personal data such as the city they live in, their household income, or the types of pets they own.


  • What is your budget and what resources are available? Do you have capable marketing, IT and data-science teams?
  • Do you have any sense of current audience preferences?
  • What can you test-and-try, based on efforts so far, if any?
  • What are your KPIs?
  • Do you have proper privacy policies in place?

In an ideal consumer world, content personalization targets individual users with consistently relevant information based on past behaviour. It’s a win for you, and for them.

When your audience is consistently thinking, “I want this,” you’ll know you’ve arrived.


Sean Stanleigh is head of Globe Content Studio, the content-marketing division of The Globe and Mail. Follow him on Twitter at @seanstanleigh or on Instagram @sstanleigh