Updated: Oct 10, 2022
We’re going to let you in on a little secret. The key to delivering personalized content experiences at scale is standardization.
That's right. Standardization enables personalization, and we call this truth the "Personalization Paradox."
The Personalization Paradox
When we think of personalization, we often think of unique content created and delivered for a unique individual. But creating content this way isn't scalable. The only way to deliver personalization at scale is to automate content delivery. And for that to work, you've got to change how you "do" content.
With standards, your systems can find the right content at the right time. With standards, your content can mix and match seamlessly, in whatever order your customer encounters it.
Your customer might not even realize that they've received "a personalized experience" – but they know they got the information that they needed, when and how they needed it.
Conversely, the lack of documented and enforced standards can show up in your content and negatively affect the customer experience in many ways:
Degradation of brand
Increased translation costs
Without standards, any attempt to deliver a personalized experience will fail.
What Is Content Standardization?
Content standardization is the art of creating content that follows a shared set of rules and guidelines.
Creative people often have an intense reaction to the word standardization. The term connotes a realm of grey, rectangular, dull, non-creative content and triggers feelings of confinement and resistance.
On the one hand, standards indeed impact creativity. But business writing is not about creating poetry or inventing an entirely new way to quantify the universe. Business writing is about producing compelling content that serves business needs and provides a personalized experience for customers at scale.
On the other hand, standards take the place of repetitive decision-making, re-inventing the wheel, and redesigning from the ground up every single time. Standards provide the measurements, blueprints, and principles that allow creative people to build personalized content experiences much more quickly than starting over from scratch every time.
The Five Dimensions of Standardization
The main reason for standardizing content is to facilitate content reuse, which is the secret to personalizing content experiences at scale.
You can only reuse content seamlessly if it complies with your standard. Differences in terminology, style, voice, and even component structure can disrupt the customer experience without standards. Considering that customers mostly turn to technical documentation when they experience a disruption — either they are learning something new or having trouble with something — you'll understand why it's imperative to provide them with a smooth experience.
To personalize successfully, you must standardize all five dimensions of your content:
Output Types – Output types provide blueprints for assembling content for delivery.
Components – Components are independent units of content that can be combined with other components and reused wherever needed.
Paragraphs - Paragraph standards define the voice and tone of your content.
Sentences - Grammar and style rules govern how words are combined and ensure harmony across multiple writers.
Words – Consistent terminology increases reader comprehension, builds your brand, and improves content findability.
Why Is Personalization So Hard?
The number one reason companies fail at personalization is that they do not standardize their content first.
They think only about the end result -- the published content -- and spend massive amounts of money, time, and energy attempting to match that content to the right customer at the right time.
To deliver personalized experiences at scale, you must standardize your content, and there's no way around it.
And that's why we've written our latest book, The Personalization Paradox: Why Companies Fail (and How to Succeed) at Delivering Personalized Experiences at Scale (XML Press). By focusing on standardizing content, we show you how to create content effectively to deliver personalized experiences at scale.
In this book, we show you exactly what it takes to deliver personalized experiences at scale. You’ll learn:
Why personalized content is imperative to the enterprise
Why so many companies fail to deliver – and how to avoid the pitfalls
The five dimensions of content standardization
How to bring people, technology, and process together
The impact of big data and artificial intelligence