CT No. 1: Let's Get Personalized.

Don't patronize bunny rabbits or your readers.

Welcome to the inaugural issue of The Content Technologist! I’m truly, truly stoked that you are here.

Each week I’ll review one tool that helps creators develop, maintain, optimize, publish or promote content digitally. I’ll also write and link &c. because it is in my blood to write things and distribute them online. I feel a wave of relief every time I press “send.”

You probably do as well. Most likely you’re a content creator, a marketer, a developer or business leader with an interest in digital content innovation. And, hey: you’ve got this. You’re here. Huzzah! Let’s get to talking tech.

Personalize to the Me You Want to See in the World

In the varied and sundry B2B surveys about marketing tactics, more than half of marketers say they are using personalization, which feels wildly inflated considering most marketers don’t have a unified idea of what personalization is.

I’m not talking about ad targeting, when personalization relies on 3rd party “big data” and is generally contextual rather than truly personalized (if you want to talk semantics, hit the comments). Ecommerce is also excluded; product recommendations are a whole ’nother ball game. But for organic 1st party content distribution based on owned data, common personalization examples include, from most to least frequent:

  1. Inserting a name or, at best, job title in an email through basic database segmentation;

  2. Serving location-based promotions, which are not particularly personal;

  3. Serving demographic-based offers, which is mindnumbingly problematic;

  4. Distributing related content through basic segmentation such as “once you clicked on a story about food; here are more food stories.” (This is why I only see restaurant news from my local newspaper and not the more nuanced local reporting I’m interested in and, well, ultimately choose another local news source.)

Whether the four above rely on human-defined segments or determined by predictive machine learning from a large-ish 1st party (owned) data set, they’re wildly biased and rarely feel particularly personal to the user. For example, I am not a huge fan of My Chemical Romance, but for some reason one of my personalization engines wants to serve me every bit of gossip about the former members of My Chemical Romance ever because I searched for the video of one their songs at some pivotal time that now will define my search results forever.

I am large, I contain multitudes, I’m a Sleater-Kinney fan, and look: it’s unlikely that your database is ever going to figure me out. Unless you’re Spotify. Or Netflix. Or, on a smaller scale, Co–Star. So I mean… it can be done. But take baby steps.

The 5 Rules of Content Personalization in 2019

The best writing advice I’ve been given is: write what you want to read. It’s the same with personalized marketing: Personalize how you’d like to receive your personalization. Names and locations can be cute, but they’re the equivalent of small talk. If you’re going to personalize, do it right.

  1. Ask me questions so I know what data you’re collecting. I am happy to provide relevant information as long as you’re paying attention to your privacy policy. (I know we need to have a long discussion about ethical privacy standards in marketing, but we’re going for Idyllic Personalization here.)

  2. Read the room. Know how frequently I engage with your content or whether I’m a subscriber. Use personalization to improve my user experience.

  3. Give me the benefit of the doubt. Assume that I am consuming your content with positive intent, a full schedule, and a nuanced mind.

  4. Keep the conversation going. Asking a new question each time I visit your site or open an email actually makes it more interesting for users!

  5. Don’t box me in. Show me personalized content first, but make everything available so I can find it.

Mostly I want your website to remember that I have already signed up for your newsletter and yes, I visit every day so I don’t need that pop-up or those emails (aiming my stink-eye at Pitchfork and The New Yorker and every other Condé Nast publication).

Which brings me to this week’s review of RightMessage, a tool that can help you personalize your content and improve your customer experience.


Start Personalization Here: RightMessage

Marketers and publishers need to gather data from our websites, but it’s best if we don’t anger our users because we’ve repeatedly asked the same question. RightMessage is an on-site personalization and messaging tool that helps customize your calls-to-action and pop-ups based on your user’s previous actions. 

So, for example, someone who has already checked that they subscribed to The Content Technologist won’t get sign-up messaging again unless they crumble their cookies and start over. For users who have already subscribed, I ask them one additional question each time they visit my website, building opt-in segments for the most interested users.

RightMessage at a glance

To keep reviews digestible, The Content Technologist uses an icon-based review system. Find the full legend here.

RightMessage laser-focuses on doing one thing really well: customizing messaging for users who are already in your system without a login and sending their data entry to your database. Using the tool is:

  • relatively intuitive

  • but not completely idiot-proof

  • supported by some light training materials (with a paid certification available)

  • without much training, still far easier to implement than Google Optimize or Optimizely or any other on-page personalization

  • much less expensive than enterprise personalization software 

And it introduces non-creepy personalization! As a user, I can stop providing data and close the popup whenever I want, but I’m not getting some ad nauseum broken record screaming SUBSCRIBE if I have already done so.

  • Pricing is based on the amount of users served messaging each month, so the more traffic you get, the more expensive RightMessage will be.

  • New developments center on expanding placements of CTAs/messaging and improving integrations.

  • The tool provides very light analytics and trend graphs but no data exports.

  • You’ll want to have your cookie-permissions on. No telling what happens to RightMessage in the post-cookie era.

  • I reviewed the out-of-the-box version; there is a more customizable Enterprise version available.

So if you’re looking to dip your toes into agile personalization, I’d start with RightMessage. Its low barrier to entry enables learning about your users while providing value to them in return.

Note: I contacted RightMessage but did not receive any user referrals for this review. Their testimonials are good (and they always are!) and my free trial experience was very positive. However, I typically prefer to talk with long-term users before making a full recommendation, so if you’re a RightMessage user, I’d love to hear about your experience directly!

It’s not a newsletter if I don’t link to news.

A few initial housekeeping notes:

  • I’ve demoed more than 40 tools since May, and plenty more at my recent agency positions. At this point, if I’m reviewing a tool, it’s an endorsement. There is too much good tech out there to bother wasting words on tools where I don’t see promise.

  • I’m approaching my reviews as a journalist, so at the moment I don’t take affiliate commissions or join reseller programs. I want to remain as impartial as possible for as long as I am financially able.

  • My primary income comes from consulting projects. So, if you’re on a team that’s considering a new content technology, or wants to get more from their tech stack, please reach out. I’d love to work with you.

  • If you want me to review a product — especially if you’re a user who just LOVES a piece of software — drop me a line. I’ll check it out.

  • Privacy notes: As with most (all?) email newsletter software, Substack reports on which individual users click into each email. However, I’m not into surveillance and frankly don’t have the time or care to monitor whether you personally have been reading, and I’m not intending to review any analytics besides aggregate open rates and link click rates.

  • Don’t be a tool. Not only here but everywhere. It’s really hard to type the phrase “a tool” every week when talking software without thinking of… y’know… tools. If you’re a person, don’t be a tool.

  • Twin Cities content folks! There are a handful of tickets left for the Content Innovators Happy Hour on August 5. This first event will fairly intimate, but I’m hoping to have more in the future.

  • Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed the newsletter, please tell a friend or a colleague.


Free strategic advice for the week

For your 2020 planning, practice content mindfulness. Centralize your efforts on your owned assets and data. Your competitors are a distraction. So are your audience’s actions when they’re not with you. You’ll succeed when you plan for your customer when they are with you. Not anyone else.