Features November/December 2020

Quick Lesson: The Key to Delivering Personalized Content Experiences at Scale

By Val Swisher and Regina Lynn Preciado


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. We call this truth the “Personalization Paradox.”

The Personalization Paradox

Often, when we first think of personalization, we think of unique content created and delivered for a unique individual, but creating content this way does not scale.

The only way to deliver personalization at scale is to automate content delivery. 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 be mixed and matched seamlessly, in whatever order your customer encounters it.

Your customer might not even realize that they’ve received a personalized experience, but they’ll know they got what 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:

  • Increased confusion
  • Mismatched assets
  • Decreased quality
  • Degraded brand
  • Increased translation costs
  • Increased time-to-market

Without standards, any attempt to deliver a personalized experience is doomed to 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 a strong reaction to the word standardization. The term connotes a realm of gray, rectangular, dull, and noncreative content. It triggers feelings of confinement and resistance.

Standards indeed affect creativity, but business writing is not about creating poetry or inventing an entirely new way to quantify the universe. Business writing is about producing useful 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, reinventing 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. Content reuse is the secret to personalizing content experiences at scale.

Seamless content reuse is only possible when you standardize everything. Without standards, differences in terminology, style, voice, and even component structure can disrupt the customer experience. Generally speaking, consumers turn to technical documentation when they experience a disruption. They may need to learn something new about your product or overcome difficulties that prevent them from using your product. That’s why providing them with the smoothest content experience possible is especially important.

To personalize successfully, you must standardize these 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 where 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 Do Personalization Efforts Fail?

The number one reason companies fail at personalization is that they do not standardize their content first. They think only about the 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 succeed at delivering personalized experiences at scale, you have to standardize your content. 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. In it, we show you how to create personalized content experiences at scale.

VAL SWISHER is the Founder and CEO of Content Rules, Inc. REGINA LYNN PRECIADO is a Senior Content Strategist with Content Rules, Inc. They enjoy helping companies solve complex content problems.



Swisher, Val, and Regina Lynn Preciado. 2020. The Personalization Paradox: Why Companies Fail (and How to Succeed) at Delivering Personalized Experiences at Scale. Laguna Hills, CA: XML Press.