Personalizing Content At Scale: Solutions to 3 Common Challenges

Now more than ever, organizations are feeling the pressure to not only deliver content quickly, but to also personalize it. Tailoring content to meet the needs and preferences of each individual audience is no longer a “nice to have” — it’s an expectation. 

Whether an organization is serving content to internal or external audiences, end-users expect content to be personalized and relevant to them, and meet their unique needs at the moment of need. 

What is “content personalization” anyway, and why is it so important?

Content personalization and personalized learning are strategies that focus on tailoring and customizing individual pieces of content for specific audiences in order to deliver the right content, to the right people, at the right time, and in the right language and format.

Not to be confused with adaptive learning or recommendation engines, which monitor a user’s history and suggest content and learning paths based on their individual progress or specific actions. 

According to eLearning Industry, 77% Of L&D Professionals Think Personalized Learning Is Vital To Employee Engagement and 94% Of Businesses Say Personalization Is Critical To Their Success.

When serving large volumes of content to diverse audiences, effective personalization is almost impossible – let alone sustainable – without the right strategy and tools in place.

"I prefer to learn by video."
"I want this content in Spanish."
healthcare worker on an ipad getting content in the time of need
"I just need a quick refresher."

Personalization certainly isn't a new concept, so why are organizations still struggling to do it effectively particularly at scale?

Personalizing content, or tailoring it to meet the needs of each individual audience served — is relatively easy to manage on a small scale. Different deliverables can reasonably be created for each audience if there are only a few audiences involved. But once new products are added, new regions and languages are served, or new content delivery channels come into play, and large volumes of content have to be served to many diverse audiences, effective personalization is almost impossible — let alone sustainable — without the right strategy and tools in place.

Organizations face three main challenges when striving to implement and sustain content personalization strategies at scale.

Challenge 1: Personalization Requires Reuse, Which Can Increase the Content Management Burden Exponentially

Personalization at scale hinges on the ability to reuse core content and easily customize the contextual content that surrounds it. Personalizing content to each audience requires tailoring messaging based on a variety of factors, such as language, region, job/role, product, experience level, device preference, and more. As a result, organizations end up creating dozens or even hundreds of versions of each core piece of content – either by starting from scratch each time or copying and pasting core content and customizing the rest.

At scale, this quickly becomes unmanageable, creating what we like to call The Content Explosion Problem.

Updating and maintaining each individual version of each unique piece of content quickly becomes unsustainable, resulting in inconsistencies and errors across content and frustration and inefficiency among content management team members. The Content Explosion Problem is a fundamental reason many personalization efforts fall short, and ultimately causes many organizations scale back or even abandon content personalization efforts.    


SOLUTION: Implementing sustainable reuse based on linking core content, not copying and pasting, with a tool like Xyleme’s Learning Content Management System, allows content management teams to make updates once to source content and push those changes -- automatically -- to each individual deliverable and iteration, dramatically reduces the maintenance burden associated with a global personalization strategy.  

Challenge 2: Personalization Requires a Flexible Content Strategy, But Most Traditional Content Creation Tools Aren’t Flexible

Personalization at scale simply doesn’t work without a flexible content strategy behind it.  

Our friend and content strategy guru Val Swisher at Content Rules explains it this way: “The only way to deliver personalized content at scale is to automate the process at the point of delivery. And for that to work, you’ve got to change how you ‘do’ content. Instead of creating (storing, managing, retiring) an entire information asset for a particular person or persona, you need to reuse components from a comprehensive library of chunked information. The content must be written, stored, managed, and retired using small format-free components that can be dynamically assembled, published, and delivered on the fly.” 

However, most traditional content development tools and processes actually hinder reuse by trapping content in completed documents and restrictive, proprietary formats, making it difficult to extract and reuse in different formats or configurations without starting from scratch. 

SOLUTION: Implementing a flexible content strategy and intelligent technology allows organizations to lay the foundation for streamlined reuse and efficient, effective personalization at scale that is truly sustainable over the long term. This hinges on separating content from presentation by realigning content development processes to focus on creating content in small, targeted chunks and storing them in a flexible XML format, then using responsive templates to layer on design and formatting elements based on the required output and deliverable types.


Challenge 3: Personalization Requires Delivering Content Where Users Want It – And the Formats & Locations Keep Expanding

Personalization requires the ability to deliver content in the ideal format and channel for each audience. This cannot be achieved if content is trapped in a single format or configuration.

With traditional off-the-shelf tools, such as Microsoft Word or PowerPoint, content is locked in a specific format making it impossible to adapt to other output types and delivery channels — from PDFs and ILT or VILT materials to web portals, embedded search widgets, and chat bots — without a significant amount of manual effort. 

And what happens when new technologies and delivery channels emerge? Organizations often find themselves starting from scratch to create content for new platforms, or avoid supporting those new platforms altogether for as long as possible. 


Keeping content centralized in a format that can flex and adapt is key to personalization.

SOLUTION: Creating and storing content in a flexible XML format, separated from presentation elements, makes it easy for organizations to repackage that content for different formats, and to be prepared to support new delivery channels as available technologies and user expectations continue to evolve. With the right technology in place, such as Xyleme's Content Delivery Service, organizations can streamline personalization and delivery of content anywhere their users need it – from ILT and VILT documents, to web portals, to chat bots, and everything in between – and keep it in sync, while ensuring that content is "future-proof" and readily deployable in new formats and delivery channels as they emerge.

Content personalization has become a requirement for the modern consumer, but most organizations struggle to effectively personalize content at scale. The maintenance burden associated with multiple variables tailored to individual audiences, the limited nature of most traditional content development tools, and the inability to deliver content consistently across a range of platforms and delivery channels are all significant challenges organizations face — but with the right strategy and technology tools in place, organizations can overcome them and implement a truly sustainable global personalization strategy. 

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