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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

The next step in engaging audiences: personalized news content delivery

November 18, 2020 | By Gino Palozzi, SVP Marketing, Sales & Marketing Solutions — Dun & Bradstreet @gpalozzi

Legacy news outlets have traditionally tried to be all things to all people. They’ve broadly served up content in a shotgun approach that has them competing in increasingly crowded spaces. Unfortunately, this had led to increasingly diminishing returns.

Especially considering the consolidation of ownership of newspaper chains and TV networks, many media websites serve the same stories. With little differentiation, there’s little incentive for audiences to choose one over the other.

The lesson that media outlets could learn from the marketing world is to offer greater personalization of experiences in serving up content. Personalization, backed by quality customer data, isn’t the future. It’s the now in a rapidly accelerating digital world.

Opportunities since Covid

Research has shown that online audiences have been voracious for content since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. News publishers have not only seen a rise in online audiences, but a rise in subscriptions – and less churn.

That doesn’t necessarily equate to increased revenue, though. Newspapers and magazines are still hemorrhaging dollars. However, an investment in transformative digital experiences could be the key to drive growth.

According to McKinsey, the digital transformation has only accelerated since the start of the pandemic. And it’s the companies ready for big strategic change that have the best chance at thriving.

What personalization could look like

Marketers use data and analytics to understand their buyers and buyer journeys and to personalize digital experiences to inspire brand loyalty. News media websites could be doing the same thing.

Many media websites are already asking users to create accounts to read stories, whether or not they’re behind paywalls. These sites ask users to subscribe to email newsletters about a wide range of topics like cooking, politics, sports, or news of the day. And along the way, they collect information about these users and their interests.

However, instead of asking users to sign up for a newsletter, media companies could use marketing tools and technology like intent data. This would provide them with information about a visitor. Then, with the right platform, it would allow AI-driven personalization using a content hub.

Users could see personalized homepages with content tailored to their interests. These would feature key spaces reserved for breaking and important news that would always be included.

Five tips for driving engagement

Some tips for putting a personalization strategy in place include:

  • Know your audience: This is where quality data is critical. You have to thoroughly understand who you’re targeting and what they care about for personalization to be effective.
  • Define clear objectives: Understand what you really want from personalization. Do you want to drive engagement with your content? Sell more ads? Make sure your goals are clear and measurable.
  • Have a data and privacy strategy: Know what kind of data you’ll be collecting, where you’ll be collecting it from, and how you’ll be using it about your visitors. Set rules about data use and privacy and communicate clear expectations to your visitors.
  • Don’t be overly creepy: There can be a temptation to over-personalize, but that can make your audience feel “watched” and drive them away. A good tactic can be to use their preferences to populate a content block with stories labeled something like “Other readers enjoy.” That gives them the targeted content they want to see without rotating to over-personalization.
  • Start small, see what works, scale fast: Know what metrics you’ll track so that you can quickly pivot.

Some tools for success

Personalization will be successful when based upon a thorough, data-driven understanding of the target audience. Again, media outlets can learn from techniques used by marketing and customer experience leaders to gain a deep understanding of how to engage with audiences.

  • Research-based journey maps can illuminate the touchpoints your audience has with your digital channels and how you can meet their needs at each stage of their journey.
  • High-quality data paired with a customer data platform can give you a 360-degree view of your customer, their behaviors, and their intent.
  • You can segment your audience, and track and measure their site visits, which will help define the success of personalization strategy.

However, most important to the success of a personalization strategy will be depth and breadth of content that is relevant to your audience’s needs and journey.

Stay on mission

News websites can adopt marketing techniques and methodologies for delivering and personalizing content. At the same time, they can remain true to their core mission of reporting and delivering the facts without bias.

Analytics can drive personalization of how stories might appear in something like a “suggested stories” widget. That said, they shouldn’t necessarily drive decisions about what stories get covered. The important news of the day remains the important news of the day. City council meetings still need to be covered. As the Washington Post eloquently describes on its masthead: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”

However, by better engaging audiences through personalization, media outlets may find an opportunity to capitalize on ongoing digital transformation and appetite for content that has accelerated during the pandemic. Those willing to make the investment in personalization have an opportunity to grow and thrive.


The information provided in articles are suggestions only and based on best practices. Dun & Bradstreet is not liable for the outcome or results of specific programs or tactics. Please contact an attorney or tax professional if you are in need of legal or tax advice. 

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