Delivering Personalized Experiences at Scale: The Three Kinds of Output Types
Guest blog post by Val Swisher, CEO, Content Rules
An “output type” is the assembly of content that you deliver to customers. In the olden days, output types included books, pamphlets, and scrolls. Today, we have all kinds of print and digital output types to share with our customers — solution briefs, product web pages, equipment manuals, user help, eLearning modules, and knowledgebase articles are just a few.
Standardizing output types means that every deliverable of the same output type includes the same type of content in the same order. The content itself will be different. An equipment manual for a dishwasher won’t have the exact same content as an equipment manual for a refrigerator. But both equipment manuals will still include all of their required pieces, such as safety warnings, installation instructions, and customer service contact info.
In the case of personalized content, an output type is how you define the content that your content delivery system can choose from when matching the content to the customer.
Think of an output type as being like the floor plan for a house. It’s the invisible structure that creates consistency and usability for the customer. The customer may walk in through the front door or start from the back deck, but either way, they can experience the same house (or parts of the house) in the way that best works for them.
From Static Delivery to Dynamic Delivery
There are three kinds of output types you need to consider when creating output type standards:
Static Output Types
Static outputs are what the old guard is accustomed to. Static outputs use the traditional print-publishing model that goes back centuries. Content is created, assembled, and published. The published result is the same for all customers.
Static outputs still have their place, even in a world of personalization at scale. For example, it will be a long time before the world’s regulatory bodies allow pharmaceutical companies to deliver product labeling in an entirely digital platform, in a personalized, dynamic way. Until then, pharmaceutical companies must print all the required information in the required order. Every customer who gets a box of the medicine also gets the printed label, which contains the same content in the same order as every other customer. There’s no difference in the content for a new customer who has an extensive medical background, a new customer with no medical experience, or a customer who has already used the medication for years.
Static output types need to be standardized for these reasons:
Standards allow content to be reused
Separating content from its format allows for multi-channel publishing from a single source of truth
Content is created, reviewed, published, and retired in the most efficient way
Most importantly, you can provide a better customer experience when your content is consistent across all output types, whether static, curated, or personalized.
Curated Output Types
Curated output types add a layer of tagging and filtering to static output types in order to produce slightly different variations from the same source content. A curated output provides a rudimentary level of personalized experience for the customer. However, it is not true personalization.
The difference between curated outputs and personalized experiences is that the authors are in full control of the curation. Customers do not control which piece of content they see. The delivery platform does not attempt to match individual components of content to the customer. The content of each variation is the same for every customer who accesses that variation.
We call this kind of output “curated” because the organization providing the content makes the decisions about which content to include for the customer. The customer is not involved.
Curated output types are created using variables, conditions, and publishing profiles. These functions are called different things in different content management systems, but here’s a quick overview of how they work.
Variables are placeholders that authors can insert instead of using specific words. When you publish the content, the variable is replaced by whichever words it was standing in for. Variables allow you to reuse content when only something small, such as a product name, needs to be replaced.
Conditions are filters that allow authors to specify whether to include or exclude content from the output when a certain condition is met. For example, you can specify to exclude the answer key from a student workbook and include the answer key in an instructor workbook.
Publishing profiles are instructions for the publishing engine that enable it to replace variables with text and apply the include/exclude conditions appropriately.
Dynamic Output Types
Dynamic output types are where personalization happens. Dynamic outputs shift some of the curation process from the publisher to the customer. Instead of the organization making all decisions about what to include in which output, the customer plays a role on what content they see and in what order they see it. The customer may not be aware that they are helping curate their own journey through the content. What they do notice is that the content they see is relevant to them.
Dynamic outputs require a much more sophisticated layer of tagging, automation, and filtering to match content to customers.
For dynamic output types to work, the following must be true:
Content is structured
Content metadata is consistent
Output type is consistent
Customer data is available
Rules are developed, to match content to customer
The dynamic output type is relatively new on the publishing scene. It takes several things coming together to make it successful, which is why so many organizations struggle when they first start trying to personalize.
But if you can commit to doing the work up front — develop your standards and transform your content — your ability to deliver personalized experiences will pay off enormously.