Big data. Content. Growth hacking. Pivot. Engagement. A few words and phrases that make us want to stick a fork in our eye each time we hear them. Or stick a fork in the eye of the person using the words.
We all hate buzzwords, but it’s hard to get away from them. A phrase sticks and soon a parade that rivals Macy’s is trailing behind it. That popularity begets even more popularity, and, well after the phrase has worn out its original meaning, everyone is using the damn word.
Thing is: behind each buzzword is a meaningful truth. And quite possibly, a trend worth joining. For instance, anyone who jumped on the big data or content bandwagon did not miss out. In fact, they were rewarded.
And I’m going to make a similar statement about the buzzword for 2015: adaptive content. Pay attention.
Adaptive content 101
Some of you might recall the phrase “adaptive content” from the last episode of The Lede podcast. And some of you might recall the difficulty we had defining the phrase. The definitions we shared span a spectrum of ideas.
This is a concept we use here at Copyblogger, and we’ve talked about this before with the asset pillar, especially with infographics. That definition is useful, but it’s just a start.
Dig further into the research (what little of it there is) and you’ll probably think to yourself: “This is nothing more than sophisticated personalization.” You know, the email newsletter you get every day that begins, “Dear [your first name]” or Amazon’s recommendation engine.
While this is true about adaptive content, these examples are all rule-based. We tell our machines, “Okay, if he does X followed by Y, then we think he’ll appreciate Z.” Marketers and search engines both want to guess the user intent.
Very primitive. Very clunky. We should be able to do better.
Our hope with adaptive content is to tailor content to a customer’s experience, behavior, and desires. Like a custom-built mold.
In essence, adaptive content is a culmination of everything we’ve been talking about — experience maps, storyboarding, empathy maps — and what we’ve been saying for so long about creating an experience.
Adaptive content merges all these disciplines under one roof.
It’s almost like choosing your own adventure
I’ve got two examples for you. Let’s start with a simple one.
Mars Cyrillo, product and marketing VP at CI&T, pointed to the experience of buying an airline ticket. Normally we’ll go directly to the airline’s website, find the best flight, and then go to Expedia to buy the ticket.
Instead, Mars explains, adaptive content would be American Airlines recognizing that people behave this way, and then delivering an incentive or specific content that would keep visitors on their site.
This could be as routine as a pop-up offering car rentals or hotel rooms at a reduced rate exclusive to the American Airlines website. It just depends on how much American Airlines knows about its customers.
Noz Urbina wrote about another great example on Content Marketing Institute. He describes a wine-tasting adventure with his partner where the winery provided tablets at the table during the event, but that was it.
Fun, but pointless.
For starters, Noz said they could have:
- Allowed check-ins by social media (which should’ve been a no-brainer).
- Displayed a personalized welcome screen.
- Suggested wine lists and accompaniments like cheeses or crackers.
- Adapted the micro-copy and tone of the website based on his visit.
But the winery missed the mark, especially this mind-blowing opportunity:
What they should have done was display a personal welcome screen on the tablet that they gave, and allowed people to add items to the shopping cart that would then add to their final bill so that when they went to the cash register, they paid for what they drank there.
That would’ve been adaptive content in action.
And the reason this is so important: We all come to expect this kind of service (just like Noz did). Whether it’s at the gas pump, the golf course, massage parlor, movie theater, or in our living rooms and offices, we all believe that our experiences should be more interactive.
Some seductive stats
This overly attached love affair with smartphones has been building all along — and is not going away any time soon. Witness:
- About 13 percent of Internet traffic comes from global mobile users. In 2009, that number was just one percent. What contributed to this rise in mobile use? Shopping.
- Seventy-seven percent of mobile users use search engines and social sites on their phones.
- According to a Google Smartphone User study, “88 percent of those who look for local information on their smartphones take action within a day.” Read: smartphone users are highly-motived buyers.
- More importantly, nine out of 10 searches on a mobile device end in an action: reservation, purchase, appointment, download.
- Commerce success begins with a superb mobile experience. A Compuware study suggested that if you deliver a bad mobile experience, then more than half of those users will not recommend you — and probably recommend the competition instead.
- According to Google search data, one-third of all CPG (consumer packaged goods) searches now originate from smartphones. This trend will only continue to rise since, as Google wrote in a 2011 paper called Zero Moment of Truth, “Search is always accessible — from anywhere, on any device and at any given time.”
- Deloitte Consulting confirmed the power of smartphones over commerce in a 2013 paper that demonstrated the devices influenced $159 billion of U.S. retail sales in 2012.
- But what it comes down to is the merging of the offline and online world as McKinsey stated: “According to published reports, 48 percent of U.S. consumers believe companies need to do a better job of integrating their online and offline experiences.”
- Fifty-four percent of U.S. consumers want in-store digital, mobile touch points.
- Often the buying phase starts long before the purchase. Eighty-eight percent of consumers research (and these days, the research could start on a mobile phone, laptop, tablet, watch, or pair of glasses) before they buy, consulting an average of 10.4 sources.
- Online research efforts often involve visiting online reviews, ratings, and recommendations, which according to Prestige Marketing leads to 105 percent higher conversion rates. Are you taking advantage of ratings and reviews?
- Showrooming — when consumers use their phones to comparison shop in stores — is no longer a threat to brick-and-mortars and reverse showrooming — when consumers go online to research products but then head to brick-and-mortar stores to complete their purchases — is actually on the rise (69 percent), creating an opportunity for forward-thinking businesses to capture more sales.
In other words, smartphones rule the commerce roost. In addition, opportunities for creating personalized experiences through adaptive content are abound, as these further studies suggest:
- 56 percent of U.S. consumers are happy to buy from a retailer that offers a good (not even great, mind you) personalized experience. (Registration required to view study.)
- In this 2012 Consumer Search report, 65 percent of respondents said they look to friends, family, and social media for gift-giving ideas. Interestingly enough, 64 percent also said they look to companies to provide that sort of inspiration.
- Companies seem to recognize this desire because 94 percent of them say personalization is critical to their success.
- And it’s been long known that personalized e-commerce sites can increase conversions by 70 percent.
So the question is: Are you inspiring your customers with this type of personalized experience?
The challenges that lie ahead
Let me highlight some keywords from this data dump: search, website, mobile, personalization, and engagement. These are the key concepts behind adaptive content, which leads me to think the new environment we are in is less about content and more about experience.
As Jerod said in our conversation on The Lede, “It serves up almost a customized experience for them that is different from what another person gets. Each experience is individualized to have maximum impact.”
Of course, experience is built on content.
But adaptive content presents at least two challenges for a marketer:
- Implementing the technology.
- Creating the content.
The technology is not easy to figure out and will vary depending on each business’s individual needs. That disadvantage, though, is the perfect opportunity for companies to say, “How can we make software solutions to make adaptive content easier?”
The other challenge is finding the resources to create the content. If you have six customer avatars, then you have six different paths, and each of those paths break off two, three, or four different times. You’ve got a lot of content to create.
No problem if there were 48 hours in a day.
So, with those challenges and some unanswered questions before us, in 2015 we will be diving into the deep end of the adaptive content pool. Our hope is to provide answers and solutions for these challenges so we can all be on the right side of cutting-edge marketing and emerging technology.
Welcome to 2015, and stay tuned.
Adaptive content in action
Have you seen businesses successfully employ adaptive content?
Or have you observed missed opportunities for businesses to use adaptive content? What could the companies have done differently?
How can adaptive content help your business create a superior customer experience?
Let’s continue the discussion over on LinkedIn …
Image by Jeff Sheldon via Unsplash.