Content and personalisation: How to make it work


Brands and their marketing teams know more about us now than ever. So in theory we should be getting content exactly suited to our interests, and that should make marketing more welcome, more helpful, and less annoying.

But it doesn’t always work out like that.

There’s such a thing as bad personalisation, with targeted ads and content sometimes making users feel monitored.

Is there such a thing as ‘too much’ personalisation? And can personalisation ever come across as detached from the user? At what point does your brand stop being helpful and just becomes… well, creepy?

Spotify’s “Thanks 2016, It’s Been Weird”

2016 will be remembered as 12 months where shock and surprise lurked around every corner, from celebrity deaths to politics.

Capitalising on the absurdity of the year, music streaming service Spotify have released a series of billboard ads thanking 2016, driven by user listening trends that have reflected the outrageous nature of this year.


These ads may be billboards, but digital writers can learn from the tone and style of the copywriting.

The copy shows Spotify knows its audience personally, that it has a personality, and that it ‘gets’ music  better than anyone, clearly demonstrating its expertise. In this case, data is used in an efficient and influential way.

The message? Join Spotify, and you’ll join a community of music lovers, and have a listening experience that’s as unique as you want it. This, coupled with the ‘Discover weekly’ feature that creates a brand new playlist just for you based on your listening habits, helps Spotify reveal itself as a company that just gets its audience.

Your 2016 (according to Facebook)

Year-in-review content has become a staple of end-of-year marketing, particularly for social networks, such as Facebook. We’ve all seen the videos making the rounds on the social network, and, if we’re honest, there’s been a “who cares?” response due to the underwhelming results of the campaign.

Facebook may use EdgeRank to create a personalised experience that’s above and beyond any other social network, but with this campaign, they just managed to look like a faceless, automated system.

Sure, it was lovely to see photos from my wedding, but since I own the images, have them displayed in my house and regularly look back on that album, it’s not like I was seeing – or learning –  anything new.

It felt like they’d just taken images from my most viewed album and stuck them in the video; it didn’t feel like a special, reflective look back; it felt automated.

The only unique information given was the number of ‘likes I’d made this year. What did I learn from this?

I don’t like much. Thanks for the insight, Facebook *thumbs up*.

Spotify also creates year-in-review content. Users are sent a playlist of their favourite songs from the year, and a personalised email infographic highlighting data such as the days Spotify is most used, total number of minutes listened, and even the artists you like more than most other listeners on the network.


It’s no surprise to me that I listened to my favourite song (Dramamine by Modest Mouse, FYI) more than any other song this year. What I am surprised to learn is that I’m in the top 1% of fans of both major and lesser known artists, and that I listen to Spotify the most on a Wednesday. I’ve learnt something – and I have a great new playlist.

Getting personalisation right

So what are the takeaways from these two examples that you could apply to your digital copywriting – even if your budget isn’t as big as Spotify’s or Facebook’s?

  1. Write as a person

Your audience are human, right? And so are you. Make sure you show it. There’s something about an actual person knowing something about you that feels slightly less creepy than a faceless company. Emotional language is key to this. Avoid droning on in a formal tone, and use casual language when possible, but don’t try too hard – your audience will be embarrassed the moment you try to sound like you’re someone you’re not.


Case in point: Note Spotify referring to ‘Sorry’ without name checking Justin Bieber – feels much more casual, much more human.

  1. But don’t overdo it

The Spotify billboards pass comment on the habits of their users, but this is generally to be avoided. It works for the music brand because music is quite a light topic, and while the users in question know that the ads are talking about them, no one else does, so the judgement isn’t being passed directly at them.

Digital marketing is usually much more personal. Users interact using the screen of their computer, mobile or tablet, which are very intimate devices. Passing comment on an individual’s habits can very easily go wrong, and if you strike the wrong tone, you could lose customers, especially if your brand is associated with a personal or sensitive product or service. So, be human, but remember that you are not their friend – don’t take liberties.

  1. Offer something new

Make sure the personalisation you offer provides a user with something they might not know. Great copywriting can only take your so far, so personalisation and the use of big data is a classic example where content needs to become much more than just writing.

A playlist is a takeaway I’ll keep saved to my Spotify account for a while. Personalisation for personalisation’s sake is a waste of your time, and the user’s. Only use it when you have something genuinely interesting and insightful to offer, and provide your users with more than just flat stats.

  1. Give them a chance to talk back

Encouraging conversation from personalised data might make a brand seem significantly less ‘Big Brother’. Offering obscure, unusual, or just plain funny stats can encourage people to talk to one another, and maybe even seek your brand out to start a conversation over social media.

Personalisation and big data can be a gift, or it can be a curse. Using great copywriting techniques, providing more than just the stats and combining that with a keen understanding of your audience, can allow your brand to create content that shows you care about your users.

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