Adaptive Content 101

By Kat Liendgens — Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015 at 9:00am

adaptive content

A few years ago, the hottest buzzword in the world of web design and marketing was responsive design. As mobile web traffic became the norm, the need to optimize websites for mobile devices became a mandate. Quickly, you weren’t able to escape the phrase “mobile first”. But this was just the first step towards a better digital experience - it is no longer just about responsive design. If you truly want to stay on top of emerging trends, it’s time to familiarize yourself with the concept of adaptive content.

Adaptive content defined

Here’s a good definition of what adaptive content is: “Adaptive content is a content strategy technique designed to support meaningful, personalized interactions across all channels. It is content that is conceived, planned and developed around the customers: their context, their mood, their goals. This definition isn’t device - or even technology - specific.”

In a nutshell, adaptive content means delivering targeted content to segments of your audience on different platforms at various points in time during their journey. Adaptive content, therefore, needs to involve the practice of two key concepts: COPE (Create Once, Publish Everywhere) and personalization.


Let’s take a look at COPE first. The idea, of course, is to output a single piece of content in many different formats and deliver it to a multitude of platforms including mobile devices, wearable technologies, appliances, readers/speakers, digital signage, and future platforms. It’s important to realize that you won’t be pushing your content to web pages only. New platforms continue to emerge, which is why COPE is the only sustainable way of managing content.

What do you need in order to implement COPE? For starters, you need a CMS that allows you to not only easily share content across multiple pages and multiple sites, but also push content to other platforms, databases, applications, and enterprise systems - and consume content that is managed in those other systems. But that’s just the technical requirement for COPE. You also need to look at content management in a new way.

For instance, instead of managing content in one big WYSIWYG editor, you need to allow contributors to enter content into more structured data fields. Karen McGrane describes this concept as “smart chunks versus dumb blobs”. If you have all of your content in a monolithic WYSIWYG editor, it is impossible to take pertinent sections and distribute them to specific platforms. But we can even take it a step further. I’m not ready to declare the death of WYSIWYG editors just yet, but it’s time to slowly start weaning your users off of it and reduce the dependence on styling in order to convey meaning. Empower your content contributors to focus on, well, the actual content without obsessing about styling. After all, considering the multitude of platforms and, even more importantly, future platforms, it will be impossible to preview and stylize content for each output.


The other key component to adaptive content is personalization. Typically, the first thing that comes to mind is e-commerce sites that greet you by name and show items you might be interested in based on previous purchases. But there are additional ways in which you can deliver targeted content. For example, you may have an event sign-up sheet that asks whether the visitor is a prospective student, current student, or parent. Using that data, you can customize their experience by presenting content relevant to their persona.

In addition to personalizing content based on persona, you should think about when you want prospects see a specific piece of content. Remember, they are over halfway through their decision-making process before they even interact with your reps, so it’s crucial to map keywords to buying stages. Prospects should easily find the content they are looking for when they are looking for it.

What do you need in order to implement personalization? Once again, there’s both a technical component and a people component to the process. First, you need a product that can deliver customized content to different segments of your audience. But, a product alone won’t get you anywhere. It’s critical that your content contributors maintain a deep understanding of your target personas and how to write for them. They need to map decision-making journeys to the different stages in the sales and marketing funnel.

Adaptive content is here to stay

It’s an exciting time for CMS providers and content marketer alike. The way in which content is created and distributed is becoming increasingly sophisticated, leading to more meaningful and impactful interactions with prospects. As a result, marketers can expect greater conversion rates and improved customer service - one piece of content and one interaction at a time.

What about you? What are your thoughts on adaptive content? We’d love to hear from you, so please comment below.


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