Personalisation must expand beyond Web sites and apps

By Jodie Hopperton


Los Angeles, California, United States


Personalisation isn’t just about putting content in front of people on our Web sites and apps. It is how we market to people, what we advertise and sell, and how we deliver with different formats and across various platforms. 

Let’s look at a few of these examples:

Off-platform personalisation

One of the biggest drivers of habit is newsletters. Mailings have been personalised for years (remember mail merge?), but we can personalise a lot more than name and title.

One company that has had a great deal of success is the UK’s Financial Times. Their active personalisation gives users a myFT personalised e-mail. James Webb, product director, FT recently told us that: “Overall, myFT e-mails referred 6x more article reads than onsite sources.” I haven’t seen anything live yet, but I know some news organisations are looking at doing more with notifications in this vein. 


Through qualitative research, Nicole Dingess, head of product design at Gannett, found “younger consumers also expect flexibility in usage — to consume content with ease across channels (Web, app, to voice, etc.).”

In their studies, they found Amazon subscribers averaged four devices used to access their subscription, including smartwatches and smart speakers. News subscribers, on the other hand, averaged two devices used to access their subscription — their phone and their computer. 

I fundamentally believe this is something we need to look at. Kindle does this seamlessly, including where you left off and bookmarks/saved articles. And audio is a big bet for Norways’ Schibsted.


Spotify Wrapped shows songs and artists you’ve listened to, nicely illustrated as a graphic and ready to share across social media. Facebook and Instagram do your “Year In Review.” These are both fun and self serving, making the most of social networks. 

Spotify personalises the user experience by showing content the user has been listening to.
Spotify personalises the user experience by showing content the user has been listening to.

Instagram offers a "Year In Review" feature for users.
Instagram offers a "Year In Review" feature for users.

What can we do?

I noticed The New York Times sharing “story portraits” on Instagram (see image). Related, start-up Crux allows people to show they have built up knowledge on specific subjects. Perhaps this is the kind of thing that our users would love to share?

The New York Times offers "story portraits," summarising content a user has read.
The New York Times offers "story portraits," summarising content a user has read.

Content and formats

So far, the conversation is mostly around relevance to reader when it comes to content — and many organisations have been experimenting with headline and image personalisation. But we could get a lot more creative if we work closely with newsrooms. 

If we think about user needs at any given time, we’re likely to find it’s not just the subjects they are interested in. For example, one person may want top line information, another may want a long read on the subject. One person may prefer video, another text. One may prefer to scroll, another to swipe. One reader may want to go deep into hard news, another may need more breaks for levity (see the The Atlantic’s research on this).  

Riske Betten, head of product at Mediahuis in the Netherlands, found in initial tests that more video was served. It wasn’t served to a wider audience, but it was served more to people who liked video.  

Marketing, advertising, and non-content 

We shouldn’t forget advertising has been personalising for years.

The advertising I see used to was all about travel. Now it’s all about smart gadgets for small children. It’s remarkable how advertising knows me better than I do myself half the time.

Many of you probably personalise marketing based on cohorts such as subscribers vs. new readers. We can do this on a much more personal scale looking at which types of marketing, messages, and images work best for different people. We can start getting creative about how we talk to our audience at all touch points, not just the content itself.

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About Jodie Hopperton

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