Personalised online content to increase engagement

AI-driven Personalised Content Development

Lack of personalised content development

Everyone seems to be suffering from content indigestion as news competes with native advertising for readers’ attention. So what are start-ups doing to fix this? The simple answer: personalised content development. 

During the weeks running up to the biggest toy selling season, nobody ignores how cartoons and kids’ movies are used to market branded toys. This is an example of content developed for content marketing purposes. Toy companies use every trick in the digital marketing toolbox to personalise a message aimed at influencing parents and grand-parents—they are the ones with the purchasing power after all.

With such content marketing, the traditional boundaries between content, designed to sell products or raise brand awareness, and news content, designed to inform, are blurred. It is, therefore, not always easy for audiences to identify independent news media content from native advertising emulating news style content. People are starting to feel that they are suffering from digital fatigue while the battle for their attention rages on between media and advertisers.

The shift in personalised content development

To address such concerns, digital publishing is undergoing a serious shift towards greater personalised content development. At a recent event on the Future of Content, organised by Irish industry support agency Enterprise Ireland, in Dublin, Ireland, on 9th November 2018, participants presented the various perspectives on the content creation spectrum. And the advocates of audience-led personalisation opposed the views of marketers pushing for customer microsegment-led personalisation.

Audience-led content selection

Today’s readers want a choice in how content is served on their multiple screens. This is particularly so for news. Yet, the newly relaunched Google News app is designed to deliver news related to readers’ current location, regardless of whether they have an interest in other types of news. In contrast, companies like KinZen aim to empower each reader to take charge of the kind of news they receive. The company has mapped the online journey of a typical reader and is taking stock of how their audience is developing new routines to get informed. This is a key aspect of personalised content development. 

KinZen Co-Founder Mark Little explains that their philosophy is based on giving readers options to manage their own news source feeds, being mindful of not exposing them to unwanted content such as ads, or infringing on their privacy. For readers, this means accessing different kinds of news content, related to their professional or personal lives, at different time of the day, on different devices. Such a solution suggests tilting the traditional balance of media funding towards subscriptions models and away from advertising revenues.

It remains to be seen whether readers are prepared to pay for hyper-personalised news and for the privilege of not being distracted by adverts. However, there are signs that the subscription model is working.


Going one step further and challenging the way news content itself is created are Rob Wijnberg and Ernst Pfauth, founders of a new kind of subscription-only news organisation called The Correspondent. In their manifesto, they condemn the way online news today is no longer designed to inform audiences. Rather, they complain, ‘news organisations prioritise the needs of advertisers over the needs of readers.’

Visual representation of AI's summarising power
Visual representation of AI’s summarising power


Media engagement with an audience

In a recent crowdfunding campaign to fund their English edition, launched on 14th November 2018, they condemn the lack of media engagement with meeting the needs of their audiences, stating that ‘all-too-often the news talks to you, rather than with you.’ Their model, piloted in Dutch as De Correspondent, aims to change the way news is created by associating readers with the process.

Clearly, this extension of the editorial process, by including contributions from beyond the strict confines of the traditional newsroom, echoes SciencePOD‘s collaborative approach to creating content — be it for journalistic, educational or content marketing purposes. Through our platform, we augment the teams of our media, publishing or industry clients by giving them access to the know-how of our community of journalists and editors, with the right scientific and technical expertise, the right editorial skills, and based in the right location.

Top-down analytics for news and creative content

Clearly this bottom-up personalisation approach, where the user regains power over what news and content is consumed, starkly contrasts with the majority of ad-fuelled approaches of media publishers. Harnessing ever increasing smart data analytics methods, and web-technologies, publishers capture individual readers’ every move before serving them what content, they believe, is most appropriate and link it with matching ads.

For example, NewsWhip’s CEO Paul Quigley, based in Dublin, Ireland, shared how his company provides data analytics on how readers engage with news content, giving insights about the time of the day, the level of popularity of stories and the social media platforms on which they access it.

Yet, the personalisation trend is also filtering through the way advertisers display both news and ads used for content marketing. Solutions like Dublin-based Readersight, presented by founder Anthony Quigley, helps publishers analyse reader engagement in real-time and suggests ways of improving it by personalising the way the content is displayed to optimise advertising revenues.

Another targeting advertisement expert, Barry Nolan, Chief Marketing Officer at San-Francisco-headquartered Swrve says they can deliver targeted, personal and optimised adverts at the ‘perfect’ time and through the ‘perfect channel’. Every interaction with what they call micro-segmented consumer groups is carefully orchestrated within a publishers’ app. His approach is designed to bypass an audience’s negative response. As he puts it: ‘the more you communicate with customers, the more you train them to ignore you.’

This shift is also taking place in TV advertising which is becoming highly targeted. Ronan Higgins, Founder and CEO of TVadSync, shared how they can now capture real-time data about what individual households (identified by their IP address) watch on their smart TV, checking what time they are watching and for how long, when they switch channels. 

E-commerce links to content marketing

As all sectors of the economy migrate towards e-commerce, start-ups are directly integrating advertising or marketing content sites with e-commerce platforms.

Beyond news, optimising access to news content is also happening in the creative arts, for example, in movies. Oliver Fegan Co-Founder of Usheru, based in London, UK, explained how the company aims to provide a way to connect the marketing of new movies to the online purchase of cinema tickets. Their personalised solution comes complete with an insights platform, giving film marketers a real time view into the sales success of film marketing campaigns.

Others like ChannelSight Co-Founder and CEO John Beckett talked about a widget they developed, which can’t be blocked by ad blockers, and can link products described in online content to online shops where they can be purchased.

As more and more personalisation waves break over the branded content advertising landscape, audiences are increasingly influenced by very sophisticated marketing campaigns. Some, however, may want to pay for the privilege of not becoming a pawn of marketing algorithms.

– Sabine Louët

Founder and CEO SciencePOD

Discover the ScioWire research newsfeed: summarised scientific knowledge ready to digest.