Blog post

Attributes, My Marketing Buzzword for 2020

By Kirsten Newbold-Knipp | March 16, 2017 | 2 Comments

Some interesting conversations ensue during SXSW in Austin. Though I didn’t have time to attend much this year, I did meet several interesting folks.  I was talking to a marketer from YEXT about information like location, hours of operation, social ratings and other facts and data about businesses – specifically, how marketers keep them up to date.  I was using the word attributes and she reacted visibly.

“Do marketers talk about attributes?”

“No. But they should.”

We then proceeded to nerd out on the topic of attributes.   And yes, I did find this conversation very interesting. I hope you will too.

First: What is an Attribute?

  • Merriam Webster’s definition of attribute: a quality, character, or characteristic ascribed to someone or something.
  • Kirsten’s definition of attribute, as it pertains to marketing: a characteristic or descriptor assigned to an asset or object used to organize, sort and filter content.

For example if we were to describe these shoes, attributes might include the following:Attributes Can Describe Sparkly Bronze Booties

  • Heel: 3”
  • Color: Bronze
  • Material: Leather
  • Finish: Glitter
  • Style: Bootie

Now that you’ve read these – you are probably thinking about going shoe shopping online and using the search capabilities to go find these stellar booties.  And you would have jumped right into the world of ecommerce marketing. It turns out that ecommerce marketers and merchandisers have been thinking about attributes all along because they wanted to create a searchable catalog and enable similar products to be displayed together, even feeding you suggestions of related products.

Well, that mindset is expanding to nearly ALL aspects of marketing.  And with that expansion … so too is the concept of attributes and their curation gaining in importance.

Attributes Across All Facets of Marketing

As marketers, we’re being told that we can personalize nearly anything in the customer experience. You could personalize my home page visit, my mobile interaction, my billing statement and even the IVR recording when I call your brand. While vendors are selling the dream – too few marketers are thinking about the reality in terms of the explosion of content types and the infinite permutations of custom content that are needed to power this type of personalization. That’s where attributes come in. The only way to power personalization – even at a base level – is to stop creating singular, monolithic content items like 20 page whitepapers and hard coded infographics in favor of modular content.

That’s not to say the whitepaper or infographic is dead. Not at all.  But that my infographic and your infographic might be different.  Or that the version I see when I am on my phone and you’ve seen me before is different than a new visitor who’s seeing your brand for the first time on a desktop computer.  To serve us different versions of this content you must craft it in modules – or atoms as my colleague Chris Ross calls them – and assign each atom attributes.  Like, is it for new or repeat visitors?  Which stage of the customer journey does it support?  What devices is it optimized for?

You can imagine how each atom of content might have many attributes and that over time, if you build a content catalog comprised of well described atoms, you could build a very robust personalization program.  Ecommerce marketers have been at this for a while. Creative teams have practice doing this mostly with their images. And advertisers practicing dynamic creative optimization do as well. But all marketers have to start thinking about how they will atomize content and tag it with attributes so their automation tools have a rich trove of metadata to surface the best fit content at the right time.

Attributes and Martech

Not only do marketers have to adopt this mindset of granularity and get comfortable with the word attributes (seriously, they are totally sexy).  But you’ll adopt new tools – or evolve existing ones – to store and surface your content and its attributes.  In recent research on the evolution of MRM (subscription required), we talk about how even that market has become more granular. It’s been broken into parts – Work Management, Digital Asset Management and Performance Management.  Two of those categories rely on attributes to make magic happen:

  • Work Management. This category includes Content Marketing Platforms (CMP) and Workflow tools, both of which rely on tagging of plans and assets to organize them in various ways. It’s very common for CMPs to tag pieces of content with attributes about their relevance by persona, journey stage and content type. In future, I expect them to get more and more granular, using AI to automate some of the tagging to help improve efficiency.
  • Digital Asset Management. These tools have always made metadata – describing assets by their attributes – a core part of their business, with a goal of helping marketers resurface and utilize the best visual assets in their arsenal. Some, like Adobe’s, already include AI to support machine tagging of attributes to images through visual recognition. Innovations on this front will be crucial to achieving scale in content personalization – provided that marketers get better at modularizing their content.

So what should you take away?

  • Decide if your brand cares about personalization at any level (you probably do)
  • Imagine what the permutations of your content could look like at scale
  • Get busy making content more granular and assigning attributes

If you found any of this intriguing, yet nerdy, I’d love to talk about it with you at our marketing conference in May where both Chris and I will have sessions that touch on atomic content and the attributes that help power personalization [Scaling a Modern Content Supply Chain With Talent and Technology and Atomic Content: A Framework to Deliver Dynamic Content Marketing.

Leave a Comment


  • My company has a platform that manages content and personalization for large corporations. We started in 2004 with major customers. The number 1 problem we face is getting content to support the level of personalization we can do. Our system is typically managed in marketing and over and over again we end up with brochureware. Would love to talk about our experience. Paula

    • Kirsten Newbold-Knipp says:

      Hi Paula,
      I can imagine how that might play out. Without a clear mandate for creation and updating of content assets and attributes the dream of personalization falls down. There needs to be a clear customer experience outcome and the ability to measure ROI. Have you considered doing an A/B test of updated vs. stale content to see if there’s enough value to prove that your clients should be more active in leveraging the tools?