Targeting and Personalization

What Cards Against Humanity Can Teach Marketers About Content Personalization


Inspiration can strike at any moment. I never thought I’d have a revelation about marketing during a game of Cards Against Humanity, but we don’t get to choose when the lightbulb goes off.

For people unfamiliar with Cards Against Humanity, it dubs itself the “party game for horrible people.” Players match cards containing various risqué phrases to make clever combinations—like Apples to Apples with a hefty dose of vulgarity. During each round, one player serves as the “card czar” and selects the winning card combination.

I was the card czar when I had my eureka moment. While watching the game unfold, I noticed how players adapted their strategies based on everyone else’s sense of humor. You quickly recognize who responds to toilet humor, political incorrectness, or wildly offensive combinations. Players felt one another’s preferences out, made riskier plays to gauge reactions, and then stored pertinent information for later wins.

As the game progressed, I realized how similar this exchange was to content personalization. Marketers work to understand their audience, offer content they think will resonate, and use the data they gather to create relevant experiences. Marketers would be wise to take notes on how winners in Cards Against Humanity play their hands.

In this blog, I’ll show you what you can learn from Cards Against Humanity as a marketer and how to apply those learnings to your content personalization strategy.

The Overlap Between Marketing and Cards

In truth, there’s nothing personal about a Cards Against Humanity deck. Each version ships with the exact same set of cards. What makes the game feel personal are the unique combinations that play to one’s sensibilities by delivering relevant content.

In the same way, there’s nothing personal about a product offering, sales pitch, or piece of marketing collateral. The personalization emerges when marketers pair that content with the sensibilities of their target audience.

Players win by getting approval from an individual rather than from the entire crowd; marketers win by convincing one person at a time. This gets slightly more complex in the B2B realm, where it’s critical to drive consensus among multiple people in different roles. Regardless of the audience, marketers who manage to personalize content and strive for relevancy will be more successful.

The Content Marketing Institute’s Robert Rose emphasizes the importance of delivering memorable, connected content experiences to audiences when using multiple platforms. Although the mechanism of delivery might change, the people behind the screen do not—they have the same sensibilities and preferences regardless of the platform.

For marketers who are eager to personalize content, Cards Against Humanity provides a beautiful blueprint. Assess your target audience, experiment, collect data, and adjust your approach. Repeat.

4 Steps to Deliver Relevant Experiences

Cards Against Humanity might feel like a silly game, but it provides an opportunity to experience the effectiveness of content personalization. Marketers everywhere can take a few cues from the popular card game to begin experimenting with content personalization.

1. Don’t Be Afraid to Take a Chance

Our company has a saying: “No information is still information.” Researching your audience is certainly worthwhile, but all the insight in the world won’t protect you from potential missteps. Instead of fretting about failure, it’s better to put your best foot forward and attempt to appeal to your audience. You can’t win the game if you never play any cards.

Start by publishing content that targets individual buyer personas. Once you have content out in the world, look for patterns in email, web, and social data. Focus on one part of the sales journey, one buyer persona, and one specific goal.

You won’t have all the answers, and that’s OK. Form an initial content personalization strategy and conduct a trial across multiple channels. Collect data on everything, giving equal attention to successful and unsuccessful strategies. Make an investment that will ensure your next attempts are even better.

2. Perform a Competitive Analysis

In Cards Against Humanity, players observe one another’s moves and are able to glean valuable insights with every round. They can see which cards their competitors play, and they can learn by watching how each person responds when they get a chance to be the card czar. Marketers must do the same thing with their competitors.

Analyze the content of the competition to increase your available pool of data. What worked for them? What didn’t? Did your company succeed or fail in the same efforts, or are your competitors doing well in a market you haven’t cracked? Use tools like BuzzSumo, SpyFu, and Crayon to evaluate your industry. Once you know what others are doing, you’ll be better prepared to respond.

3. Refine and Adjust

Players who use the same strategy for each round of Cards Against Humanity rarely emerge with a victory. We’re not playing to the group; we’re playing to the individual. Your one friend might adore toilet humor, but another player could be more amused by political commentary. Successful players watch for patterns and adjust their game accordingly.
Keep in mind, delivering killer content to the right audience in the most effective manner doesn’t guarantee success. Even the most ideal initiative can fall flat from time to time. Learn from past experiences, figure out what the data tells you, and try different approaches to see where content and context work in harmony. Adjust your narrative, messaging, CTAs, images, and format to create an evolving strategy that consistently resonates with your audience. And if it doesn’t, don’t give up.

4. Rinse and Repeat

Once you create an efficient and replicable content personalization strategy, find ways to expand it into new areas. Pursue a new customer base, attack a different point of the sales cycle, or take an entirely new risk and use the same data-driven approach to refine your game. When I play Cards Against Humanity, I like to take a strategy that works for one person and apply it to someone who appears to have similar tastes. I think in terms of persona —watching for patterns and grouping players in my head. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Every time I play, however, I gain insight that will help in future rounds.

Want to see content personalization at play in the real world? Pick up Cards Against Humanity, gather a group of friends, and start playing. After a few rounds, you’ll be astounded by how the game and its strategies mirror the marketing world. By following these tips—and any insights you gain during your own games—you can enrich your content personalization strategy and gain a unique advantage over the competition.

Have you ever had a unique eureka moment like I did? What strategies have come from these moments? I’d love to hear about your inspiration in the comments.