Dynamic content can save you time when personalizing emails. Instead of copying the same email multiple times, making adjustments to each, and building multiple lists, you can prepare one email with one or two pieces of dynamic content. But sometimes it’s easier and less stressful to just write two emails.
I once set up an email series to promote a new Salesforce consulting offering. I carefully wrote each of my emails in a Word doc. The first began, “Hi (first name).” After getting the green light, I copied the text from Word and pasted into Pardot. I was a little nervous, as always, to click the send button. But, afterward, I breathed a sigh of relief and moved on with my life. But a few minutes later, my boss forwarded an email to me from one of the customers on our list. Uh-oh…
“Whoops,” the customer wrote. Scrolling down, I could see the email he received. It began exactly as I had typed it in Word, “Hi (first name).”
Some lessons are learned the hard way. This taught me the important lesson of testing whenever a dynamic element is used in an email (or just anytime I’m sending an email). And creating multiple emails can make testing easier. Depending on the number of audience segments you have, and the regions in the email needing to be changed, the time commitment can actually be similar between using dynamic content and just making two.
Quick refresher: What is dynamic content?
Dynamic content changes automatically depending on who is viewing your email (nifty!). Using automation, you can build rules to show a certain headline or CTA when your reader is in a particular lifecycle stage or lives in a specific state. Dynamic content displays messages or images crafted by you for a particular audience segment.
Similar but different, variable tags (a.k.a. merge fields) are specific to a particular data field. With a variable tag, we’re displaying the data stored in that particular field within the email. In my example above, I tried (and failed) to use the first name variable tag.
While a variable tag populates with text stored in a field, dynamic content fills in an entire section in your email with content created by you specifically for that audience segment.
When should you use dynamic content?
Dynamic content can be a big time saver when you have a larger number of audience segments. If you’re building a drip campaign, you can add personalization without creating seven campaigns (or adding a complex web of branching logic to segment your audience).
Let’s say you’re setting up a drip campaign to begin nurturing leads after they download an eBook on your site. On the download form, you’ve asked about company size. In the first email in your nurture series, you plan to link to a case study. You have a case study focusing on a recent SMB client hot off the press. Another, with an enterprise client, is also polished and ready to share. A third, highlighting a startup, is also ready to go. However do you choose?
By adding dynamic content, you can automatically decide and deliver the most appropriate case studies for each audience all within the first email of the nurture series. This allows you to use one email instead of three while keeping your campaign easier to track (and possibly reuse in the future).
With just three variations, you could still create three unique emails (and you probably wouldn’t even need to work over your lunch break to get it done). But, with five, six, or even ten variations, creating separate emails and adding branching logic could get cumbersome. If you have a large number of variations, dynamic content can help you stay organized while reducing clutter.
This same reasoning applies to one-off emails. Seven variations in the body copy translates to seven segmentation lists and seven separate emails without dynamic content. There is a risk of making a mistake somewhere in the process. Did that same lead make it onto two of the lists? (You could solve for this by using the other lists as suppression lists in each email, but that also can get clunky and confusing.)
Another benefit is that dynamic content can be saved and used in the future. For example, I could label my case study content something catchy and fun, like: Dynamic Case Studies. When creating a one-off email for a different group of leads later, I could then pull in this same dynamic region (assuming I have accurate data for segmentation).
Note: Not all systems handle dynamic content the same way
In HubSpot, Smart Content (dynamic content) has a select set of fields it uses, and can be based on the audience member’s country, device type, referral source, preferred language, contact list membership and lifecycle stage. In Pardot, dynamic content can be based on any default or custom field (excluding date fields).
So, when does it make more sense to just write two emails?
Remember that each dynamic section on the email will need to be configured using the system’s dynamic content feature. It takes some time to specify criteria and add in your content for each variation. This becomes less of a time-saver when personalizing multiple regions in your email. Good news though: editing a cloned version of the email allows you to make multiple changes directly in the email editor.
Continuing with the example from above, let’s say you’d like to personalize more content for each audience segment. In addition to the case study, you’d like the preview text, headline and body copy to cater to enterprise, SMB and start-up audiences. In that case, cloning the email and making changes within the email editor may be quicker than using dynamic content. By the time you configured and tested each of the dynamic content regions, you may have already pressed send on three separate emails.
Testing dynamic content also adds some complexity. When proofing, depending on the platform, you can “preview as” a particular contact, which is really useful but not always easy with dynamic content. You’ll need to find contacts that meet each of the criteria for your variations. By previewing the email as those contacts, you can see how your content will display.
I always send a proof to my inbox when testing. With dynamic content, I need to manually adjust my profile to meet each of the criteria, then send multiple test emails to see how the content actually appears. Keep these steps in mind when deciding whether to go the dynamic route.
Finally, you’ll want to think about reporting. If you would like to compare the open rates and click-through rates for each audience segment, you may need to build separate emails.
So, ask yourself how much of your email you’d like to personalize for each audience segment. Is it just the CTA? Go with dynamic content. Do you need an easy way to compare results across variations? I’d do two versions. Do you have fifteen segments to address and only one or two personalized sections of your email? Definitely use dynamic content. Your goal is to deliver the most relevant messaging possible, and dynamic content is a great way to achieve that — under the right circumstances.
I’m a Midwesterner who enjoys a great book, an afternoon in the woods and a delicious Indian dish. I’m also a music lover. Music is often my pick-me-up on a difficult day. Lately, I’ve been jamming to Fleet Foxes and Blind Pilot. Aside from writing about marketing tech, I’m a freelance Pardot consultant. I write about marketing automation tech features and strategy, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, often about Salesforce.