Did you know, that instead of sending the same email to everyone on your mailing list, you can improve your results and conversions by sending highly-targeted messages to laser-focused audiences?
I’m not just talking about just personalizing the message subject line or the greeting–those things help, but what I’m talking about is using dynamic content to improve message relevancy, reduce unsubscribes, increase engagement, and boost conversions.
Note: this tutorial is part of a whole week’s worth of email content on Tuts+ Web Design–check out the Mastering HTML Email learning guide for more!
What is Dynamic Content?
Dynamic content is adaptable, smart content. It changes based on the person who sees it. In your email marketing messages, dynamic content could be a headline, image, call to action, offer, or any other element that you choose. You create a single message and then set up the criteria identifying who sees which content within your message using the features in your email marketing tool. Next, you upload all of your variable assets, proofread and test them, and send your campaign.
A classic and simple example of dynamic content is using the recipient’s name, if it’s available. MailChimp’s Merge Tags allow for conditions to be set; if the name is available, use it in the content. If not, use a generic greeting instead. For this reason dynamic content is also sometimes referred to as conditional content.
Hi there *|IF:FNAME|* *|FNAME|*! *|ELSE:|* buddy! *|END:IF|*
When you use dynamic content, you save time and frustration by creating and tracking everything through a single campaign. Your email marketing tool automatically handles matching the right content to the right recipients, so everyone gets the most relevant message and your results improve.
Not only is it common sense that more relevant messages will produce better results, but research proves it. According to Jupiter Research, relevant emails drive 18X more revenue than generic, non-targeted messages. In addition, 56% of people unsubscribe from emails if the content isn’t relevant to them (which is fair enough).
4 Ways to Use Dynamic Content in Your Email Campaigns
Once you understand how dynamic content can improve your email marketing results, you need to figure out how to use it in your email campaigns. The key is to consider the data you currently have and the data you can collect in the future. In order to develop email marketing campaigns that effectively leverage dynamic content, you need to know what content changes could make certain segments of your audience more likely to follow a message’s call to action, and you need to actually have the data to support those changes.
To help you start brainstorming how you can use dynamic content in your email marketing, here are four common strategies that you can follow:
1. Demographic Profiles
Demographic profiles include data related to age, marital status, family situation, income, level of education and geographic location.
Example: A restaurant could send the same message to its entire list but change the offer and images based on whether the recipient is a parent. Parents would receive a free children’s meal with the purchase of an adult entrée and non-parents would receive a discount from the purchase of two adult entrées.
2. Behavioral Profiles
Dynamic content is very powerful when it’s based on behavioral profiles. As the name implies, behavioral profiles include data related to all behaviors you can track such as prior purchases, website visits, links clicked in your email messages.
Example: A pet store could create one message that shows different information based on customers’ prior purchases. Customers who purchased dog products in the past would get an offer for dog products, while people who purchased cat products would get a message promoting cat products.
3. Stage of the Marketing Funnel
As a person moves through the marketing funnel from the top to the bottom, the messages you send to them should change. You can use dynamic content to automatically change the information your contacts see based on whether they’re:
- at the top of the funnel (leads)
- middle of the funnel (nurturing)
- or bottom of the funnel (conversion).
Example: A software company could send the same message to everyone on its list but change the offer depending on where the recipient is in the funnel. Leads at the top of the funnel receive educational content explaining what the software does, people in the middle of the funnel receive a real-world case study from a relevant business, and people at the bottom of the funnel receive an offer for a free demonstration of the software.
4. Buyer Personas
Buyer personas go beyond the demographic profiles of your email list members. They also include information about each person’s behavioral and psychographic attributes. This includes things like the stores they shop in, the websites they visit, the television shows they watch, and the places they vacation.
Example: A clothing store could target people based on the types of vacations they take during spring break by promoting winter clothes to people who typically choose ski destinations and summer clothes to people who prefer the beach.
A Live Example
The following two emails from the pet store Petco is an example where dynamic content can be really useful. The first email, with the subject line “EXCLUSIVE: $15 Back when you spend $50!”, was sent to subscribers who have yet to purchase a product from the store. The hero image features a dog and a cat with a generic call to action “shop deals”.
The second email has a slightly different subject line “Cat lovers EXCLUSIVE: $15 Back when you spend $50!”. And as you might it was sent to customers who have bought cat products from the store. This email not only contained imagery and text personalized for cat owners, the call to action buttons also link directly to products in cat categories. Although the offer is the same on both emails, the customized links on the second version reduced the amount of clicks for the recipient to take advantage of the offer.
Note: the above emails may have been part of a segmented send where separate email campaigns were sent to different segments of Petco’s customer list and may not have leveraged dynamic content. I decided to use them because they demonstrate the dynamic content use case well.
Using Dynamic Content in Your Email Campaigns
If dynamic content has piqued your interest, the next step is to check if your email marketing tool supports dynamic content. This can be done by searching the term “dynamic content” followed by the tool of your choice on Google. Most modern email marketing tools or email service providers (ESPs) offer dynamic content creation tools that allow you to easily define sections of your email as dynamic based on the attributes of the data you have of your recipients.
Let’s say that you run an online service and you have a basic free plan and premium paid plans. When sending an email to your users, you could display a message just to users of your free plan with a special offer to upgrade to a paid plan. Depending on the tool you are using, there are different ways to implement this.
Certain email marketing tools offer conditional merge tags, such as MailChimp (as mentioned earlier) and Campaign Monitor. Merge tags give you a lot of flexibility but the downside is that you may have to get your hands dirty with code.
*|IF:PLAN=FREE|* Save 40% on a Premium Plan Today *|END:IF|*
Some email marketing tools such as Active Campaign provide visual tools to create dynamic content rules and apply them to content blocks.
The more advanced email marketing tools will also allow you to link data from disparate sources such as your online store database, web traffic, and other applications using application programming interfaces (API).
Make Sure Your Dynamic Content is Populating Correctly
Verifying that your dynamic content rules are configured properly can sometimes be a challenge. You definitely don’t want to send messages that include errors when the dynamic content doesn’t display correctly to the right people.
Most email marketing tools give you the option to preview how the content appears to different recipients in your list within their user interface. However, it can be useful to do a test send just in case.
A common technique to test dynamic content is to create a seed list of test contacts with attributes that you are keying the dynamic content against. Before sending your campaign to your intended audience, you first send tests to this seed list to ensure that your dynamic content is being populated correctly.
You can capture all the tests in a single email account by using Gmail’s unique plus(+) address feature where you can create multiple virtual email addresses linked to a single Gmail account. Sending test emails to the following virtual email addresses will result in the emails being delivered to the
email@example.com email account.
firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have multiple stakeholders in the review process you might be able to benefit from online proofing solutions for email that allow you to send the emails to be captured so that they can be reviewed collaboratively. Email proofing and QA tools such as Campaign Workhub, Email on Acid and Litmus can make the process easier and save you a lot of time.
I hope this article has shown you how adding dynamic content to your campaigns can help boost engagement and results of your email campaigns. Before you create your next email, spend a few moments to think about how you could leverage the information you have from your customers to make your emails more relevant and personalized. Your customers will appreciate the time you put into it.
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