dynamic email content

The Relevance Challenge: Dynamic Email Content

What are the three most important attributes of an email marketing message?

   Relevance, Relevance and Relevance

An email send without relevance is likely doing your brand more harm than good. And like an onion dip-eating close-talker with limited conversation skills, your email could become a virtual human repellent.

The resulting challenge to providing relevance is found in the varying interests and demands of our audience. As written here previously, our email recipients are unique. We cannot expect to deliver one message that will resonate with all.

That’s where dynamic content comes in.

Dynamic emails allow marketers to replace key pieces of the message to reflect a subscriber’s profile attributes, interests and previous activity. In plain english, introducing dynamic content allows you to convey relevance and speak the subscriber’s language. One email is sent, but content changes based on its recipient. Let’s use a random pet shop as an example.

Scenario – Random Pet Shop wants to encourage repeat sales from customers who have previously purchased an animal
Offer – Discount on pet food
Data Records – We have some limited information for our recipients. Our existing data records include the following:

  • Name
  • Email Address
  • Pet Type (e.g. dog, cat, chinchilla, etc.)

Dynamic Elements – Based on our offer and data records, we will create values for these variables. Nearly all of them are contingent upon “Pet Type” from above.

  • Food Product Brand Name
  • Discount Amount (i.e. 10% vs. 20%)

Now that we have our variables, we must create or update our customer list to include additional fields or columns for our dynamic elements. Depending upon the email delivery tool we use, it may be best to overwrite an existing list or simply create a new one. A few rows from our updated list might look like this:

Charlie Brown goodgrief@peanuts.com dog Alpo 5
Dr. Claw nexttime@gadget.com cat Iams 10
Jim Henson jim@muppets.org frog Easy Green 15
Shaggy Rogers zoinks@scoobydoo.com dog Alpo 5
Walt Disney walt@disney.com mouse Magic 20
Mike Tyson mike@punchout.com cat Iams 10

Perhaps the trickiest part of creating an email with dynamic content is configuring a template that allows for separate content elements to be fed in. A sample template might look like the one below in which the green areas will be filled by our dynamic content elements.

dynamic email content

Note: Each email tool requires placement of code specific to that platform. Depending upon which tool you use, you’ll need to place code within your email template accordingly. Here are some resources and guides from each of the email delivery tools I use regularly and recommend to clients.

To carry out our Random Pet Shop example, I’ll demonstrate how to format elements within the template using my personal favorite email delivery tool, Campaign Monitor.
Campaign Monitor Email Tool

Here is an example of the fields we will use for the Random Pet Shop list.

email custom fields
The content of our Random Pet Shop message requires three types of dynamic content:

1. Dynamic Email Text

Variables such as Name, Pet Type and Discount require simple inclusion of the variable code (or Personilization Tag in Campaign Monitor) within the email script. For example the line that reads..

For a limited time, we are offering a [ ## ]% discount on [ FOOD BRAND ] [ PET TYPE ] food.

… will look like this in our Campaign Monitor template…

For a limited time, we are offering a [Discount,fallback=]% on [FoodBrand,fallback=] [PetType,fallback=] food.

…and appear like so to our various recipients…

Charlie Brown: For a limited time, we are offering a 5% discount on Alpo dog food.
Dr. Claw: For a limited time, we are offering a 10% discount on Iams cat food.
Jim Henson: For a limited time, we are offering a 15% discount on Easy Green frog food.

2. Dynamic Email Image

The Random Pet Shop email calls for a dynamic coupon image that corresponds to the recipient’s Pet Type. There are a few ways to do this based on your email tool. For Campaign Monitor, we will create unique images for each pet type and host them on our website. Our [PetType,fallback=] Personalization Tag will be utilized once again – just in a different way.

HTML code for images, typically looks like this:

<img src=”https://randompetshop.com/emailimages/file.jpg”>

To interpret, this code is calling an image called file.jpg, which lives in the emailimages directory on https://randompetshop.com. Using this same framework, we can create separate images for each Pet Type coupon and place them in a directory on our website. If we create dog.jpg, cat.jpg, frog.jpg and mouse.jpg, and place them in our emailimages directory on the https://randompetshop.com site, the HTML in our Campaign Monitor template will look like so:

<img src=”https://randompetshop.com/emailimages/[PetType,fallback=].jpg”>

Based on the contents of our list, Mike Tyson’s email will include the cat coupon or:

<img src=”https://randompetshop.com/emailimages/cat.jpg”>

3. Dynamic Email Links

At the bottom of our Random Pet Shop email, we have included a link to view more products. To provide the utmost relevance, we should ensure this link directs the recipient to products for his pet. We could simply create a separate custom field that includes the web address for each set of products by Pet Type. If your site’s URL structure allows, there’s an easier way.

The HTML code for the link at the bottom of our “dog” email looks like this:

<a href=”https://randompetshop.com/products/dog”>Check out our latest inventory.</a>

This code will link the entire phrase, “Check out our latest inventory,” to the Dogs page on https://randompetshop.com. Similar to the dynamic image, we can use our Pet Type Personalization Tag to include the correct link for each person on our list. Here’s how we can apply our dynamic link in the Campaign Monitor template:

<a href=”https://randompetshop.com/products/[PetType,fallback=]“>Check out our latest inventory.</a>

Placement of this dynamic code will allow us to provide the cat products link to the cat owners, the mouse products link to the mouse owners, and so on. Please note that this will only work if our current URL structure includes an existing and unique value to match up with a variable. If our website addresses are more complicated, there may be other creative ways (such as using page ID numbers or redirects) to send your customers to the right web page.

If you have the tools and data to provide dynamic content, please do so. Create meaningful value for your email audience. Add some relevance to your relevance, and avoid becoming a junk box’s wet dream.

If you have any questions about the detail above, please ask in the comments below.

Additional Resources
Campaign Monitor: Personalization and Custom Fields
MailChimp: Dynamic Content and Merge Tags
ExactTarget: Dynamic Content Example and Wiki