Relevance is the single most important tactic in improving your email marketing results.

The key to relevant content is email personalization. According to one study, 96% of organizations believe that email personalization can improve email marketing performance. (We’re not sure what the other 4% were thinking). And more importantly, it’s a best practice that really works. The same study reported that personalized emails improve click-through rates by 14%, and conversion rates by 10%. (Source: The Aberdeen Group). In this guide, we’ll break down how you can quickly and effectively take advantage of one of the most powerful methods of personalization you can use in email marketing: dynamic content.

Chapter 1

What is dynamic email content?

Dynamic email content is where you use what you know about your subscribers to show more relevant content to them. Where classic email personalization inserts the exact data into an email, dynamic content takes it further by using that information to display different content to different people.

For example, say you sell clothing and know the gender of your subscribers. Using dynamic content you can send a single email that contains the latest men’s range for male recipients and the latest female range for women. This technique opens the door to sending highly targeted, relevant information to different types of subscribers – all through a single email campaign.

Why you should try it

Relevancy is the biggest reason to give dynamic content a go. Usability studies have shown that the inbox is an even harsher environment than the web when it comes to people skimming over content and paying attention to almost none of it.

Here’s some sobering evidence from usability expert Jakob Nielsen:

“…the average time allocated to a newsletter after opening it was only 51 seconds. “Reading” is not even the right word, since participants fully read only 19% of newsletters. The predominant user behavior was scanning. Often, users didn’t even scan the entire newsletter: 35% of the time, participants only skimmed a small part of the newsletter or glanced at the content.”

Email Newsletters: Surviving Inbox Congestion – Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox, June 12, 2006

So maximizing the attention your email gets by showing content that will grab that subscriber’s attention is really important. Unsurprisingly too, more engagement from subscribers leads to more people going on to take the desired action, which ultimately means better results from your email campaigns.

Another benefit is the savings in setup time. Have you ever had to produce an email for your organization where 90% of the content was the same for everyone on your mailing list, but time had to be spent creating a completely separate campaign targeting the other 10%?

That’s something you can forget with dynamic content. You can hone in on the most relevant content for your audience segments and roll everything into one design.

Consider a deal-of-the-day website that features discount vouchers for various products and services. When signing up, subscribers select the type of discount vouchers they want to hear about, for example: Camping & Outdoors, Homewares, Dining Out, Entertainment, Health & Beauty.

Using dynamic content you deliver only the offers each subscriber wants to hear about and nothing more, all wrapped up in one campaign:

Previewing each email with dynamic content

So shorter, more relevant emails that are quicker to setup. Why wouldn’t you give dynamic content a try?

Chapter 2

Applying email personalization to your campaign

To provide content that is most relevant to your recipients, you need to know something about them. All the information you have stored on subscribers, starting from the day they opted in to your mailing list or made a purchase, is the basis for your first dynamic content campaign.

It’s just a matter of deciding who to target and what to offer. We’ve listed some ideas to help get you thinking about what you could do with your data but keep in mind that the most effective content strategy to increase relevancy could be the simplest.

Newsletter signup

Ideas are in the data

Use your subscriber data to generate ideas. This includes information people have volunteered through signup forms and preference pages, or observed behavior related to purchases, previous campaign activity or interaction with your website.

Below are some thought starters to help you consider what data you’ve got, and what you could do with it.

Email Demographic data

What do your customers or subscribers do for work? How old are they? What does their job title tell you about their role in the decision making process when it comes to the widgets you want them to buy?

All of this is useful to consider when planning your email campaign. Let’s take a look at the options for a specific piece of demographic information: location.

Using your subscribers’ physical address, you could:

  • promote local events
  • reference regional preference
  • localize your copy, or even language
  • use local geography to direct your content
  • leverage seasonality.

The possibilities are endless when you can set it all up through one campaign.

Behavioral data

This is everything you’re able to observe (and record) about what people have done before. When was the last time they visited your website? What did they look at, buy or download? How many boxes of widgets do they order each time? What time of year do they start seeking widget consultation?

Here are some different ways you could use behavioral data:

  • Distinguish between how you market to your customers versus your prospects.
  • Promote new content or calls to action, instead of stuff they’ve already seen or done.
  • Preempt their need to re-stock on widgets by letting them know they’re on sale this week.
  • Feature content formats that you know your subscribers have responded well to in the past.

Transactional data

If you’re a retailer, transactional data is a powerful way to personalize your campaign. What did your customers spend with you? How recently did they purchase? How frequently do they buy?

This information can help you run campaigns that feature things like:

  • Personalized recommendations based on what your subscribers have purchased recently.
  • Special offers for customers that spend more.
  • Reminders for customers that haven’t spent recently.
Chapter 3

Tips for success

Dynamic email content is a powerful technique that can help you significantly improve your campaign results. But used incorrectly, it will backfire faster than you can blink.

There are three main things you need to focus on to ensure the success of your campaign:

Customer data

To increase the relevance of your email campaigns you have to understand your audience. You need to find out as much as you can about the people you’re communicating with so you can tailor content that is unique to them.

Work on building out your database at every given opportunity. That doesn’t translate into asking someone to fill out a lengthy form before they can sign up for your email list. But record as much as you can based on where they signed up from, what their basic contact details are, when they signed up, etc.

If you can find ways to consistently inform, entertain, assist or just make your subscriber feel recognized or unique, you will create a relationship with them that lasts for ages, giving you plenty of opportunities to learn more about them.

Accurate information is the key

You also need to make sure that what you do know about your subscribers is correct. There’s nothing worse than sending a highly relevant email… that’s based on wrong or outdated information.

One way to improve accuracy is by encouraging your subscribers to update their preferences. Consider sending an introductory email, suggesting that your subscribers update their preferences in order to receive more relevant updates on their favorite products. Running a contest or promotion to drive more updates can be one effective tactic to maximize response to this type of campaign.

It’s also worthwhile to make sure new subscribers know right away they can change their preferences, or unsubscribe at any time. Consider calling out your preference center more prominently than you typically would in your welcome email.

And of course – make sure you include a link to your preference center in every email you send, and remind your subscribers they can change their preferences at any time.


The last step in ensuring the success of your dynamic content-powered campaign is rigorous testing. Errors happen with every email campaign – but using faulty logic to trigger your campaign, or making a mistake with how you’ve matched up your content to your logic can spell disaster.

The most efficient way to test your campaign is to preview every iteration of the campaign you’re sending. Some email platforms (including Campaign Monitor!) will make this easy on you in the testing phase and automatically give you previews of each possible combination. If your email platform doesn’t enable previews automatically, it’s worth manually configuring a test for each version.

Accurate customer data & disciplined testing are key to effective personalized #emailmarketing

Chapter 4

Using dynamic email content with Campaign Monitor

So now you’re all ready to use dynamic content, how do you do that in Campaign Monitor? There are actually two ways depending on how you create your email. The first and easiest is to use dynamic content when creating your emails in our builder. If you’re coding the email yourself skip to the second option of using dynamic content tags.

When you’re designing your emails in our builder, you can use the “who should see this” setting for each block of content. It allows you to select which lists or segments of lists should see that particular part of the email. This allows you to build out several versions of the email for different sets of customers based on what you know about them, all from within one campaign.

For example, let’s say your emails feature ideas for things to do in locations all over the country. Now the majority of the time people are only going to be interested in things local to them, so you’d like to make sure the featured ideas block of the email only shows options within a 50 mile radius of the subscriber’s city. First you’d setup all the city segments in your list using our geolocation feature. You might also add a generic segment to catch anyone whose location is unclear.

Creating a geolocation segment for your city

Then in the email builder you would create a section featuring things to do in say San Francisco and use the “who should see this” setting to select the segment of subscribers living within a 50 mile radius of San Francisco.

Creating a geolocation segment for your city

Then you’d create a section featuring New York City suggestions and use the “who should see this setting” to choose the New York City segment.

You could go on to create a featured block for every city segment you have in your list. When it comes time to preview your final design, you’re able to preview what the final email will look like for each of the different groups.

Previewing each email with dynamic content

Find out more about using dynamic content in our email builder.

Chapter 4

If there is a “magic” formula for optimal email marketing results, it starts with relevant content. And there’s no greater way to improve the relevancy of your content than personalizing it with techniques like dynamic content.

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