How Marketers Use Dynamic Content to Deliver Personalized Experiences

We explain the difference between personalization and dynamic content and how to use these tactics for better marketing campaigns.

"Personalization” and “dynamic content” continue to be buzzwords in marketing. As a marketer, I’ve definitely been guilty of using these terms interchangeably or misusing them altogether depending on who my audience is (marketers vs. sales reps vs. IT). However, these words are more than buzz; they’re essential pillars needed to drive better engagement and execute impactful marketing campaigns.

As the marketing programs manager for Acquia Campaign Studio, I understand the very specific definition and application for each of these terms and how they can help marketers create better personalized campaigns. I want to define what each term means and explain how each label should be used in the context of marketing automation.  

Personalization: To be clear, this is the result. Personalization is what marketers are aiming to deliver – user experiences that are personal, meaning they are customized based on contact preferences and previous engagement. 

Dynamic content: Dynamic content is a feature that helps marketers execute their personalization strategy. It’s not the only such feature, but it’s certainly one of the most exciting and powerful (and dare I say, fun?). Dynamic content helps marketers assign rules or instructions to content so that it can automatically adjust for each contact.

Here’s an example of dynamic content in action:

Let’s pretend I’m a marketer for an online retailer. I have a business goal, and I need to create a content strategy that will help me achieve this goal. 

My Goal

Sell last season’s rainwear to drive revenue and make room for summer and fall inventory. 

Determining My Content Strategy

As with any good marketing strategy, I'm trying to reach the right people with the right message at the right time.

Step 1: Select Channels

A marketing automation platform like Campaign Studio allows me to easily deliver communications across multiple channels, but for the purposes of this example, I’ll keep it simple and use email as my primary channel.

Step 2: Create the Audience 

I want to sell rainwear, so I need to find the contacts in my database who need or are interested in rainwear. A good marketing automation system will have done the heavy lifting of capturing valuable and relevant customer information. This isn’t just information gathered from a form, it also includes web tracking and content engagement data. I can now easily analyze the data and build a target audience based on things I know indicate interest. 

Here are the questions I ask myself and the steps I take to identify the right audience.

  1. First, where are my previous rainwear buyers? I can build a segment (target list) that looks for customers who have purchased specific products or categories of products. These customers may already be in existing segments broken out by product or product/type. But I can also perform other segmentation that identifies contacts associated with certain products.

  2. Next, who are the contacts that have previously looked at (but not bought) rainwear products? I can perform segmentation that identifies contacts who have visited specific product pages or who opened previous emails about rainwear but never purchased.

  3. Now, I want to find other contacts who I believe need rainwear. I’m going to get a little creative to improve my results.

So, how do I identify need in this case? Well, where is it raining around the country? By checking a weather app, I can create a list of all the cities or zip codes that are currently experiencing or expecting rain. I can then add a filter into my segmentation to include contacts who live in those cities.

Finally, I want to do more than just include these ‘rainy-city’ contacts in my email audience – I also want to use this new data to add an extra layer of personalization to my email. So, I’m going to create a new custom field for weather conditions and then upload the weather data for the rainy cities I identified. See how I use this in the next section.

Step 3: Personalize the Messaging

A personal email greeting (e.g. “Hello [First Name]”) is lovely, and you should include one when you can, but it’s not earning you bonus points anymore. People expect that brands know their names, so this is really considered table stakes now, even for those using the most basic of email tools. Today, true personalization is accomplished by activating the valuable data you’ve collected about your customers. You need to be turning customer data into meaningful content. So, I’m going to look to tap into the data I know about the customers in my audience and use it to craft a compelling, customized message for each one of them. 


Time to build the email. That’s right, the email. Singular. I’m going to reach a broad audience comprised of customers in different cities, experiencing different weather and having shown different levels of product interest, with just one email build. 

Here’s what my email copy will look like to a few different rainy-city contacts in this campaign:

“Hi Marnie! Looks like rain in New Orleans this weekend. Shop our raincoats!”

“Hi Dave! Looks like clouds in Boston this weekend. Shop our sweaters!”

“Hi Katie! Looks like wind in New York this weekend. Shop our wind-proof collection!

Notice, first name, weather description, city and product are all different and personalized. The field values are added dynamically (hence, dynamic content) based on what I, as the marketer, decided to use: in this case, a combination of customer data collected from past engagement, and the products I featured in this campaign. 

And here’s what it looks like in my email builder:

“Hi {First_Name}! Looks like {Weather_Condition} in {Customer_City} this weekend. Shop {Customer_Product_Item}!”

Let’s not forget the other contacts in this campaign – the ones in non-rainy cities who previously showed interest in rainwear. Using the same email, I can use dynamic content to create an entirely different message variant, specifically for this segment. Since these are folks have already showed interest in these products, I think I can get them to the site with a nice promotional offer.

“Hi Alex! All rainwear is now 50% off. Shop now!

Personalization is a Practice

Both personalization and dynamic content should be part of any digital marketer's vocabulary. Dynamic content is essential to personalization, and personalization is essential to creating 1-to-1 customer experiences that are now expected of any brand that wants to be a leader in their space. Making your website and communications personalized shows you are listening. Just like in everyday conversations, both sides engage and provide input, and both sides expect an appropriate response. That is what a true relationship looks like.

Make it a goal to avoid blasting your total audience with one broad message each time you send an email. The size of your database is not where your strength lies. Instead, start by understanding the data you possess for your contacts, and begin mapping out the most relevant content you can deliver based on that data. 

Remember, any time you engage with your audience, you are capturing information. Even when a customer doesn’t open an email, their lack of action is still information you have and can make decisions around. This non-communication or non-engagement is a data point. Your customer is telling you “no thanks!” through their passiveness. I recommend you keep engagement fields in your database so you can see “active last 30 days” or “did not open email.” And if you have an audience that has lapsed/not engaged, then try a new approach with them, because obviously what you have been doing isn’t working. 

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