In the most recent post of this five-part series, I focus on the distinction and interplay between triggered journeys and newsletters. Both journeys and newsletters have their purpose and can reinforce one another, but newsletter relationship–building content must be differentiated from the explicit selling that comes with most triggered marketing messages. My last post teased the topic of modular design systems and their relationship to email marketing. Let’s dive in.

Step 3: Develop a Dynamic Content Design System 

Ask a room full of marketers what email personalization means, and you’ll get a roomful of different answers. In one camp, it will be described as simply inserting data fields, such as a customer’s first name or account balance, into the email. But this is often difficult to execute and does virtually nothing to help build profitable customer relationships.

In another camp, the responses may center around “1:1 content.” Any innovative marketer who is chasing this Holy Grail of CX will tell you how painful it is to both define and implement a truly 1:1 email experience.

That said, if you look at 1:1 content through the lens of a dynamic content design system, you’ll see how pain-free it actually is to define and implement. The term might be a mouthful to say, so let’s simplify it by unpacking its two pillars: design systems and dynamic content.

design system is basically a framework that considers how modular components interact with each other.  

To understand its power to deliver scale, ask yourself this: how many different ways can six 2×4 red LEGOs be combined? Almost one million! 915,103,765 to be exact. The point here is that well-designed systems allow modular components to interact with each other in ways that are only limited by the imagination. Now consider how many combinations could be made with more than six LEGOs. Nathan Sawaya gives us a great example of how these modular components can unleash a world of unlimited possibilities.

Imagine applying a design system to your email marketing. A dynamic content design system is simply a collection of reusable HTML modules and a single flexible template that can be compiled in an infinite number of permutations to support your entire email marketing channel. 

It’s a popular myth that emails designed with modular content have to look clunky. With a well-designed system, that couldn’t be further from reality. Your modules don’t have to have borders around them. In fact, if your system and content modules are designed under clearly defined brand guidelines and adhere to email best practices, they can be combined in countless ways to support all of the marketing emails your company sends to its customers. And, like Nathan’s LEGO artwork, there’s no limit to what you can create.

Because it’s the key to individualized customer experiences, the concept of a dynamic content design system is quickly becoming mainstream and we’ll see innovative marketers begin embracing it in 2022 

Dynamic Content

If you’re a big brand, you’re likely to have hundreds of thousands or even millions of individual customers. You’re probably wondering how those content modules get mapped to each customer. 

The short answer is with dynamic content, not a new concept by any means in web and email channels. 

Think about when you shop at most enterprise ecommerce websites. You see dozens, hundreds, and thousands of purchase options that are searchable, targeted to you based on prior searches, previous purchases, people like you, and clearance items—all driven by content modules and targeting logic. Not only is dynamic content common practice, it’s something we’ve all come to expect. 

By contrast, while dynamic content functionality has been around for a long time, (since the late 1990s), many times it’s not used properly or sufficiently. One big reason is that marketers have struggled to leverage it in the absence of a dynamic content design system. The other is the prior limitations of the technology itself. (We will dive into this in the next installment.)

Customers have come to expect the same level of 1:1 in email, so now is the time to start. Depending on your business and level of email sophistication, you can scale from a few dozen to hundreds of reusable modules over time. Don’t worry—it’s a phased, methodical approach.

As a first step, you should be able to develop a proof of concept by leveraging the “Dynamic Content” feature in your current Email Service Provider (ESP). You should also be able to develop some basic targeting logic for each module with some simple segmentation. From there, you can scale up to email content automation, which simplifies the use of dynamic content while enabling you to predictively serve the next best message.

I’ve heard from many marketers who are reaching the upper limits of what their ESP can deliver with their native dynamic content functionality. The next logical step in this roadmap is Content Automation.

In part four of this series, we’ll explore what you can do with your current tech stack to help future-proof your email marketing roadmap for both triggered journeys and newsletters. With countless tools and platforms to consider, modernizing a complex marketing tech stack is a top priority for organizations looking to get the most value from their existing investments.

Stay tuned and as always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. If you missed the first two parts, take a read here:

Step 1: Assess Current Trends and Separate the Wheat from the Chaff

Step 2: Make a distinction between triggered journeys and newsletters