Variable tags vs dynamic content in Pardot

Apr 15, 2020


by | Apr 15, 2020 | Technology


There are some great ways to personalise content in Pardot using either variable tags or dynamic content – or both! If you are not using either of these then you are missing out on delivering relevant content to your prospects. And as we all know – personalised content = higher engagement.

Whether you’ve been avoiding variable tags and dynamic content due to doubts on how best to leverage them, or you are simply unsure of the value they can bring, we’ll go through the pros and cons of each and outline a few example scenarios of when you should use one or the other (or both).

Variable Tags

A quick caveat for this section:

If you haven’t upgraded to HML (Handlebars Merge Language) then you will still be using Variable Tags in Pardot. If you have upgraded, then you will be using Merge Values. For this post we’re going to assume more people are still using Variable Tags and will reference that throughout the post unless talking about something specific to Merge Values/ HML.

If you have used any kind of email tool before, odds are you are familiar with variable tags – and you may not even know it! With this functionality, you are able to add the variable tag to your email copy and Pardot will fill it in with data pulled from the Prospect’s record, their account, as well as some system data.

By using variable tags you can create personalised messages in their most basic form. Below is an example of email copy using variable tags:

Hi %%first_name%%,

Thank you for expressing interest in %%Product_Field%%. As you know, this is a versatile product that is sure to support the existing business processes of %%company%%.

I’d love to give you a personalised demo of %%Product_Field%%. Can you confirm that this is the best number for me to call so we can arrange that: %%phone%%?

I look forward to speaking with you.



What if a Prospect record doesn’t have data in a field?

This is a common question and a good one, it means you are thinking through the customer experience and the various possibilities. There will be times when not all your email recipients will have data against a field you are using as a variable tag. However, in this instance, you can set a “default merge field value” for that particular field.

Let’s take the “First Name” field as an example. Navigate in Pardot to Admin > Configure Fields > Prospect Fields.

Find the “First Name” field and click on the gear to “Edit” the field.

You will see the following field set up options. Notice there is a box to tick which says “Set a default mail merge value to be used when the field doesn’t have a value”. Tick this box and a text box will appear where you can type in the default value.

When this box isn’t ticked, or it is but you leave the value blank, it means in the instances where you have the %%first_name%% variable tag, but there is no value for this field in the Prospect’s record, it will appear blank to the end user.

Think carefully about what value you use for a Default Mail Merge Value, especially if your Pardot is used by multiple teams spanning different countries and languages. Only one default value can be added, so there are cases where it makes sense to just leave this blank.

TIP: With HML you are able to use conditional statements which can be customised for each use, meaning your company is not restricted by one default mail merge value.

We’ve given an initial overview on variable tags but if you’d like additional information then take a look at this Salesforce Help article here.

Dynamic Content

Dynamic Content allows you to serve custom content to Prospects based on a single field parameter. This feature can be used not only in emails, but also in forms, landing pages and layout templates.

NOTE: Dynamic Content comes with Pardot Plus and Advanced Editions and is available for an additional cost in Pardot Standard Edition.

Let’s continue with emails as our example. If you want to send an email to a group of Prospects but need to change the message based on their Country field data, then you could set up Dynamic Content to do this for you.

Navigate to Marketing > Content > Dynamic Content and click to “Add Dynamic Content

After naming and assigning a folder location, you can set the Default Content.

Then you can choose the Variation criteria (ie – the field) that your Dynamic Content will be based on. For our example we’re using “Country”.

NOTE: Dynamic Content can only be based on Default or Custom Prospect Fields.

Finally, you add copy for all the different “Country” variations required:

Dynamic Content is a versatile form of personalisation, you can:

  • Use it in emails, landing pages, forms and even on your own website
  • Use variable tags/merge fields within your dynamic content for an extra level of personalisation

However, Dynamic Content does have a few limitations:

  • It can only be based on one Prospect field
  • Formatting can be tricky, especially if you try to stack multiple Dynamic Content items

You may also need to weigh up situations to see whether it’s beneficial to use Dynamic Content, or to just create separate emails and lists with unique messages.

Below is a handy decision tree to help (note the following is only applicable if you do not have HML enabled):

Again the above is a basic overview but if you want to know more about setting up and using Dynamic Content there’s some helpful information in this Salesforce article.

Data is key to success!

Forgive me for always going on about data, but with personalisation it is essential you have this nailed!

If you are using Variable Tags, you want to ensure the fields you are using – the usual suspects are first name, last name, company name – are not only filled in but spelled correctly and with a proper casing. No one wants to receive a shouty email “Hello TRIANA…”

With Dynamic Content, this feature will deliver the most value if your Prospects have data in the fields you are basing the Dynamic Content on. If you want to show content based on Country, but only a small portion of your Prospects have a value in this field, then the rest will only see the “default” content. Which is okay, but the more you can customise the experience for your Prospects, the more engaged they’re likely to be and the more likely they are to buy from your brand.

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Further reading

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