Salesforce, Marketing Cloud, Journey Builder

Comparing Marketing Cloud, Pardot and TargetX Communication Tools: Which do you need?

Are you a marketing professional or system administrator at an institution with Salesforce? Are you making a decision on which tools to purchase, implement, and/or use?

We’re here to help.

In this article we will  look at some of the benefits and drawbacks of three tools widely used in higher education in order to help you understand the best fit for your institution or program.

When comparing Marketing Cloud, Pardot, and TargetX Email, it’s important to understand what each tool was originally intended for:

-Marketing Cloud was initially designed for Business-to-Consumer marketing

-Pardot was initially designed for Business-to-Business marketing

-TargetX Email was built for bulk email communication in a higher education-specific framework  

It is likely that none of these definitions are an exact match for your institution’s marketing or communication needs. The content below provides a deeper dive into the products to help you determine which solution(s) is the best fit for you.


Marketing Cloud – The most robust, the most features

Marketing Cloud is the most complex of the three tools, both in administration/configuration and in general email use. However, with complexity comes great power. The tool is built to handle 1:1 contact journeys at scale across multiple communication channels, not just email. Other channels include Social Studio, MobileConnect, and Advertising Studio.

If you have multiple business units needing to use email to target separate audiences and/or maintaining complex business processes that need a dynamic and flexible solution, Marketing Cloud may be right for you. There are many ways to build communication through declarative/clickable functionality. When it is not possible through clicks, it can usually be accomplished by developers.

We often see clients choose Marketing Cloud when they plan to use their email communication tool for multiple prospective student audiences as well as current students. 

Here are some of the most popular features:

  • Journey Builder and Automation Studio are powerful tools that allow marketers to design sophisticated and dynamic journeys for students based on real-time data in Salesforce.
    • A look at the Journey Builder experience:

Salesforce, Marketing Cloud, Journey Builder

  • Marketing Cloud’s dynamic content helps marketers send the right message to the right students and can accommodate many variations and complex criteria through the use of AMPScript.

Do we really need all of Marketing Cloud’s features?

While Marketing Cloud can handle even the most complex business process, it will usually require dedicated developer and administrator support, as well as a strong implementation partner to get you off the ground and running.

Also bear in mind, there is a steep learning curve, even for experienced marketing professionals.

We recommend taking a hard look at your most complex scenarios when it comes to communication, then deciding if the cost is worth the benefit.


Pardot – Great out-of-the box features, easy to learn

Pardot is the easiest and most straight-forward of the three tools to use. With the assistance of one or two administrator-level users for the initial setup and configuration, the tool can be largely managed by marketing professionals without deep technical expertise. Marketers can build intelligent automations and Engagement Programs that email prospects at timely and strategic moments of the lifecycle journey.

Salesforce, Pardot, Engagement Programs

While Pardot’s communication features are primarily focused on email, it does contain some built-in Social functionality, as well as the ability to add plugins/connectors to other applications for multi-channel engagement.

What makes Pardot standout as a marketing automation tool is its ability to support lead generation with the ability to build and host landing pages, as well as create smart forms to support advanced audience segmentation.

Our clients with a need to more easily support lead gen efforts with online and digital campaigns often prefer Pardot because of its ability to easily  qualify the prospects they engage online before sending to admissions for full recruitment. Additionally, Pardot offers analytics and insight into how leads interact with your website (not just landing pages) to understand the path from web visitor to converted lead.

Pricing for Pardot is driven by number of Prospects, so keeping Pardot in perfect sync with your Salesforce Contact records will typically require increasing the limit of prospects (and your overall cost).

Our recommendation is to look at your business processes to see if they match or are very close to the Pardot out-of-the box functionality. If the answer is yes, and you feel your institution would benefit from some of the additional marketing features included with Pardot (forms, landing pages, etc.), then Pardot may be right for you.


If you currently – or plan to use the additional marketing functionality Pardot offers with analytics, landing pages and smart forms, Pardot may be an easy choice.


Here are some of the most popular features:

  • Engagement programs allow for easy set up and regular maintenance of drip campaigns
  • Tags and folders for your marketing assets (campaigns, templates, lists, etc.) allow for easy organization
  • Built-in functionality for scoring and grading prospects and sending that information to Salesforce


What about when {{insert your higher ed communication scenario here}}?

While Pardot may be the easiest to use, it is not tremendously flexible- Take one simple example, it is not possible to send an email to an alternative email address for a Prospect.

Straying from the standard functionality within the product to accommodate complex business processes can lead to a slippery slope of workarounds and ultimately a more difficult tool to manage.  


TargetX Email – Designed with higher education in mind 

Unlike Pardot and Marketing Cloud, all TargetX Email functionality lives within your Salesforce instance, meaning your segmentation and scheduling efforts are tied directly to your data in Salesforce, without the need for a connector or integration. Email sends are related to the Salesforce standard Campaign object.

Segmentation can be managed within Salesforce reports, so if your team is already familiar with reporting, then the learning curve is much easier. Depending on the level of statistics requested from TargetX, campaign performance can also be tracked in Salesforce reports.

If sending bulk email based on student criteria makes up most of your institution’s communication needs, your triggered email needs can be satisfied by Salesforce functionality (like process builder and flow), and your other-channel (SMS, Social, Advertising) needs can be handled apart from this tool, then TargetX Email may be right for you.


Here are some of the most popular features:

  • Marketers have the ability to send to a contact’s primary email or one alternative email address. Institutions will often use this alternative email to store the student’s .edu email address at the point it is assigned.
  • Re-sending an email to a contact can be done in one click from the student record.
  • Parents can be easily included in an email send to students or can be selected as the only recipients – a feature many TargetX clients use.
  • Creating messages is much easier thanks to the new drag and drop functionality TargetX created.

Salesforce, TargetX

But where are the cool marketing features?

Remember, TargetX Email is not designed to be a robust marketing tool, with landing pages, auto replies, etc. Note drip campaigns are very much possible, and many of our clients use the tool as such. If your campaign is complex, however, relating multiple email sends together can become difficult to manage long-term.

The tool is not built to handle complex dynamic content and adding too many variations in your templates can cause degradation or delays in performance.

You can only send one-time or scheduled/on-going emails; there is no functionality for triggered emails or individual sends (Standard Salesforce functionality is typically used instead).


As a consulting firm, we are often asked about the various differences between these communication tools. The best choice is always based on each client’s specific use cases for communication. Taking the time to not only understand the goals and expectations of your current outreach strategy, but also developing a long-term plan for your outreach is an important first step in determining the right fit.

Remember, we are here to help. If you would like to discuss your institution’s communication needs, as well as get some personalized guidance in navigating this decision, please share a little information below to get started.