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Will Video Make The Email Star? Definitely

Every so often there is a new, hot topic in email marketing. Many of these hot topics are adopted widely and eventually become commonplace across the email marketing industry. Some past examples include the 'view online' header link, forward-to-a-friend functionality, and social media links. The latest hot topic in email marketing is video.

Why is video in email the new hot topic even though it has been around for a while?
There are a number of compelling reasons why video is such a hot topic. These include:
  • The expense of creating and hosting video is falling.
  • Rising access to high-speed Internet has given more people the ability to view videos online.
  • Video viewing increases engagement by adding context to products and building brand identities.
  • It has become easier and easier to create videos. It is hard to find a digital camera or cell phone today that does not also have video creation capabilities.
  • Video allows email marketers to stand out more not only in the inbox, but in blogs, and other media and social avenues.
  • As the email channel matures, so do email subscribers. Simply receiving an email is no longer the novelty it once was. Subscribers are demanding and expecting more of their emails.
The video-as-landing-page strategy
Over the past year or so there has been some dabbling with adding video in email. But due to rendering issues, deliverability problems, time and resource constraints, file sizes and other obstacles, video has not taken off or become a permanent fixture in most email marketing messages. One proven workaround is by using animated GIF images in lieu of actual embedded videos.


Before we get into Animated GIFs, let’s explore two other common ways that video is currently delivered in email. One, is with an image or other call to action that links to a video. In this "Preview Our New Commercials – Watch Now" example, the Watch Now button redirects to a URL and then plays a video.

The second common technique is displaying an image of what looks like a video. When the “play” button is selected, the viewer is redirected to a URL where the video plays. Both of these strategies are examples of linking to video via email.

One of the major considerations of these two strategies is that the consumer is taken away from the email to an external website. For some retail or traditional 'conversion' businesses, this means that the viewer would then require additional direction on that landing page indicating how to convert or make a purchase. This can be difficult especially if the video is on a standalone page, hosted on YouTube, or on some other social media or video site. Essentially the email marketer is ceding some control by linking to an external site to view the video. But for media and publishing businesses who rely less on traditional 'conversions' and more on advertising revenue, landing pages offer a great venue for display ads as well as pre/post-roll advertising. The implications of landing pages depend largely on your particular line of business.

Animated GIFs as video substitute
An Animated GIF file is a layered graphic file that moves frame by frame to give the appearance of motion. Animated GIFs are most frequently used in web advertising banners, but there has also been a recent surge in the use of Animated GIFs in email. One interesting use, beyond flashing letters or moving icons, is creating what looks like a video embedded in the email content. These videos present a visually unique and impressive message, and when used effectively, create visually engaging emails that deliver a “wow” factor that stagnant images cannot. To really catch the attention of email openers, be sure to place the most interesting Animated GIFs above-the-fold.

In the past, one major problem that email marketers were having with Animated GIFs was creating the appearance of video while keeping file sizes manageable. While clunky video-to-GIF plug-ins have been around for many years, only recently has the technology been able to streamline the conversion of video into highly compressed and legible Animated GIFs. There is a company called Live Clicker that turns Animated GIFs into what they call Video GIFs, which are essentially their version of an advanced Animated GIF. Getting a little help with Animated GIFs is not a bad idea if you want to make sure you do this process correctly.

When dealing with Animated GIFs, it's important to remember that they are not actual video files even though they now can take on the appearance of video. Animated GIFs cannot offer many of the features that true video offers, such as player controls (pause, fast forward buttons, etc.) and perhaps most importantly, audio. Certain browsers and email applications will also render the speed of the animation differently from computer to computer.

What are the best practices, tips and other information for using Animated GIFs in email?
  • Use video as a primary call-to-action, rather than supporting visual element. You want your subscribers interacting with the video, not just passing over it. Make the animation the focal point of the email.
  • First and last impressions are key. Ensure the first and last frames of the video look good and display the call to action because only the first frame of an Animated GIF will display in Outlook 2007 (Outlook 2007 only displays static images). If your video is not set to loop infinitely, the last frame of the video will be the "last frame standing" once the animation completes, so be sure to include a call to action there as well.
  • Pay attention to your video infrastructure and try to keep the size of the animated GIF to a minimum. You should experiment with dithering and frame rate to reduce the bandwidth load required of the end recipient. Reducing the number of colors per frame from 256 to 128 can also reduce the size of a video GIF by a quarter without noticeably impacting output quality. Do not create videos that require greater than 150kB – 200kB/sec in data transfer to display properly.
  • Measure the connection speed of visitors on your web site to get an idea of the percent of your email audience on dial-up. If a high percent of your audience is on dial-up make sure you test your Animated GIF thoroughly before deploying to your entire list.
  • Never use Flash or Javascript to attempt to get video to play in email. This will cause rendering problems on a number of email applications as there is no industry standard when it comes to such technologies.
  • Most web videos are typically no longer than thirty to forty-five seconds. Animated GIFs should be even shorter to keep file sizes down. A best practice for longer videos would be to use landing pages, along with subtitles or text displayed throughout the video to maintain attention.
Now you know how to best deploy the new hot topic in email marketing – good luck using Animated GIFs!

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1 comment:

  1. Nicely put Jordan, although I hopefully as far as video email is concerned we will be seeing further developments with HTML5, which will certainly spice things up. Thanks again.