Using video in email marketing: possibilities and challenges

Email Studies, mainly by ESPs, have shown that using video in email marketing might have a positive impact on conversion and recipient engagement. I have discussed some possibilities for email marketers to integrate video in their campaigns earlier.

In this post, I look at the issue from all possible viewpoints, with additional input from the people at Gold Lasso.

Considering that billions of videos are viewed online every single month, it’s no surprise that marketers and retailers are eager to incorporate video into their email marketing campaigns.

Video, engagement and viral marketing

When the content is compelling, relevant and useful to the viewer, videos have the power to engage customers far more than simple text or images.

Videos let you show, not just tell, customers about your products. And if the video’s especially educational – or entertaining – it can become a viral marketing tool, which can lead to more subscribers.

While videos are certainly popular, marketers who want to use videos in their email campaigns have been stymied by the inability to properly display videos via embedding. To work around these obstacles, companies have simulated videos through links and images, but those alternatives come with downsides.

Incorporating video into email used to be a simple matter. Several years ago, marketers had the ability to embed video in emails, by including HTML code that “fetched” the video file to run in the email itself, just as one would embed a YouTube video in a blog post or web page.

No Flash: the text link and image alternative

ISPs, however, grew wary of spyware and viruses, so they eliminated the opportunity by blocking JavaScript and Flash functionality that enabled the video to display properly. Nowadays, nearly all the major email clients and webmail services block embedded videos from playing directly in emails.

Since ISPs began blocking video functionality, marketers discovered that they could best avoid video/email compatibility issues by instead simulating video, i.e., putting the actual video on a web page and using the email to drive traffic.

While simulating, rather than embedding, video has become the best way to incorporate video into email, these approaches come with downsides in terms of display, accessibility and the video’s ability to grab attention.

Marketers have used primarily two approaches to simulate video in their email campaigns: inserting a simple text link, or linking with an animated image/GIF.

The simplest alternative to embedding video is to insert a text link to the video from your email. The video then opens in an external browser. While this approach is straightforward and uncomplicated, it lacks the obvious visual draw and speed of an embedded video or a related image. For this reason, the best practice for most marketers has been to insert a clickable screen shot or animated image of the video.

Simulating video with images typically generates more visual interest. Because images will render across all email platforms, this approach is considered a safe alternative to embedding. Unfortunately, images also get blocked. Animated GIFs no longer run properly, as they are also blocked because spammers used to bypass filters. Marketers have a few options to bypass this obstacle, including the addition of a text link below the image and using alt attributes in the HTML code.

Not satisfied with these alternatives, marketers are still searching for a way to embed videos directly into their emails – with sound and image quality intact. The goal is to reach prospects instantly without waiting for a video to load, or without the added step of linking to another site.

While many companies and marketers alike have tried to find ways to embed videos, none have been consistently successful. Today many companies simply insert a regular image (not animated) which basically is a screenshot of the video, including the play button.

New solutions for video in emails: what’s next?

Recently, however, a few companies have introduced new technology for true video embedding.

One of them is Goodmail Systems whose CertifiedVideo platform enables qualified senders to incorporate rich video and audio content directly in email messaging, without additional mouse-clicks and pop-ups.

CertifiedVideo supports streaming and progressive download of .SWF and .FLV files, playable in Adobe Flash Player.

Another company, Flimp Media has developed a video landing page solution and another player is VideoHere.

There are more solutions and you can bet, that given the increased attention for using video in email and online video in general, more will pop up.

Recently, some sources indicated that using video on the opt-in page could increase subscriptions as we wrote here.

The bottom-line: does it offer value?

However, whatever solution you pick, always keep these two questions in mind prior to using video in email:

Does the video serve a business purpose? (build awareness, build engagement, better showcase products to improve sales, educate, etc.)
Does it deliver value to the recipients? (relevant and valuable?)

More possibilities, tips or ideas? Please share them.


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2 thoughts on “Using video in email marketing: possibilities and challenges”

  1. This article is well written, but there are a couple of points I wanted to mention.
    1. Animated .GIFs are not blocked by ISPs, or if they are, it’s because they were embedded with the email rather than referenced in the email. Either referenced or embedded animated .GIFs will render in email, but embedded will experience wide blocking, plus slow down mail delivery and cause other experience issues for subscribers. Referenced animated .GIFs are the only way to go with animated .GIF. The real limitations of .GIF are a) no sound b) inconsistent support among mail clients, leading to quality variances. Issue #1 is not solveable using .GIF technology. Issue #2 can be solved using technology.
    2. There is no mention here of HTML5. HTML5 support on iPhone and iPad is a significant development and represents additional opportunity for email marketers. Detecting whether a subscriber is using an iPhone or iPad and rendering videos in email for those users is possible today. I’m a little surprised it wasn’t mentioned.

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