Video email: current practices

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video clapperWhile we were making eyes and blushing at social media, video email has quietly baked some muffins, spread a blanket and invited us to a rather promising picnic.

So it's time to follow-up the last overview and see where we are today and how organizations are using the tactic in their emails...

Previously, "video email" really meant using email to bring people to video content on a website. Many times when you see vendors talking about "video email services," this is what they actually mean.

But things have changed.

We can now broadly think about two categories of video email: click-to-view video (the reader clicks through to a website to see the video) and video in email (the video actually plays in the email itself).

Click-to-view video

Video content is obviously a big deal right now. According to comScore, US Internet users viewed 14.8 billion online videos in January, with YouTube alone scoring over 100 million unique viewers in that same period.

Do email subscribers like clicking through to videos? The answer seems to be yes.

Anna Yeaman presents some stats from emails sent out by a specialist retailer. She writes:

"When not linking to video his click through rate is between 20-27%...when linking to online video it's consistently between 51-65%"

In another example, Eric Guerin reported a 175% increase in clickthroughs when video content was included in his company's email newsletter.

And Melinda Baxter notes:

"Some of our customers have found that linking to video generates the highest clicks in their email."

The commonest method for pointing people at your video content is to:

1. Take a screenshot of the video displaying in a video player.

2. Add a prominent "play" button to the center of the image.

3. Put the screenshot in your email, linked to the page where the video is hosted (don't forget your alt attributes).

click here to see this funny video

Tip: don't use a default still provided by the video host. Pick a still that's likely to provoke interest.

4. Add a call-to-action, plus one or more text links to the video content.

Do you really need the image? Anecdotal evidence suggests you do...when featuring video links in one of their newsletters, Campaign Monitor reported that:

"...the screen grab was clicked on more than 5 times as often as the text link."

In my own newsletters, a video image attracts between two and ten times the clicks that the accompanying text link gets.

Videos in email

Extensive testing by Campaign Monitor reveals that none of the traditional video playing technologies (Flash, Java etc.) work when embedded in an email. But 2009 brought us some alternatives.

Animated images

If you get away from the semantic baggage associated with the term "video" you see that animated images (typically gifs), done appropriately, actually present a video-like experience (albeit with no sound).

It was Chad White of the Retail Email Blog who really brought the email marketing world's attention to this possibility: see all his posts on the topic.

Style Campaign's Anna Yeaman then took on the baton, explaining how to use common software tools to turn video content into an "animated video" suited for use in email.

You'll find more practical insight on implementation and the pros and cons of animated video from Justin Foster at the Video Commerce Consortium and in this presentation.

Animated images/videos work just about everywhere except in Outlook 2007 (which only displays the first frame of the animation). However, like any image, they are subject to image blocking and are problematical when viewed on mobile devices.

Coming developments

For now, animated videos are the only realistic choice for getting videos to "play" in the email. But new options are on the way. For example:

1. An email certification company, Goodmail Systems, has just launched video certification. Here you pay to have your embedded videos work at Goodmail's partner ISPs. AOL is currently on board, and other ISPs are set to follow. A recent StrongMail post has some background.

2. Google just announced a new labs feature where Gmail identifies YouTube links in incoming email and allows users to view the video from within the Gmail webmail interface. No clickthrough is required.

Alex Williams has explored the potential implications for email marketers, and Justin Premick takes up the conversation here.

Both the Goodmail and Gmail examples suggest that inboxes may eventually open up to embedded video content where either the sender or the video source is clearly identifiable and trusted.

The spread of certification and authentication might see wider availability of "true" video email in the future...

How is video email used?

Whether using video in email or the click-to-view approach, "moving pictures" are subject to the same rules as any other part of an email's content: glitz does not substitute for value.

Three self-evident rules apply:
  • the video must add value to the recipient's experience (what do they get out of it?)
  • it must contribute to campaign objectives (what do you get out of it: more clicks? Better conversions? More pageviews?)
  • it must match the surrounding content, email and brand experience (how does this fit with everything else we send?)
For some top examples of how retailers use video in general, check out this post from Linda Bustos. And Lisa Harmon has some email-specific examples here.

Some common uses in email include:
  • Product displays or products "in action" where the visual experience or impression is critical to the potential purchase (clothes and fashion items, DVDs, concerts and other events)
  • Product or service demonstrations
  • How-to's and educational videos
  • Customer reviews and testimonials
  • Event footage
One important consideration when embedding videos to play in the actual email is bandwidth consumption.

From the perspective of the sender, a large multi-MB animated file playing automatically in every email you send out might demand greater investment in email delivery systems or higher ESP fees.

From the user perspective, bandwidth allowances are still restrictive and/or costly for some email recipients (think mobile surfing plans).

As time passes, we may see video content segmented by destination. So webmail users will get larger, richer videos, since they're likely viewing the email on a browser through a broadband connection.

And finally, no article on video email or any aspect of email marketing would be complete without the usual disclaimer...

If you're thinking of using video email, then digest the above, read the linked articles, decide what makes most intuitive sense for your email marketing model, then test it for yourself.

So, that's the state of play for now. What say you?

More on videos in email | Tags: , ,

Permalink | March 27, 2009 | 9 comment(s)
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Great Post! The rise of email video is happening and we're in the midst of witnessing a revolution in the Inbox.
In fact, I have the good fortune of being involved with a technology that solves all of the issues currently being faced in the effort to embed a video that plays instantly in the mailbox without a clickthru.
Using a form of Ultra-compression, we're able to send a 4 - 15K email with no attachments, no downloads, and no viruses - that contains a 30 second high definition video or Audio clip. Completely customizable and working on all major email platforms, Eyemail has found the answer to putting a video directly into the recipients mailbox.
Only in it's first phase, Eyemail is set to make a very large splash in the next few years. I'd love to get your opinion on the technology and what its potentials are. Contact Me when you have a chance.
By Blogger ray, on 18 August, 2009  

Hi Ray,

Send me an email containing a 30-second high definition video that uses less than 15k in total bandwidth and I will be impressed. You can find my email address here.

Or are you talking about streaming animated/video gifs, where the email may be <15k but you still have to transfer the much, much larger animated file as people view it?
By Anonymous Mark Brownlow, on 18 August, 2009  

Mark, unfortunately the only EyeMails that arrive fully compressed (without attachment and downloads, etc) are the ones that go out in a full Campaign. However, you can visit this link and there are FOUR examples of what Coca-Cola, UPS, Turner, and Mercedes have done with this technology.
(Scroll to the bottom of the screen and click any of the 4 screenshots).
In Eyemail form, these 4 examples are less than 15K in the inbox. You can be skeptical if you'd like (I was), but look at the Clients section and then take a look at how those 4 campaigns performed ( This stuff is real.

I'm not talking about Animated Gifs (as you'll see in the Mercedes example), I'm talking about full highquality video IN your clickthru to another bigger file on another website. Instant Play in the inbox.

It sounds too good to be true...and yet there it is. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.
By Blogger Ray, on 18 August, 2009  

Impressive client list Ray! But you're saying that if a prospective client comes to you, you can't show them a demo of your technology? You'll forgive me if that does little to remove my scepticism. I want to be convinced, but I need to see a working example in my inbox first.
By Anonymous Mark Brownlow, on 18 August, 2009  

Mark, sorry for the delayed response (I ended up getting this crazy head cold for about 24 hours). Feeling better now and wanted to answer your question.
Regarding the demo, this is absolutely possible though it would require a little bit more communication between the two of us (particularly, something along the lines of a Non Disclosure Agreement). This is simply because EyeMail is absolutely revolutionary and people tend to like it so much that they want to take it and use it themselves. I'm not assuming you would do this, of course, but it is company policy because of recent attempts (one person has to ruin it for everyone, eh?).
I'd love to get this demo off to you and show you what EyeMail is all about. Write me back when you get the chance.
By Blogger Ray, on 19 August, 2009  

I think we're going in circles here Ray. If you can send me a simple email that tens of thousands of people already got through your clients' campaigns, great. If not, I have other calls on my time I fear.
By Anonymous Mark Brownlow, on 20 August, 2009  

I have found that video emails works best with warm prospects and clients.
By Anonymous Flywheel aka Ortonom, on 22 August, 2009  

We send videos to all our leads that come in over the internet. I work in a car dealership in Florida. We use videos as a first response. The tool we use is CoVideo Systems
By Anonymous Brian, on 10 September, 2009  

we see click to view personalized video emails growing fast. This avoids any ISP issues, plus we see open rates on 60% plus.
By Blogger anistock, on 23 September, 2009  

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