Bringing the Small Screen to Email

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As the world’s most popular storytelling medium, video has perennially promised a way to not only create more dynamic email experiences, but also drive up engagement within the channel. Unfortunately, deliverability and rendering problems have long banished video from the inbox — until now. For the first time ever, embedded video in email is a reality for senders that approach the subject carefully and use the right set of technologies.

One need look no further than the success of late TV pitchman Billy Mays or the massive scale of shop-from home TV networks QVC or HSN to see that persuasive video storytelling can make products fly off of shelves when applied thoughtfully in a direct response environment.

Yet when it comes to incorporating video within the email channel, one of the most powerful direct response mediums ever created, video adoption remains subdued at best. According to a February 2013 study published by The Relevancy Group, only 25% of email marketers use video in their email programs. This is despite the fact that those marketers using video in email cited higher clickthrough rates (55% of survey respondents) and longer read-time of emails (44% of respondents).

“In the first mailing that we launched using embedded video, our click through rate doubled compared to prior video emails.” -Marissa Oyadomari, Sr. Digital Marketing Specialist, Bare Escentuals.

One would naturally ask why stories like Bare Escentuals‘ remain so few and far between. For anyone who’s been around the channel long enough, there is an obvious reason: email marketers have been told for years that embedding video in email is a bad idea. Deliverability problems, rendering issues, and production complexities topped the list of painful realities facing senders wishing to embed video in email.

Fortunately, we live in a world where technology is always advancing and new opportunities are constantly emerging. Many senders now reach over half of all email openers on mobile devices like iPhones, iPads, and Androids. The open HTML5 standard has breathed new life into embedded video in email, which is supported on many of these mobile devices.

When coupled with mail client sniffing technology, most B2C senders can now reach over 60% of all email openers with embedded video in email. B2B is not far behind at 40%. Any opener still incapable of seeing embedded video in email can be dynamically served a clickable video thumbnail image instead, largely negating the negative stigma surrounding embedded video in email.

Yet simply because embedding video in email is now possible, is using this tactic advisable? Marketers need to think long and hard about the quality and relevance of available video content available before making a decision.

In January 2014, Liveclicker released a study showing embedded video in email drove 35% more video plays when compared to linking to web video from email. The data was collected from over 10 million email opens in Q4 2013 and spanned both B2B and B2C verticals.

While on the surface the data seems to spell a “win” for embedded video in email, I’d argue that it’s neither positive or negative. The reality is that embedded video is simply an amplifier exposing more recipients to video content. Poorly crafted videos, videos that are too long, videos that are out of context with other in-email messaging, or flat-out irrelevant videos will just depress results when more recipients watch them.

For anyone thinking of using embedded video in email for the first time, I’d suggest to tread lightly and test first. And never, ever forget that for embedded video to be successful for your brand, your video content needs to be as persuasive, entertaining, or engaging as any of those old Billy Mays infomercials — dark beard and shouting at viewers optional.