Is Email Video Ready for Prime Time Viewing? Or Still Just a Pilot Program?


Video in email. Not a week goes by without a webinar, blog or email newsletter mentioning the topic. But is video in email the real deal? Or is it still too early to start whipping out the camcorders and hiring scriptwriters?

To get a better handle on the topic, I turned to ClickMail Marketing’s CTO, Cameron Kane, for some insight. Cameron is paying close attention to the video vibe and was deploying video for clients way before the hype. But whether or not video is ready for prime time is the topic I asked him to speak upon.

First off, Cameron says you need to be clear on your motivation. Video can be a good tool to engage prospects or re-engage existing customers. But make sure you’ll use it that way. Ask yourself, “Will this really help me engage the customer or am I doing this because it’s the next shiny new thing?”

Next, Cameron cautions being aware of the different ways to deliver video. Which method you choose depends in part on your audience and in part on how much success you want.

  1. As a static image that clicks through to video on a landing page – This is an image with a Play arrow on it indicating it will start a video. The video starts playing upon the click through.
  2. As an animated .gif that plays in the email – Cameron says this is a good way to go if you can get the point of your short video across without sound. “It should be used as more of a lure than the full-blown video,” he says. But it will not play if images are suppressed. And it only shows the first frame in Microsoft Outlook 2007, so when you’re creating it, you must make your first frame a static image with an arrow (as above) so the user can click through. For this reason, it’s a bad choice if you’re a B2B marketer as so many business people use Outlook.
  3. As certified video that plays in the email with audio (AOL only) – Right now this applies only to AOL, although other ISPs are joining, like Comcast. “I think the expansion into ISPs needs to widen a tad before we can really speak to this,” says Cameron. “The home run is if they can get Hotmail, Livemail and Gmail. Then video will be pervasive,” he says. Certified video has just come onto the scene and it will be very interesting in watching this playout. The implications on this front go wide and far. I think the best has yet to come.
  4. As embedded Flash video: “Very bad idea,” says Cameron. “We could do this 5 years ago, but no longer.”

Of the four choices above, Cameron recommends using the static image for a B2B audience. If the audience is B2C, he says, start with an animated .gif and do an A/B split test. If the animated .gif works, filter your AOL audience and if that audience is big enough and a lift in revenue would be significant, use the certified video for that segment. “I would see this option as the best for large retailers,” he says. Although he also points out Goodmail hasn’t done their homework yet on the effectiveness of video and whether or not there’s a lift in ROI. “They don’t have conclusive data as of yet on the lift a sender would receive if using video,” he points out.

If you use video in your email marketing, there are still email best practices to adhere to. Just because you’re adapting a new approach and technology doesn’t mean the old rules no longer apply. Things to keep in mind when using video in your email marketing include:

  • You still have to be relevant and targeted
  • It’s still email. You’re still trying to get the recipient to do something, to take some kind of action
  • You still have to measure its impact
  • You still have to test
  • You have to consider bandwidth and rendering issues

Most of all, perhaps, and this is where the discussion about video in email gets fuzzy, you have to consider image blocking. A recent webinar on video in email hardly spent 10 seconds on the topic, but the reality is, if your recipients have images suppressed, it doesn’t matter which method you choose to deliver your video in the email: They won’t see it.

As Cameron says, “You have to get them to download images, then view the email and video, then click through. This is all before they hopefully convert. There’s lots of room for drop out.”

So maybe it’s worth waiting a while before you “drop in” to the video in email camp.


– Marco Marini, CEO, ClickMail Marketing





7 thoughts on “Is Email Video Ready for Prime Time Viewing? Or Still Just a Pilot Program?

  1. When adding video in conjunction with email marketing not only do you need to think about being relevant and targeted
    action, measurement, testing, bandwidth and rendering issues but technology/ISP’s and reader experience.
    Most ISP’s strip out video or flash.

    That said, the best practice and customer experience is to link video and or have a stagnant image of the video to redirect the reader.

  2. Video email is definitely a great way to communicate with people. However, the problem is the level of trust that e-mail provides.

    People might not want to open an email and a video plays. It’s like visiting a Web site with background music. It’s a very delicate experience that must be respected.

    I imagine, ISPs COULD allow a certifiable e-mail video player script through for trusted senders. It’s a feature though that’s waiting to be abused and consumers to be turned off.

    I still believe the best method is to have a screen-cap of a video player and to encourage recipients to view your video message.

    Bandwidth (narrow vs. broadband) must be considered and segmented accordingly, but through the use of CDNs, you can be comfortable releasing videos to a large group of people at once.


  3. I am generally in agreement with the article that video in email has more opportunity to make an impact for B2C mailings as opposed to B2B campaigns due to the Outlook 2007 and Apple Mail 3.0 issue, but what the article doesn’t point out is that mail client detection technology basically makes it a moot point. Having the ability to detect the mail client someone is using enables video .GIF technology to render static images automatically (1st frame or custom image). In the past, without such technology, email marketers would be forced to make a choice: include the same file for everyone and lose Lotus Notes compatibility, control in the nonstandard clients (2K7 and AM 3.0). With detection technology, the email marketer can just sit back and let video work where it works, and where it doesn’t, at least the subscriber will have an acceptable experience, perhaps an identical experience to one where images were used only. I definitely think it is premature to recommend people not test video in a B2B environment.

  4. @Patricia – I really, honestly don’t think that is still the case. To be sure, the trid and true best practice is reliable, but the video .GIF method can deliver similar deliverability performance and a third dimension to the email. There are significan

  5. Im in South Africa, where the speed of ASDL n broadband is still not as fast as overseas. Hence I don’t think we are ready to start running video email marketing campaigns. They will take forever to load and customers will not want to waste their internet credits downloading them.

  6. Online video is an ideal way to engage an audience. The validation of email web video marketing campaigns has been made by numerous organizations and studies. In some instances, the inclusion of video can increase audience email conversion rates by 50%. Additionally, audiovisual content is 4 to 5 times more effective than static images.

    From a best practice standpoint, option #1 (a static link/image going to a video landing page) has been proven to be a "best practice" for both B2B and B2C campaigns. This option is easy to execute and doesn’t create a massive email message that may not be able to be accessed through all email programs. Also, with this option, recipients do not need to click to receive images, so it is a very simple way to increase engagement.

    Having worked directly on numerous web video marketing campaigns over the past 2 1/2 years, I’m not sure why a marketer wouldn’t consider using this tool as a way to engage an audience. This is a highly effective way to generate ROI in a cost effective capacity.

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