Email is a highly-targetable channel that connects brands directly with audiences. Video is a deeply-engaging format that enables rich storytelling. For eCommerce brands, the two together should be a match made in marketing heaven.
Yet many online retailers have resisted marrying email and video because of uncertainties around which technical approaches to use and whether the content types can be combined effectively.
This hesitancy may have made sense in the past, but today it is no longer warranted: Email has evolved significantly over the past few years and campaigns can now incorporate video in a number of compelling ways.
Moreover, video has shifted from a supplemental content format to a primary content format—especially with younger consumers—and is increasingly important for engaging modern audiences.
However, while combining email and video has become both less difficult and more imperative, adding it to your marketing campaigns isn’t quite seamless yet: Wedding the two still requires taking some key technical and creative considerations into account.
So, what should brands think through before diving in? Where does the technology stand? How can videos be displayed in campaigns? What are some ways to use the format to enhance emails?
Here’s what eCommerce brands need to know about adding video to email.
For a long time video in email was difficult on both sides: It was burdensome for senders to incorporate videos into campaigns and most email clients didn’t allow recipients to play video files directly within messages.
The first part of the problem has been solved. The technical infrastructure is finally in place on the sender side to make adding videos directly to email simple. With the introduction of HTML5, it became relatively straightforward to embed videos in campaigns and many marketing platforms began integrating video options into their email functions.
So, the good news for marketers is that the long-awaited day has arrived: It’s now easy to send campaigns with video that can be played in-email, such as this message from LEGO.
The catch is that the recipient side hasn’t caught up. Many of the big email clients such as Apple Mail and Gmail can now play video in-message, but a few still cannot, including some versions of Outlook and Yahoo Mail. Moreover, for consumers using webmail, there are sometimes issues with browsers and plug-ins.
The exact share of people with these technical limitations depends on the composition of your audience, but it’s estimated that today roughly half of US email audiences use clients that support video within emails and half do not.
A key thing to note is that this is set to quickly change. Clients are rapidly adding support and recent technical evolutions such as Google’s AMP for Email should speed things up. Still, we’re not yet at a point where it’s safe to assume that all recipients are able to play videos directly in emails.
The technical limitations that prevent some in-email viewing shouldn’t stop you from adding video to messages altogether. Savvy marketers have learned that videos can still be incorporated into campaigns via a simple workaround: Encouraging people to click-through to an out-of-email player hosted on a website or on a platform such as YouTube.
The most common method for encouraging audiences to click-through to an external player is to add a static image with a play button on it, for example as Shopify does in this email.
This approach has two benefits: A play button is very easy to execute—all you need to do is to overlay a simple graphic—and it mimics the way people are used to seeing videos appear across the internet.
For those looking to go a step further, another option is to use an animated GIF. The animation can be applied to the button itself to encourage a click action or to the background image to convey movement. This email from Adrenaline Travel uses an animated GIF to show a few frames of what the video will show a subscriber if they click through to watch.
The advantage of an animated GIF is that it can make a video stand out within a message more than a static image. That said, both approaches can be effective in emails. The key is to clearly highlight what viewers can expect from the content and convey that a video will play if the image is clicked on.
Video should not be used in campaigns simply for the sake of it. Email behavior is unique—audiences often skim messages while on the go—and videos should provide experiences that text or images cannot in order to justify the extra effort it takes to watch.
Like any other media format, video has specific strengths. Its multimedia nature makes it very good at conveying complex messages, and it has a better ability to hold attention compared to other formats. You should play to these strengths when using video in emails.
One example of how video can uniquely make campaigns better is with introductions. The format is a powerful tool for explaining what a company is about (as Dollar Shave Club has proved), and by incorporating it into a welcome message you can effectively familiarize audiences with a new brand or new offering (for example, as Wistia did with this email).
Along similar lines, the visual nature of video makes it an excellent format for showcasing products and services. Though a combination of text, imagery, and video in a message, you can quickly and effectively highlight features and improvements. For example, TomTom and Nike use video in this email alongside images and text to quickly educate customers on all new aspects of their watch.
Videos can also be used in emails to educate. By providing useful information such as how-tos and tutorials, you can make your campaigns valuable to audiences and encourage continued engagement. Again, the multimedia nature of video often makes it better than simply text or images for conveying knowledge and instruction (for example, the recipes provided by Atkins in this message work best as videos).
Finally, video excels as a medium for telling stories. The combination of visuals, music, and dialogue can spark deep emotions in a way that is rarely rivaled by other formats. If you have a great story to tell in an email—such as TWYLA did in this campaign about an artist and his muse—video may well be the most effective medium.
As you dive into adding video to email campaigns keep in mind that it is a unique format—it is a mix of visuals and sound; it needs a player to be seen; it attracts more attention from audiences; it can still run into technical issues around playback—and so utilizing it effectively requires avoiding some unique pitfalls.
The biggest of these is that not all recipients will see it in the same way. Because video is still treated differently by different email clients, it’s essential to think about how it will display in different contexts. If you’re directly embedding video in a message make sure you have a fallback image for those who can’t play the piece. Some clients will just display the first frame of a video as a static image, so it’s a good idea to make sure that’s visually compelling. And even if you’re using a static image or animated GIF, check across clients and devices to ensure the campaign displays the way you want it to. Here’s an email from Patagonia with an embedded video that made sure the thumbnail conveyed information to accommodate all potential client and browser limitations.
Also keep in mind that email behavior is different from when someone is browsing the web. Often people accessing messages are on the go or in situations such as at work where they’re not expecting rich media. Given that, as a sender be mindful of setting expectations: Make it clear that if someone clicks they will get a video and if you are able to control settings such as auto-play and sound, pick the options that will be least disruptive.
Finally, don’t use video as a gimmick; use it to make your campaigns better. When crafting messages, turn to video only when it will be more effective than text or imagery in conveying a point or sparking an emotion. Ultimately, think of it as a powerful new tool in your email toolbox.
Video is an important medium for getting your point across to customers, and it’s growing in popularity as technology makes it easier for brands to use in marketing. Younger audiences especially are very receptive to video due to its attention-grabbing nature.
One study found 76 percent of marketers are planning to increase their usage of video, and one of the big places is email. The research shows a video boosted email click-through rates by 65 percent—so that’s certainly worth paying attention to.
But there are still plenty of unique considerations to using it in your store’s email marketing.
- Video in email is finally here… mostly. Technology has evolved to the point where video can easily and effectively be added to emails. However… not every email client is on board yet. So you’ll still need to consider workarounds as you’re putting together video-driven emails.
- Use the alternatives to embedded videos. If you’re worried about the technical limitations of videos, you can also include alternatives. Some companies include a static image with a play button on top, which then links through to a video on a website. Others use an animated GIF to simulate a short video.
- Take advantage of what video offers. You don’t want to have videos for the sake of videos in your emails. It’s best for familiarizing subscribers with your brand’s unique voice and value proposition, for showcasing products, for educating, and for telling stories.
When you do decide to incorporate video in your emails, make sure to test it well—across different email clients and platforms. And if you find that some have difficulties playing your video, make sure to include one of the alternatives.