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TITLE: Video in email best practices

If you’ve made it to this third installment of our video in email series, you already know that video in email has finally arrived. Plus, you’ve assuaged yourself of many of the old beliefs about video in email.  As a result, you now understand the case for using video in the body of email messages is stronger than it’s ever been before. 

Today, I am going to switch gears to a more tactical focus by sharing where video in email is supported, specific techniques and tools you can use to maximize your in-email video coverage, and best practices you can use to create compelling subscriber experiences.

Start by understanding your mail recipients

Understanding your recipients begins with knowing what messaging is most likely to resonate with your audience.  It’s worth mentioning that simply because it’s now possible to include video in email doesn’t mean that employing this tactic will fix a broken messaging or video communications strategy.  After all, who cares if someone watches your video if it’s not adding value to your recipient’s day?

In fact, I would argue that due to video in email being relatively more accessible than video on landing pages, especially for an increasingly mobile-oriented universe, that the bar required for marketers to leap over in terms of providing valuable video content to subscribers is higher than it’s ever been.  That’s because when a sender asks a recipient to watch a video in the email message itself, he is lowering the hurdle for the viewer to watch, which means there is less opportunity for the viewer to get distracted with something else.  So, if someone is more likely to watch your video, you’d better have a good video for them to watch!

What makes a good video in email?

The answer, like many in Video-in-Email-Land, is that it depends on the mail client being used and the version of the video being served.  Here’s a handy best practices chart for you to use in preparing your next video in email campaign:

 

HTML5 Video

Animated .GIF / .PNG Video

Static Image

Send video that is relevant to the subscriber; add value with your video messaging by giving the viewer more with the message than the value of the time you’re taking away from the viewer.

check

check

check

Support the message with a video-oriented subject line

check

check

check

Use supporting text in the email that sets the subscriber’s expectations as to what happens when the video is clicked or viewed

check

check

check

Place video above the fold in the email to receive the most plays

check

check

check

Stick to a video that’s 400 pixels wide or less

 

check

 

Use a teaser video that’s no longer than 15 to 30 seconds

 

check

 

Use text in the video to convey spoken words

 

check

 

Include a callout in the video to prompt clickthrough to a landing page

 

check

check

Choose a static image that illustrates a video player with a play button present to indicate a video will play on the landing page when clicking through

 

 

check

 

What works where?

Once you’ve developed the perfect video(s), the next step is to determine how your audience members will likely see video in their mail clients.  Below you’ll find a breakdown of which mail clients support what, followed by two examples of recent video in email campaigns that closely mirror industry trends for mail client support for video; one for B2C, and the other for B2B.

Mail clients supporting full video w/audio in email (generally 35% - 65% of a list):

  • All iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch), when the email is opened in the native mail client
  • Android tablets running Honeycomb (3.x.x), when the email is opened in the native mail client
  • Hotmail, when viewed in an HTML5 compliant desktop web browser (IE9+, Firefox 3.5+, Chrome, Safari 3.1+, Safari 3+)
  • Hotmail, when viewed in the web browser on all iOS and all Android releases
  • Apple Mail 4
  • Outlook for Mac 2011
  • Thunderbird

Mail clients that will display a silent animated .GIF or animated .PNG video (generally 35% - 55% of a list):

  • All webmail clients except Hotmail, when viewed in a desktop browser
  • Hotmail, when viewed in Internet Explorer 8 or earlier
  • Outlook 2003, 2000, and Outlook Express
  • Lotus Notes (all versions)

Mail clients that will never display video in email of any kind, only a static image (generally this is 10% - 15% of a list, though it can be higher for B2B senders):

  • Outlook 2007 and 2010
  • Android phones running Gingerbread or earlier (2.3.6 or earlier)

Example B2C campaign

·       65.3% of the audience received the full video with audio

·       28.1% of the audience received the silent animated .GIF/animated .PNG video

·       6.4% of the audience received the static image

 

videoinemailpart3graphic1

Example B2B campaign:

·       25.8% of the audience received the full video with audio

·       48.8% of the audience received the silent animated .GIF/animated .PNG video

·       25.2% of the audience received the static image

videoinemailpart3graphic2

As you can see based on the examples, there can be a wide discrepancy between B2B and B2C audiences, with B2C senders more likely to deliver full video with audio into the email body.  Yet even the B2B group, with the relatively higher percentage of Outlook 2007/2010 users, reached nearly 75% of the audience with video in email (counting both HTML5 video with audio, and animated. GIF/.PNG video).  Without counting the animated .GIF views, over 25% of the B2B audience received video, while no one on the list received a broken experience.  So regardless of whether you are a B2B sender, you should be able to reach a large portion of your audience with video in the mail client.

What techniques can you use to reach as many people as possible with the full video?  The two main items are:

1.     Send your emails containing video outside of work hours, or on the weekend.  People are less likely to check their email from Outlook 2007 or 2010 (which only display static images in the email), and are more likely to check their email on their smartphones or tablets (many of which support full video in the email)

2.     Use the HTML5 <video> tag.  Never attempt to embed a Flash file (.SWF) in the email, or use a Javascript <script> tag to get video to play.  Doing so will result in rendering problems and, potentially, undelivered emails.

 

You may also wish to consider using an automated approach to your video clip creation and deployment.  Central to the idea of delivering a truly flawless campaign is the idea that mail clients are different, and based on their differences, special things need to happen in order to prevent recipients from receiving broken-looking emails.  The only way to ensure all of the exception cases are handled properly is to use software that detects the mail client being used, and based on that detection, to dynamically serve the correct video clip or image.

Below is a comparison of manual methods and automated software methods for delivering video in email, along with two code samples.  While I am quite biased toward the automated method due to its ability to deliver a higher quality subscriber experience and more valuable metrics to marketing professionals, both methods can be used to deliver video in email.  Still, the manual method really only allows video in email to reach 50% of its potential compared to using automated video in email software like Video Email Express.  Here’s my chart explaining my bias:

 

Manual Encoding and Deployment

Automated Video in Email Software

Requires HTML coding knowledge

Yes

No

Requires video encoding knowledge

Yes

No

A/B testing & automated winner-picking

No

Yes

Constantly evolving database of business rules mapping a library of mail clients/browsers to the different video/file types

No

Yes

Analytics

No

·       Which mail clients served which version of the video

·       Most-served video type

·       Most popular mail clients

·       Aggregate views

·       Dropoff rates for the animated .GIF/.PNG versions in-email

HTML5 video encoding

2 versions of the HTML5 video must be manually encoded; one in H.264 and the other in Ogg Theora.  The code is:

<video>

   <source src="/MP4_VERSION">

   <source src="/OGG_VERSION">

   ...

</video>

 

Automatically encodes both an Ogg Theora and and H.264 video from a source video asset.

HTML5 poster

Currently, different browsers treat the poster differently.  The most prominent case is Hotmail, where the video must be right-clicked to initiate playback in Chrome, Firefox, and Safari, but where IE 9+ will allow the video to play with standard player controls without right-clicking.  Someone manually coding wouldn’t be able to detect the browser, so 3 of the 4 main desktop browsers would deliver an experience that doesn’t indicate to the end user how the video should be played.

Detects the browser in use and dynamically serves a poster indicating any special action to have the video play. 

  • Serves a ‘right click to play’ poster for Hotmail for Chrome, FF, Safari
  • Serves an animated video .GIF poster for Kindle.

HTML5 versioning by device

Mobile devices with non-retina or dense pixel displays do not need to receive larger videos; manually coding would serve the same version of the video to everyone, leading to longer buffer times for many users.  Older versions of iOS also will not play larger format mp4 files.

Detects the device being used in real-time and serves large or small format versions of the video clip to create the optimal load performance/video quality experience.

Animated .GIF and static image encoding

Either an animated .GIF/.PNG fallback or a static fallback must be chosen; it’s not possible to support both with a manual implementation.  Additionally, a “one or the other approach” has downsides. 

 

With a static image fallback:

·       Clickthrough rate will likely decline 5% - 15% compared to serving an animated video. 

With an animated .GIF fallback:

·       It’s not possible to deploy a custom static image for the mail clients that do not support animated .GIF.  Instead, the first frame of the animated .GIF will display in those mail clients.

·       Reduces the quality of playback in all webmail clients (sans Hotmail) opened in Firefox.  That’s because Firefox supports animated .PNGs, which are higher quality than .GIFs.

Detects the mail client and web browser in real-time and serves either an animated .GIF, animated .PNG, or user-specified static image, including a custom static image for mail clients that do not support either HTML5 video or animated .GIFs/.PNGs.

Cost

In-house software, content delivery charges, developer/designer time.

Based on the number of videos served.

 

Summary

  • Video in email is possible. 
  • More email recipients than ever before are able to view video in email. 
  • Mobile and tablet computing are disrupting video in email, enabling senders to reach between 50% and 90% of their recipient list with some form of video in email, provided best practices are followed.
  • Video in email is a tactic; the video messaging still needs to be relevant to the audience.
  • Best practices exist for maximizing the potential and reach of video in email across video formats (HTML5 video, animated .GIF/.PNG video, static image with click-to-play).
  • Manual and automated methods may be used to deliver video in email, with automated methods delivering higher quality results across mail clients while eliminating deliverability and rendering issues.

Results of using Video in Email:

  • Sky generated over 1 million incremental video views, extending the reach of a TV video trailer, by enabling video to play within the body of an email message.
  • Costco Wholesale experienced a 40% higher Average Order Value for a single campaign segment that compared video in email versus using a static image in email linked to a video on a landing page.
  • Eastwood generated over 30% higher orders in a campaign showcasing video in email compared to a segment including only a static image in email linked to a video on a landing page.
  • Companies including Saks Fifth Avenue, Barneys New York, and Disney are using video in email as a way to connect with their audiences in new and innovative ways, while ensuring the use of this novel technique does not result in any broken experiences for subscribers, regardless of the mail client in use by recipients.

Conclusion

Video in email is here.  It’s here to stay. 

Actually, to say it’s “here to stay” is an understatement.  As mobile device adoption accelerates, an email marketing industry that’s been stuck in a 2000-era mindset that advocates coding emails for the lowest common denominator mail client (i.e. the “best practice” for video in email is to code a static image in the email linked to a video on a landing page) will be forced to take a hard look at solutions that push the video envelope in the new mobile era.

Marketers that fail to recognize and capitalize on the new mobile and video trends risk alienating their audiences and falling behind forward-thinking competitors that realize the ease-of-use and growing penetration of video in email allows them to connect with audiences in an entirely new way.  Video in email will help those marketers with smart video communication strategies connect with viewers, shoppers, clients, and consumers in ways never before thought possible to drive new views and accelerate metrics post-click that drive real business results.

Until next time,

Happy Selling!

 

 

Video in Email Demythified by Justin Foster (LiveClicker.com)

Video in Mail Demythified

For over a decade, marketers were told that the only way to implement video in email campaigns was to include a link in the email pointing to a video playing on a landing page.  Placing a video in the email message itself was looked upon as a fool’s errand at best, or the precursor to disastrous deliverability and subscriber experiences at worst. 

Today, that’s all changed.  We saw in Part 1 of this series that that the belief that video can’t be added directly in the body of the message no longer holds true in an industry that’s shifted dramatically under the advance of HTML5 video support in popular mobile mail clients.  In fact, for a marketer to expect 50% of his audience to be able to receive full video (with audio) in email messages is now commonplace; if one includes animated .GIF video to the definition of “video in email,” then that number can reach 90% of all mail recipients capable of viewing video in email.

Yet simply because it’s possible to include video in email, is it a good idea?  Before you jump to conclusions, read this list of common video-in-email myths.  You might be surprised at what you learn.

Myth: Video in email hurts deliverability.

Fact: Not so.  However, you must use the proper technique.  The proper technique is to use the HTML5 <video> tag that falls back to either an animated .GIF/.PNG video or a static image (or both, depending on the mail client in use by the recipient). Also, video should never be delivered with the message.  Although video will appear to play back within the mail client when the recipient opens the message, all video files should always be hosted on a remote server and not delivered to the recipient during the actual sending of the email.  Hosting remotely means that including video won’t impact the size of your messages, trip spam filters, or result in costly content delivery charges.

Myth: Video in email causes rendering problems.

Fact: Today, marketers can deploy a single code snippet in their email campaign to cover 100% of the entire database while ensuring that no one receives a broken experience.  Services like the Video Email Express software provided by my company will automatically detect the mail client in use by a mail recipient in real-time, as the message is opened, and dynamically display an asset that’s compatible with the mail client.  This ensures that regardless of whether the mail client in use actually supports video, that the recipient will see only something that looks correct inside his mail client.

Myth: Video in email slows down campaign send speeds.

Fact: Video in email will not slow down the send speeds of your campaigns, provided that the videos are referenced in the embed code in the email and not actually delivered with the email itself.

Myth: Video in email isn’t worth pursuing because a handful of mail clients don’t support it.

Fact: This is a common excuse people use to not pursue video in email.  Most often cited are the cases of Outlook 2007 and Outlook 2010, neither of which support video in email and will only display static images.  What most marketers don’t realize however is that Outlook 2007 and 2010 users only represent about 10% to 12.5% of total mail recipients for B2C sends. 

For B2B sends, the proportion is higher, but it rarely exceeds 30%.  There are also techniques B2B and B2C senders can use to maximize the percentage of the audience that receives video in email.  For example, B2B senders may wish to push their email campaigns outside of working hours, when more of the audience is likely to consume the messages on smartphones or tablets rather than their work desktop client.  Since smartphones and tablets are two of the largest spaces where video in email flourishes, this technique can result in substantially higher video in email views, upwards of 25% higher in fact based on our observations.

Why on earth would a B2C sender not want to deploy video in email to 87.5% of his list simply because 12.5% of the audience couldn’t see video?  Especially since it’s possible to still deliver a non-broken experience to that 12.5%?  If you’re at a loss, then we are on the same page.

Below is an example campaign showing typical results for a B2C sender that’s using all 3 formats: full video in email (via HTML5), animated .GIF/.PNG video, and static images.  Notice how full video is 47.7% of the audience, animated .GIF/.PNG video is 41.3%, and static image is 10.8%.

videoinemailgraphic

Myth: There’s no point to using video in email because it’s harder to for people to view videos in the email than it is for them to click through to a landing page.

Fact: This myth is really the most “truthy” one of them all.  For the iPhone, when video is on a landing page and only referenced via a link in an email, the user must tap the image on his smartphone, wait for the click redirect, wait for a new browser or browser window to load, and again tap on the video to initiate playback (since auto-play is disabled on iPhones).  Android, which also disables auto-play by default in the browser, delivers the same results when viewed on a tablet running Honeycomb (note: in other versions of Android, only a static image or animated .GIF version of the video will display in the mail client). 

When it comes to webmail clients viewed in an HTML5 compliant browser, the argument that it’s easier to view in the browser than the mail client is stronger, but this argument has big holes, too.  For example, all webmail clients (with the exception of Hotmail, which supports HTML5 video, and Gmail, which will add a YouTube video to the bottom of an email message containing a YouTube link), will only display animated .GIF video or static images.  Yet animated .GIF videos typically outperform static images for clickthrough between 5% and 15% when A/B tested.  Although a click is still required to view the full video on a separate web page in most webmail clients when the user is served either a static image or an animated .GIF video in the mail client, the clickthrough performance of animated .GIFs can be a real ‘win.’ Since most people now access the Internet through broadband, even the lowly animated .GIF can deliver a reasonably high quality video experience in-email, when best practices are followed.

Myth: Video in email isn’t worth pursuing because it will annoy my subscribers.

Fact:  Video in email that auto-plays with sound on can annoy subscribers.  In tests our clients have run with Video Email Express, auto-playing video in email with sound on drove higher clicks, but also higher unsubscribes.   On the other hand, video in email that either auto-played in email with sound off, or required a tap from the user to initiate playback, demonstrated no statistically significant difference in unsubscribe rates.

Myth: Video in email isn’t worth pursuing because it’s hard.

Fact: Like most other skills or technologies, video in email is not hard if you know what you’re doing.  You can choose a go-it-alone route which will get you 75% of the way there, by encoding videos in HTML5, coding animated .GIFs, and relying on the fallback approach I outlined.  Or, you can rely on a technology like Video Email Express, which will automatically encode several HTML5 videos, animated .GIF/.PNG videos, and static images for the broadest device/browser coverage.  Hey, I had to get a plug in here somewhere, I write for free! ;-)

The arguments against video in email are weakening.

As more people embrace mobile devices, marketers will need to deliver content to their audiences in the most user-friendly way possible.  With easier access to video in email for smartphone users, we are sure to see more and more senders embracing this technique.  Plus, as I’ve communicated today, many of the common beliefs about video in email are really myths.  To recount:

  • Video in email does not hurt deliverability – if it’s done right.
  • Video in email will not cause rendering issues – if it’s done right.
  • Video in email will not slow down your campaign send speeds – if it’s done right.
  • The fact that Outlook 2007 and Outlook 2010 don’t support video in email is not a strong enough argument to warrant not using video in email, since these mail clients are a relative ‘blip’ on most sender’s lists (especially B2C senders).  Even B2B senders can use techniques to minimize the impact of these mail clients without anyone receiving a broken-looking email message.
  • Video in email is actually easier for people to view in the mail client on popular mobile devices like the iPhone, iPad, and Android tablets. In webmail clients viewed in desktop browsers (where full video in email isn’t supported in most cases, Hotmail excepted), animated .GIF video can drive higher clickthrough compared to simply using a static image of a video player in the email that’s linked to a landing page player.
  • Video in email won’t annoy your subscribers, provided the emails do not arrive in the recipient’s inboxes with sound turned on and the video set to auto-play.
  • Video in email isn’t hard, provided you’re willing and able to get your hands a little dirty with some video encoding, or rely on a 3rd party partner to automate the process for you and ensure no one receives anything that looks broken in the email.

Until next time, Happy Selling!

 

The case for video in email by Justin Foster (LiveClicker.com)

For nearly fifteen years, technologists have tried to solve the problem of how to integrate video and other forms of rich media into email.  The idea was that people wanted to have richer, fuller Internet experiences right in the inbox, without the need to click through an email message to the web.   Unfortunately, many of the early efforts ultimately proved fruitless or unpopular. Today, the web is littered with startups that claimed to offer a solution enabling video in email.

Integrating video in email has always been a bit of a tricky problem to solve, but not just for technical reasons.  Plenty of people in the industry still question the underlying premise of integrating video in email at all.  Does video in email annoy subscribers?  Does it defeat the purpose of getting people to click through the email?  Is it worth the effort, given potential deliverability and rendering implications, especially since simply including an image in an email linked to a video on a landing page is the de facto industry best practice?  When it comes to these questions, nearly everyone has an opinion.  So, as someone that spends his days living and breathing in the world of video in email, I thought I’d share my thoughts in a three-part series on the topic.

In today’s post, I outline how the landscape has shifted in the world of video in email, and why more marketers are embracing this tactic now than ever before.  In the second post, I will outline how many of the points conventionally used to argue against video in email no longer hold as much water as they used to.  Finally, I’ll wrap by sharing why I think video in email is here to stay and what you can do to maximize the opportunity.

Open standards are unleashing video in email

Over the last two years, a growing push to advance the nascent HTML5 standard has forever altered the landscape of video in email.  Unlike earlier efforts to advance video in email using proprietary technologies, HTML5 is an open standard.  It’s built into all of the modern web browsers and most of the modern mobile devices, including Apple iOS devices and the latest Android operating systems.  Adobe has announced plans to stop building Flash for mobile devices.  In short, HTML5 is here and it’s here to stay.

The momentum of HTML5 video in the wider industry has huge implications for email marketers.  Unlike Flash, HTML5 is supported natively in the browser, eliminating the security risks of third-party plugins that hindered earlier efforts like RadicalMail from taking off and prompted mail clients to disable Flash support in the early 2000’s.  In the new mobile paradigm the world is now entering, people increasingly read email their smartphones, one of the most fertile environments for HTML5 video.  Today, the following mail clients are capable of displaying video right in the body of the email:

  • All iOS devices when opened in the native mail client (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch)
  • Android Phones running Honeycomb or Ice Cream Sandwich when opened in the native mail client
  • Hotmail, when viewed in an HTML5 compliant web browser
    • IE 9+
    • Chrome 3+
    • Firefox 3.5+
    • Safari 3.1+ on desktop, and 3.0+ (iOS)
  • Thunderbird
  • Apple Mail 3, 4
  • Outlook for Mac 2011

When considering the popularity of mobile devices, the above mail clients consistently show that close to fifty percent of all email messages read today support HTML5 video.  For example, this campaign sent recently by Disney generated 49.5% of all video in email views through the HTML5 format:

videoinemail1

In another recent example, this campaign sent by Saks Fifth Avenue generated 67.5% of all in-email video views from HTML5.  So much for email not supporting video.

videoinemail2

Tap once, not twice.

As we progress deeper into the mobile era, marketers are also looking to make it easy for mail recipients to consume content on their devices.  It comes as a surprise to many marketers that the old belief that it is easier for people to consume video when it’s on a landing page doesn’t apply in many mobile situations.  For example, iPhone users that receive an email containing a static image linked to a landing page containing a video are forced to tap on the image in the email, wait for the clickthrough redirect, open a new browser or browser page, then tap again on the video to get it to play.  In the reverse situation, where the video is in the email, only a single tap is required to initiate playback.

Brand marketers use video in email to drive reach

Brand marketers understand how to use television to bombard an audience with video messaging to build demand for a product, promote the brand, or drive an offline purchase.  It’s of little surprise therefore that this class of sender is more willing to use video in email as a mechanism of increasing the reach of video advertising.

For example, when Sky sought to extend the reach of its video advertising for the TV mini-series “Game of Thrones,” it used video in email to generate an incremental 1 million+ views of its TV trailer.  Discovery Channel also used the technique to promote its hit TV mini series, “Life.”  Such tactics are used because they reduce the friction between the recipient and the video view while generating the same sense of excitement as a video would generate on a landing page.

Animated .GIF and Animated .PNG videos extend the reach of video in email.

While I’ve pointed out that it’s no longer unusual for close to fifty percent of email recipients to have the ability to play video in email, that’s only looking at those recipients capable of playing the full video in the mail client (at full framerate, with player controls and audio playback), using the HTML5 format.  In fact, the reach of video in email is much greater, in some cases in excess of 90% of a sender’s list, when also taking into account the animated .GIF and animated .PNG formats.

Like HTML5, these formats are open standards and therefore not subject to filtering by mail clients or Internet Service Providers. While many in the email community scoff at the use of these formats due to perceived lack of quality and inability to support sound, the reality is that the quality can be surprisingly good as a backstop to full video.  Plus, this format can drive clicks higher when benchmarked against static images.  For example, HP used some best practices with this animated .GIF video (watch this video 1:05 in) to ensure it was able to communicate its message about a new laptop for sale.  In the example, HP used text in the animated .GIF and included a call-to-action on the animated .GIF to drive clickthrough.

Other senders, such as Holland America, decided to A/B test an animated .GIF video in email versus a static image and observed a 100% higher clickthrough rate on the video segment.  In my experience, such increases in CTR using animated .GIFs vs. static images are uncommon, but increases of 5% to 15% are not unusual.  Unfortunately, those senders that are using CTR as a proxy to measure A/B splits for video in email should think twice: that’s because while it’s possible to measure the clicks on an animated .GIF video, it’s not currently possible to do this on the full HTML5 video.  Therefore, if you’re trying to drive an online action, it is a better idea to use post-click metrics to measure success.

Including video in email is easier than it’s ever been.

Today, it’s possible to use coding techniques such as the one shown in the HP example video to enable video in email.  Such solutions can ensure that even if video is not supported by the mail client, that an acceptable failover is possible to implement in most cases.  I’ll dive more into the tactics of how to implement video in email in the third post in this series.  For now, I’ll leave you with my closing thoughts:

  • HTML5 has fundamentally altered the landscape of video in email
  • Close to 50% of your mail recipients should be able to see full video in email
  • Close to 90% of your mail recipients should be able to see full video or animated .GIF/.PNG video in email
  • Video in email reduces viewing friction on common mobile devices like the iPhone
  • Video in email can extend video reach for brand marketers and senders trying to drive offline action
  • Including video in email is easier than it’s ever been before.

Until next time, Happy Selling!