Video In Email Is NOT Magic: Results Come From You

A lot has been said about the current technical limitations of video in email and some of the ingenious ways that email marketers have found to get some form of video into marketing messages. 

What hasn't been talked about (much) is the marketing craft associated with using this new technology.

On the comment board of a recent Video Insider column, Jonathan Mirow from BroadbandVideo, Inc.  described the current contents of his inbox and then imagined them reworked to include video.  He imagined being "greeted with video of a dog crapping on a carpet, a guy with a British accent telling me how well-known I am (and how I can be better known for a mere $99.95), General Patton telling me to stand at attention and fill out the attached form and a sweeping panorama of a remodeled bathroom." He then went on to write "That's not email - that's hell, people."

It's so tempting to rush headlong for the next cool, whizzy-bang technology, but attention must be paid to the marketing details and consumer experience as well.



Email is not TV.  It's certainly not the movies.  It's not even YouTube.  So that means if you're going to really leverage the technologies that are fast approaching, you really need to think about what video can (and can't) do for your email marketing efforts.  I know, I know: what about all those case studies that show a magical 20+% lift by merely including video?  Think about it: have you ever seen a case study that didn't show a 20% lift?  You know why?  Because those case studies don't get published. 

There is no magic in any technology.

Which means the real magic  lies with you.  (Very Seth Godin of me, right?)  It's your amazing marketing prowess that is going to lift your email up from the gloom and excite your customers. 

Consider these ideas for maximizing your impact with video (first two are kind of technical, the rest are about the craft of marketing):

1.       Understand the inbox implications. Most mailbox providers today do not support many of the technologies -- for example, Flash or Javascript -- that make online video possible.  Instead, the relatively low-tech but effective solution is video .gifs.  These are similar to animated .gifs, but juiced up with faster frame rate and enhanced color palettes to create an experience that is very close to true video.  The downside here is that at the end of the day a .gif is still an image.  Some mailbox providers (notably Hotmail and Yahoo) block images for email that has not been certified by a company like Return Path.  This means that your video is not going to be seen by those recipients, so plan for that.  You might even want to segment out those addresses and send a completely different email with links to a video instead.

2.       Know what works where. In reality there is no such thing as "video in email" in the sense of one technology that anyone can take advantage of.  In fact, there are varying standards -- the most widely used are HTML5 and video .gif --  that work in different ways with different mailbox providers.  The array of options is dizzyingly complex.  You need to know what will work at each mailbox provider, then layer in the possibilities based on browser version.  You also need to know about frame rates and compression to create an optimized experience. Companies like LiveClicker can help you by automating the detection process and delivering the right technology to the right inbox.

3.       Use video for what video is good for.  In general, it's best to use the lowest-tech solution that you need to drive the result you want.  So, for example, filling up an email with big huge photos just for the sake of having beautiful photos isn't great strategy.  But having great product shots can obviously enhance an ecommerce campaign.  By the same token, video can be great for product demonstrations, customer testimonials, step-by-step instructions and virtual tours.  These are all cases where mere text -- or even text with images -- would not be as powerful.

4.       Make the video the star of the show. If you're going to the trouble and expense of adding video into an email, don't gunk it up with lots of other stuff.  Keep copy to a minimum and don't include any other images.

5.       Get your analytics in order. If you aren't already buttoned-up with your analytic capabilities, you want to be sure and do that before you start launching videos.  In the future, there will additional technologies that will be available in email.  Make sure you are ready to test these as well.

11 comments about "Video In Email Is NOT Magic: Results Come From You".
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  1. Matthew Shaw from Flimp Media Inc., April 14, 2010 at 10:35 a.m.

    Excellent article, George. It's so important to consider the technical limitations of various inboxes. To your point of the lowest-tech solution being the best: you're spot on. Spend time crafting the message, post it where you're 100% certain that people will be able to see it, and then link to it. You can get fancy with the links if you want, but you're going to end up driving people away from your offers if they don't opt in to watching your video.

  2. Cece Forrester from tbd, April 14, 2010 at 11:49 a.m.

    I second Matthew's motion. You invoked Seth Godin, so you should remember that people's e-mail inbox still belongs to them, not you, and that the model is supposed to be lure, don't force. If you don't want a reflexive negative reaction where you could have made the experience fun and sought-after, figure out a way to put a permission point in your video delivery.

  3. Cliff Pollan from VisibleGains, April 14, 2010 at 2:44 p.m.

    Video, like text, is a way to communicate and persuade. In today's world it must be relevant and authentic (short and to the point). We have seen having employees or customers makes it real. It helps to convey and convert where text alone may not cut it. In terms of using it in email, I agree with Matt that linking from the email is simply and puts the reader in control as to whether they want to see the video or just pass on it. Many who are interested will opt in and often find the video informative and compelling.

  4. Kurt Johansen from Johansen International, April 14, 2010 at 8:09 p.m.

    Most of my clients are small to medium businesses and to get to comprehend video in email in too far a reach. Instead we show them how to take video upload it to one of the many hosting platforms and then include the link in the email. This way we engage the email recipient to 'click' which is an art in itself. I can see many limitations as well as pluses for email directly embedded into an email. But at this stage the cost financially, emotionally and psychologically appears out of reach of the small business with smaller lists. Cheers Kurt - Email Mastery

  5. Mark Allen from Communications On The Mark, April 15, 2010 at 12:38 a.m.

    I agree this was an insightful and educating article. I must add I have been using VIDEO email since October of 2009 and very happy with the results. Thee service I have been using is called comF5 feel free to check it out. It makes adding VIDEO to your individual emails or email campaigns as easy as 1, 2, 3. Here's a link to the service.

  6. Kyle Lake from Done In Sixty Seconds, LLC, April 15, 2010 at 3:24 p.m.

    Thanks for the link Mark! We provide a tool for making a quick video to use for information or marketing purposes and many of our clients have asked about using them in emails....there definitely is NO exact science to it at this point. Some of the mainstream mail servers allow for it but the countless number of IMAP and POP hosts out there each have unique requirements and unfortunately those are the types of accounts most businesses use. I'm all for it, but think it could be intrusive if not done tastefully and with a targeted strategy in mind as mentioned above. "An Online Video Creation Tool"

  7. Adam Holden-bache from Mass Transmit, April 16, 2010 at 1:11 p.m.

    Great article. Video in email is still a difficult process, and even using animated GIF's isn't always a solution (as Outlook 07 and Outlook 2010 don't support animated graphics). But there are a handful of ways to deal with it, such as preparing various versions for different domains. For example, you can use embedded YouTube videos in campaigns going to And if you know that users have Apple mail as their client, you can use Flash embedded video there (same with iPhone and iPad users).

    Anyway, there's some more detailed information available for those on the production/development side of things- see Video in Email: Options and Ideas ( and The Current State of Video in Email (

    I also just completed a B2B campaign that included a thumbnail video image that linked to a web video. That image/link lead to a 300% increase in click rate. So using video does work well in email marketing campaigns!

  8. Andy Stetzinger, April 20, 2010 at 2:05 p.m.

    Good article. I've been converting the first 14 seconds of my videos into an animated gif for about 5 years now, and had a great deal of success with the click thrus to the video itself. Granted, there's no audio in the gif... but it gets the users attention, and that's what I'm after at that point. I always code for the lowest common denominator, so hyperlinks and regular text links are always provided.
    Kudos again on the article.

  9. Justin Foster from Liveclicker, April 22, 2010 at 3:25 p.m.

    @Andy - this is a greta case study to share - do you have any examples posted online we could look at of the .gif teaser videos?

    @Matt and @Cece agreed on making sure people will be able to see the assets. Also, highlighting a video in the subject line is a good way to set subscriber expectations that a video is contained in the message. Video in email done poorly can actually hurt campaign results. For example, for the few mail clients that support HTML5 video, setting autoplay = true can drive up complaints and unsubscribes. Ultimately George is right - there are technologies that enable some cool things, but it's up to the email marketer to use best practices to make video shine, whether it's included in email or on a landing page.

    @Adam absolutely true. There is no one solution for using video in email that works. Even animated .GIFs won't work out Outlook 2K7 or Outlook 2K10. If an email marketer is set on using video in email, then the email marketer needs to be prepared to cope with the limitations either by producing different versions of the video asset (animated .GIF, HTML5) and image assets to create the optimal experience for subscribers.

    @Kyle so right - video must be done tastefully and in a targeted manner, or it could backfire.

  10. Joe Buhler from buhlerworks, April 24, 2010 at 1:32 p.m.

    As always with effective marketing it's not about the technology and latest tool. It's still about the right strategic approach and appropriate message, all this combined with permission. Just to push spam like content in any form - text, picture or video, is still spam. The medium is the message, old adage still jolting true.

  11. Joe Buhler from buhlerworks, April 24, 2010 at 1:35 p.m.

    Correction to my comment: Jolting should read holding.
    Auto- correct not always right and still getting used to typing on my iPad!

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