Video Email Marketing Advances With HTML5 Video

These days, it's not just web video publishers who are marching to the HTML5 drumbeat.  Email marketers want in on the game, too.  We've covered email video marketing in the past, but the advance of HTML5 video has again caused marketers to focus on possible email implications.  We already know that HTML5 video is supported on the iPad and the iPhone, but where is it supported in email? What does HTML5 video mean for the email sending community?

HTML5  - Overcoming Video Email Obstacles

For over a decade, email marketers have sought to integrate video directly into their email campaigns.  Until recently, it hasn't been possible.  The closest email marketers have come is to link to a video from a static image within an email message to a landing page containing a video player.  The reason for this limitation is that most email clients strip Javascript and Flash embeds due to security concerns.  HTML5 video, on the other hand, is built directly into supporting mail clients/browsers, making security a non-issue.

Currently, email marketers can use HTML5 video players within the native iPad and iPhone mail clients.  Apple Mail 4 also supports HTML5 video.  It's true - with HTML5 video, email marketers can deliver full motion, high-quality video directly to the inbox - without directing a user to a landing page. Additionally, sound can be enabled within the inbox and basic player controls are accessible in-email.  The only other way email marketers can currently deliver full motion video with audio in email is by using Goodmail's CertifiedVideo service, which enables video embeds for email recipients that use AOL as an Internet Service Provider.  The "next best" solution, and currently the in-email video solution that is most widely in use, is to deliver video through an animated .GIF.

HTML5 video on the iPad and iPhone is a step in the right direction for in-email video, but unless the other mail clients are somehow accounted for (e.g. Gmail, Outlook, Lotus Notes, Yahoo! Mail), overall video penetration and proper rendering across an entire audience will remain a challenge for marketers.  Even today, all major webmail clients will strip the HTML5 video tag (even in HTML5 compliant browsers).  That means email marketers can get video to play on iPads and iPhones, but only in the native mail client.

Limitations

Is now the right time for email marketers to adopt video in email? Perhaps.  Generally speaking, a B2C marketer will be able to deliver video in email in one form or another across 75% to 90% of its subscriber list.  B2B senders generally will deliver in-email video to 65% - 80% of the list. Actual results vary depending on the composition of each marketer's list.  In other words, broad penetration of video in email is now possible - provided email marketers are prepared and willing to accept some limitations.

While the iPad, iPhone, and Apple Mail are blazing the trail forward for HTML5 video in email, most mail clients today only support the delivery of animated .GIF video, which is limited in some important ways.  First, animated .GIF videos do not support sound, meaning videos in email are silent (but still clickable).  Although the lack of sound may seem like a major hindrance, the truth is that having videos set to auto-play with sound on in email can increase complaint rates and unsubscribes - a best practice is to have sound off by default.  Additionally, Outlook 2007 and Outlook 2010 do not support the rendering of video in any form in email (animated .GIF, HTML5, or otherwise) so email marketers must be content to display a static image in place of video for that mail client.

Solutions including our company's (LiveClicker) Video Email Express technology can automate the detection of an email recipient's mail client and requesting domain, then dynamically render either an HTML5 video asset or fail-over to any one of a dozen or so animated .GIF videos, each of which is automatically created by the service and optimized for different email clients.  Without such video email automation technology, email marketers would need to manually segment their lists and manually create different versions of their video assets to be rendered in email (HTML5 video, multiple versions of animated .GIF videos) in order to achieve broad compatibility among mail clients.

Here's a code snippet illustrating both the HTML5 video to animated .GIF fail-over, and the dynamic animated .GIF video rendering tag:

<video width="252" height="141" poster="http://em.liveclicker.net/service/clip?kind=poster&ID=5676&type=1" controls="controls">
<source src="http://em.liveclicker.net/service/clip?kind=video&ID=5676&type=1" />
</video>
<a href="http://em.liveclicker.net/service/clip?kind=clickthrough&ID=5676&type=1">
<img src="http://em.liveclicker.net/service/clip?kind=animation&ID=5676&type=1" border="0" style="display:block;" style="display:block;"/>
</a>

Here's a short video showing you the above code snippet in action:

Summary

HTML5 video is a step forward in the world of in-email video marketing, but it is likely that email marketers will need to take a "hybrid" approach for some time, using HTML5 video where it works, animated .GIF video where it works, and perhaps use certification services like CertifiedVideo - all in combination with one another - in order to achieve the broadest possible video penetration through the email channel.  The world of in-email video is rapidly evolving and does offer new opportunities to email marketers, but limitations remain. Adventuresome email marketers are adopting in-email video in greater numbers and this trend is sure to accelerate as HTML5 adoption grows to include major web clients.

Technical issues aside, there is plenty of industry commentary on both sides of the debate over whether it is even considered a "proper" best practice to include video content directly within the body of an email message.  I happen to feel that there is a time and a place where video in email makes sense and other times when it doesn't.  Regardless of whether video is included in email or on campaign landing pages, email marketers need to stick to the basic fundamentals of email marketing by sending relevant messages that enhance the audience experience.  Video provides a compelling way to persuade or emotionally connect with email recipients, thereby enabling marketers to present a novel and appealing experience in the crowded inbox environment where competition for attention is fierce.

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About the Author -
Justin Foster is currently serving as Founder & President at the Video Commerce Consortium and Co-Founder & VP Market Development at Liveclicker, Inc. With over 400 members including the majority of the Top 500 Internet Retailers, the VCC is an early-stage trade organization well-positioned for future growth. Liveclicker is a Silicon Valley tech startup dedicated to helping the web's leading online retailers multiply the power, reach, and potential of video commerce applications. View All Posts By -

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