Video Email Facts & Marketing Best Practices: The Case for Video in Email

Video Email Facts & Marketing Best Practices: The Case for Video in Email

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 (Part 1). Plus, you've assuaged yourself of many of the old beliefs (Part 2) 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 for a Good Video 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:

Video in Email Tactics & Best Practices Chart

HTML5 VideoAnimated .GIF / .PNG VideoStatic 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.Video Email Facts & Marketing Best Practices: The Case for Video in EmailVideo Email Facts & Marketing Best Practices: The Case for Video in EmailVideo Email Facts & Marketing Best Practices: The Case for Video in Email
Support the message with a video-oriented subject lineVideo Email Facts & Marketing Best Practices: The Case for Video in EmailVideo Email Facts & Marketing Best Practices: The Case for Video in EmailVideo Email Facts & Marketing Best Practices: The Case for Video in Email
Use supporting text in the email that sets the subscriber’s expectations as to what happens when the video is clicked or viewedVideo Email Facts & Marketing Best Practices: The Case for Video in EmailVideo Email Facts & Marketing Best Practices: The Case for Video in EmailVideo Email Facts & Marketing Best Practices: The Case for Video in Email
Place video above the fold in the email to receive the most playsVideo Email Facts & Marketing Best Practices: The Case for Video in Email
Stick to a video that’s 400 pixels wide or less 
Use a teaser video that’s no longer than 15 to 30 seconds
Use text in the video to convey spoken words
Include a call-out in the video to prompt clickthrough to a landing page
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

Email Clients & Video Support - 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 (~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 .PNG video (~35%-55%):

  • 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 not display video, only a static image (~10%-15%, 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

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

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.
  3. You may also wish to consider using an automated approach to your video clip creation and deployment.

Manual vs. Automated Methods for Delivering Video in EMail

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 our own Video Email Express.

Here’s my chart explaining my bias:

 Manual Encoding and Deployment Automated Video in Email Software
Requires HTML coding knowledgeYesNo
Requires video encoding knowledgeYesNo
A/B testing & automated winner-pickingNoYes
Constantly evolving database of business rules mapping a library of mail clients/browsers to the different video/file typesNoYes
AnalyticsNo
  • 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 encodingversions 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 posterCurrently, 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 deviceMobile 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 encodingEither 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.
CostIn-house software, content delivery charges, developer/designer time.Based on the number of videos served.

Manual Video Email Embed Method Code Example

(code provided courtesy of the Video For Everybody Generator) In this example, the HTML5 poster refers to a static image file (a .jpg in this case).  Some mail clients, such as the Kindle native client, will allow an animated .GIF to be served as a poster.  Also, Hotmail currently requires a different poster depending on the browser's support for functioning player controls without use of a right-click.  Referring to the poster as a static image wouldn't know that, so Hotmail browsers would receive a "broken" experience in 3 of the 4 HTML5 compliant browsers, IE9+ excepted)

<video controls="controls" poster="http://sandbox.thewikies.com/vfe-generator/
images/big-buck-bunny_poster.jpg" width="640" height="360">

The file below is an .MP4 container encoded with H.264.  It would need to be manually encoded using the manual method.  This would render on the iOS devices, Android Honeycomb tablets, and major web browsers sans Firefox where mail clients support HTML5 (currently only Hotmail, when viewed in an HTML5 compliant browser)

<source src="http://clips.vorwaerts-gmbh.de/big_buck_bunny.mp4" type="video/
mp4" />

This example also has a manually encoded WebM file, which isn't needed for video in email, so this is purely for illustrative purposes.

<source src="http://clips.vorwaerts-gmbh.de/big_buck_bunny.webm" type="video/
webm" />

And finally, the Ogg Theora .ogv file, which is still required for webmail clients (e.g. Hotmail).  Though there are now strong indicators that Mozilla will indeed begin supporting H.264 in future versions of Firefox, older versions of Firefox would still require the .ogv video files

<source src="http://clips.vorwaerts-gmbh.de/big_buck_bunny.ogv" type="video/
ogg" />

This example uses a static file for the fallback image.  With a static fallback, it's not possible to serve an animated .GIF video to the 90% of webmail clients that don't yet support HTML5 video.  That could hurt clickthrough rate, and it also would lower the number of people receiving video in email.

<img alt="Big Buck Bunny" src="http://sandbox.thewikies.com/vfe-generator/imag
es/big-buck-bunny_poster.jpg" width="640" height="360" title="No video
playback capabilities, please download the video below" />
</video>

Automated Embed Method Code Example:

(code generated from Video Email Express)

In the automated method of displaying video in email, the video email automation software encodes multiple HTML5 videos using both H.264 and OGV codecs (to optimize for different browsers, devices, and mail clients), creates both animated .GIF and animated .PNG videos (to account for different browsers), and enables the user to define a custom static image for the devices/browsers that support neither.  That's why all of the URLs in the reference example are "resource URLs" which only resolve to static files when opened in the browser.  The actual file that's resolved to for each of the URLs depends entirely on the browser/mail client being used by the viewer.  It's the act of the HTTP request itself that allows the video email automation software to parse the user agent/mail client in use by the recipient, and display the correct asset.

In this code, a resource URL is used for the HTML5 poster.  This is needed to ensure a non-broken experience at Hotmail, and to serve up custom posters (e.g. animated .GIF video for supporting clients.

<video style="display: block;" clipID = "7268" width="188" height="106" poster
="http://em.liveclicker.net/service/clip?kind=poster&ID=7268&type=1" controls=
"controls" src="http://em.liveclicker.net/service/clip?kind=video&ID=7268&type
=1">

This is a placeholder for the URL the animated .GIF video version and/or the static image version link to.  Note how only the <img> tag is encapsulated with an <a href> tag.  It's not possible to place a <video> tag inside an <a href>

<a href="#" alt="To make this clickable replace the # with your landing page
URL"><img src="http://em.liveclicker.net/service/clip?kind=animation&ID=7268&t
ype=1" width="188" height="106" border="0" alt="Example video" style="display:
block;"/></a>
</video>

The Case for Video in Email: 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.

Using Video in Email Gets Results

  • 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-in-email envelope.

Until next time, Happy Selling!

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Posted in Video Marketing
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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