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Savvy solutions for mixing video with email

Savvy solutions for mixing video with email Jim Kelley

The demand for interactivity on the web has never been more insisting. Ten years ago no one could have predicted the amount of user-generated content on what is now considered web 2.0. The explosion of video on the web, over the last two years, has resulted in marketers looking for more sophisticated ways to bring interactivity into their marketing programs. This includes email marketers, who view video as a savvy way to engage consumers.

While the demand is there, we as email marketers still face challenges in being able to effectively execute video in email. We aren't quite there yet, but there are a few workable solutions you can effectively incorporate into your email program. 

Animated GIFs
The GIF file is a well supported and long trusted image file on the web, and it is also supported in email. The unique characteristic of this file format is its ability to play a sequence of frames. What you might have once considered to be Flash (think blinking Vegas-like graphics) is actually an animated GIF. These file types are facing a comeback as creative designers realize their capabilities in email. We can use the animated GIF to replicate the motion of video. Frame for frame, we capture the video and when each frame is sequenced, it plays like a video. Many call them video GIFs; I like to label them GIFeos. 

GIFeos are simply animated GIFs converted from a video. Frame for frame, you get the same live action feel, without sound. It adds a visually exciting component to your message and allows you to utilize video content from your website. The drawback is there is no sound or playback control, and the image quality is low. Outlook 2007 does not display animated GIFs -- only the first frame of the image. To combat this, make sure the first frame of your GIFeo can be understood as if it was a static image without the accompanying frames.

Despite the minor drawbacks, GIFeos are a great way to add interactivity into the inbox and promote click-through activity to your website.  

Goodmail CertifiedVideo
Goodmail's CertifiedVideo is a solution that allows clients of Goodmail Systems Inc. to send video in an email message, and even further allow that video to play directly in the recipients' inboxes. How is this possible? Goodmail verifies each email and uses tokens to mark emails containing video as safe and trusted content.

As a result of this token, ISPs that support this function allow the email to get past inbox security. The major drawback is that AOL is the only major ISP on board with this solution. So, for clients of Goodmail using this service, only members of their list that use AOL-based email will be able to view video content in their inbox.  

Landing page functionality 
When considering all parties on your email list, the most suitable solution is to include a landing page link in your emails, where recipients can click-through to see video play. Using a tactical approach, email marketers can utilize this function very effectively. I suggest crafting an email with a strong call-to-action. Accompany this call-to-action with a graphic made to look like a real video that can be played in the message. This will encourage recipients to click the graphic and, as a result, you can redirect them to a landing page that automatically plays the video.  

Automatically playing the video will keep your readers engaged; however, since it does take them away from the email itself, make sure the landing page is well branded and still gets the main message of your email across.

With the emergence of HTML5 comes a new tag. This allows video to play across all browsers without the need of a third-party plug-in. Video plays naturally without error, just as images currently display in HTML.

There could be a big breakthrough here to email, but as of now, no web mail client supports HTML5 video. However, internet browsers are beginning to adopt this new standard: Chrome and Safari allow it, though Internet Explorer and Firefox do not. If this catches on, which many think it will, we could potentially see error-free video in email, with no additional cost to marketers. 

Email is smart, sophisticated, and sensitive. Since video has long been established as a threat that might carry malicious content, it can be blocked by ISPs before reaching the inbox. Still, as email marketers, we are faced with the challenge of continually providing consumers with engaging content. 

It is essential to keep our subscribers connected with new and exciting capabilities. Therefore, my recommendation is to use GIFeos to capture the excitement and interactivity of a video and also provide a link where users can click-through to a landing page that automatically plays video content. No matter what method you choose to implement, keep in mind deliverability issues you might encounter with large files and rendering issues, depending on the email provider your recipient is using. 

Jim Kelley is manager, creative services, at e-Dialog

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet. 

Prior to e-Dialog Jim held technical support positions at TIAC, MediaOne, and Bizland, Inc. Jim holds a BFA in Graphic Design from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. Jim Kelley is a 7 year veteran of e-Dialog where he has been an integral part...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Justin Foster

2010, June 03

Email clients that support HTML5 video:

- iPad native email client (H.264)
- iPhone native email client (fullscreen player - H.264)
- iPod Touch
- Apple mail 4 (H.264)
- Thunderbird (Ogg Thoera)
- Blackberry (BOLT 2.1)

Animated .PNG (better quality playback than animated .GIF)

- Supported in major webmail clients rendered in Firefox

Additionally, email marketers need to be aware of some encoding requirements of animated .GIF video

- Lotus Notes requires content-type change to render properly
- IE6 (still used by many corporations, although officially unsupported by MSFT) does not support layer transparency, a key requirement to compress animated .GIF videos to achieve video quality
- Chrome and Firefox support higher animated framerates than IE or Safari - forcing the frame rate too high in IE or Safari (used with major webmail clients like Gmail, Windows Live Mail, Yahoo Mail etc) can cause unexpected seizure in video playback or event video stalls. Different framerates for different browsers are required to ensure good fallback capabilities
- Low bandwidth .GIFs can be encoded to support higher quality playback on mobile devices with slow connections and slow broadband Internet connections

The only way to solve these problems is to use a video email automation solution capable of detecting the capabilities of both the user agent (program rendering the actual email) and the requesting domain in order to render the best possible experience in email. If such automation techniques are not implemented, email marketers will experience problems with rendering.

For example, it is possible to include tags in email to render both HTML5 video (including video asset rendering with dynamic codec selection e.g. H.264/OGG) and failover to multiple animated .PNG & animated .GIF selections based on the capabilities of the subscriber's mail client.

Also, the limitation of Outlook 2007 displaying only the first frame of the video, as cited in this article, is not technically accurate. The DEFAULT setting of Outlook 2007 is to display the first frame. However, video email automation technology can display a frame of the sender's choosing in place of the first frame based on the user agent detection of Outlook 2007.

Sorry to get too in the weeds on this comment ;-)


Commenter: Julian Gee

2010, May 18

I've been using a video email system called Talk Fusion fo the past couple of years, which seems to be effective.Let me kinow if you'd like to know more.

Commenter: Jeremy Dempsey

2010, May 14

Gold Lasso has developed an integrated solution with a 3rd party provider that allows for up to 45 seconds of video that streams and renders across all installed and web based email clients. Below is my contact info.

Feel free to reach out for details, this is really ground breaking stuff and can add some serious lift to conversions.

Jeremy Dempsey
VP, Gold Lasso, Inc.
240-252-4862 (direct)
jdempsey at goldlasso dot com