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Is video the future of email marketing?

Is video the future of email marketing? Zach Watson

Despite being a mature medium that's been around for more than three decades, the future of email (for marketers) still looks bright. Forecasts about emerging email tactics usually highlight personalization using marketing automation software, and the increasing importance of mobile, but one trend has received somewhat less attention: the integration of video.

Until a few years ago, integrating video into email was difficult because it required third-party plug-ins, which didn't play well with email clients. The file size of an attached video was also too large for an optimal user experience. Waiting minutes for your audience to download your video isn't the best way to get them to engage with your brand.

With the emergence of HTML5, interoperability between plug-ins and email providers has become much less of an issue. In addition, the application of progressive playback allows users to watch part of a video without requiring them to download the entire file, making playback faster.

With the technology in place to support video, it's poised to become a large part of email.

Why video belongs in email

Inbox competition
Email marketing never really went out of style, though it has perhaps been overshadowed by social media and search engine channels in recent times. But consider that there were 3.6 billion email accounts in 2013 -- as well as the prediction of 4.3 billion by 2016 -- and it becomes clear that the email market is huge.

This means there's a great deal of competition, so differentiating your brand in the inbox of your audience is paramount. Video can be the means to do so. A report by GetResponse found that using video in email resulted in 55 percent higher click-through rates, 41 percent increased sharing and forwarding, as well as 44 percent more time spent within the email.

The culmination of these stats produced 40 percent more monthly revenue for marketers who used video in email.

Given that email is relatively cheap, using video is an excellent way to not only increase engagement, but also improve returns.

Mobile first
The numbers vary: by some reports, mobile traffic accounts for 65 percent of initial email opens, while the Pew Research Center estimates a more modest 52 percent. Either way, mobile devices have become the new normal for email marketing. In some aspects -- subject lines, responsive formatting, etc. -- this has made email marketers' jobs more difficult, but video actually fits right into a mobile email strategy. To begin, mobile devices are getting larger -- the screen of the (now tiny) iPhone 5 was a full 17 percent larger than its predecessor. This increase in screen size across the market reflects the way users behave on their devices, i.e., they watch a lot of video.

Consequently, video will play a huge role in increasing mobile open-rates and engagement. Video also makes it easier to encourage subsequent opens from desktop browsers. While mobile may be the first touch point for an email, getting users to return and view content from their desktop is also important. Placing engaging video within the email increases the likelihood of multiple opens.

What's still holding video back

Major email providers
Although HTML5 was a huge step forward for email video integration, it didn't solve all the problems. Gmail, Outlook, and Yahoo still don't support video directly in email, and they account for about 37 percent of the email provider market. This makes sending truly integrated email video a gamble, though to what extent depends on the specifics of your audience.

Email clients that do support integrated video include iOS devices, Apple Mail, and Outlook.com (distinct from the Outlook desktop client).

To hedge your bets, it's best to include a fallback image, such as a GIF or static image with a play button graphic that link to a landing page where the video begins to auto-play. It may sound strange to recommend launching an auto-play anything, but given the expectations of a user clicking through from an email, it's logical to have the next page deliver the content without another click.

So while sending an integrated video to your audience can have a huge impact, it's still a new and emerging strategy. Many marketers will more likely continue to play it safe and use GIFs as well as static images to persuade their audience to click through.

However, video integration with email can be incredibly powerful, and it's quickly becoming standard practice to provide some type of video content -- directly integrated or otherwise -- through email.

Zach Watson is the content manager at TechnologyAdvice.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.

Zach Watson is the content manager at TechnologyAdvice. He covers gamification, healthcare IT, business intelligence, and other emerging technology. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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