We are pleased to have this guest post from Justin Foster, founder of the Video Commerce Consortium, the industry’s largest trade group devoted to advancing the use of video in e-commerce.

Talk of embedding video in email is making the rounds again in many email marketing circles, so I thought it would be appropriate to weigh in on the subject.  Now, as someone who lives and breathes in the world of embedded video in email via my company, VideoEmail, and in keeping in touch with the brutally honest approach of this blog, you might be somewhat skeptical that I can deliver an objective assessment of whether embedded video is worth pursuing.  But I’ll try.  Here is a short list of things that you must know about the benefits and drawbacks of using video in email.

Embedded Video in Email is Here.
First, let’s clear the air.  Embedding video in email is finally possible.  This much is indisputable.  Embedded video in email is made possible by combining the nascent HTML5 video standard with new technology that sniffs a mail client right as a message is opened.  By combining the two, senders can effectively deploy video within email while safely falling back to display a regular image in case video isn’t yet supported by the opener’s mail client.  Most B2C senders are able to reach over 60% of all email openers with embedded video in the inbox.  B2B is closer to 40%. 

In the spirit of objectivity, let’s start with some drawbacks of using embedded video in email.

– Embedded video in email isn’t supported everywhere.  This is the most-oft cited drawback.  The phrase “non-universal support” tends to conjure up images of broken-looking emails and deliverability headaches. Fortunately, in the case of embedded video in email, non-universal support doesn’t mean that emails will break. By utilizing a waterfall approach, like the one we use at VideoEmail, and detecting the mail client in use at the moment a message is opened, senders have the ability to deploy a solution that will deliver a compatible experience across the entire database, whether or not video is ultimately supported by the end mail client.

– Embedded video in email can’t be linked to a landing page like a regular image.  When embedded video is clicked or tapped in email, it can be played, paused, fast forwarded/rewound, muted, adjusted for volume, or made to play full-screen.  But it can’t be clicked through to an external web site.  This means senders using embedded video in email should consider using a call-to-action above or below the embedded video to drive the maximum # of recipients to a landing page.

– Embedded video in email can’t be tracked for completion.  On the web, it’s a fairly straightforward matter to track whether a video was watched, say, 50% to completion.  But in email, it’s not possible [yet].  That’s because tracking video completion relies on Javascript, which can’t be used in email.  In the absence of completion reporting, marketers must rely on other engagement metrics such as duration of open and number of times a video begins playing within email.

– Embedded video in email can’t be click-tracked and associated to a unique recipient.  It would be great to know that bob@sampleisp.com clicked to play an embedded video in email.  Unfortunately, it’s not possible.  The reasons are numerous, and include: a) Clicked video in email can not be tracked using traditional click-tracking because embedded video can’t be linked to an external website.  b) capturing the click otherwise, via Javascript, isn’t possible because Javascript doesn’t work in email.  c) The final method that could be used would be to associate an ID within the embed code with a recorded “play” event within a mail client.  That approach, while much more complex, is by far the most promising.  Unfortunately, it’s a dead-end due to the way some mail clients request video files that would result in “false positives.”

As you can see, embedding video in email is not without its faults.  Marketers must weigh the shortcomings of using embedded video against the benefits, which are numerous.  Those benefits include:

– Embedded video in email is watched, on average, 40% more often than linked video.  That’s right.  According to data gathered over 50 million email opens in 2013 (VideoEmail clients) across verticals spanning retail to travel to B2B, embedded videos are viewed 40% more often than linked videos.  The reason is simple: embedded video in email is easier to consume than linked video.  The trend is especially pronounced on mobile devices.  According to Litmus’ July 2013 data across 258MM email opens, 43% of all email openers use mobile devices. Most mobile openers experiencing embedded video in email only need to tap once to have a video play.  Contrast that to linked video, where the recipient must tap, wait for a redirect, spawn a browser, wait for the page and player to load, and then tap again to have a video begin buffering for playback (embedded video, by contrast, begins buffering as soon as the email is opened).  Clearly, embedded video in email is a much better experience in the mobile space.  

– Embedded video delivers a more dynamic inbox experience.  Let’s face it: marketers are dealing a lot of challenges in connecting with recipients.  Regardless of where you fall in the Gmail tabs debate, it’s yet something else marketers have to deal with and some early studies are showing small declines of 1% – 2% in opens.  Return Path’s H1 2013 Email Intelligence report shows a global 4% drop in year-over-year inbox placement rates.  Apps and notifications compete for attention while email volumes continue to grow.  Marketers are rightly searching for ways to make messages stand out.  And unlike the use of pictographs in subject lines, video growth is a much larger trend on the web that is growing faster relative to email and social network usage. Plus, according to a Feb 2013 Relevancy Group study, only 25% of email marketers are using video in their programs.  In our own surveys at VideoEmail, we see the trend is even lower, commonly in the 10% – 15% range.  Embedded video in email is low-hanging fruit.  If you want to make emails more dynamic, embedded video in email is certainly one way to do so.

– When executed well, embedded video in email drives better campaign results.  Note I said “when executed well.”  Using embedded video in email is no guarantee things will go swimmingly.  Many best practices need to be followed.  Of paramount importance, the video has to be good.  If it’s not, then video (embedded or not) can work against senders by distracting or annoying recipients.  But with 40% more recipients watching embedded video, the “good” videos can really shine.  Results like these are just a few of the ones we’ve seen:
  • 55% higher revenue per email delivered (apparel, A/B test)
  • 50% higher clicks compared to prior emails featuring non-embedded video (cosmetics)
  • Over 1MM incremental video views (online media, A/B test)
  • 7.5X more clicks compared to static image player image (travel, A/B test)
  • 21% higher time on site (luxury apparel retail, A/B test)
  • 40% higher average order value (mass merchant retail, A/B test)
– Embedded video in email is easy to implement.  While simply being “easy” doesn’t mean that it’s “good,” in this case I think the ease-of-implementation deserves a bullet in the benefits column.  That’s mainly because so many email marketers have been trained over the years to believe that embedding video in email is hard.  With the right tools and right approach, embedding video into email is no more difficult than uploading a video to YouTube.  If you don’t believe me, then head on over to VideoEmail.com (shameless plug, don’t kill me John please) and try uploading and testing a video.  In less than 30 minutes, you can be embedding videos in your emails while keeping your trusted ESP.

Justin Foster is Co-Founder and GM of VideoEmail at Liveclicker, a company focused on helping the web’s leading brands maximize the potential of online video.  Prior to Liveclicker, Justin led the services practice for WhatCounts, an email marketing technology provider, where he was responsible for client strategy and development. He also founded the Email Marketing Roundtable, an industry group that counts over 1,500 email marketers worldwide as members.