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Streaming Video -- Coming To An Email Near You

According to comScore, more than 10 billion video clips are viewed online every month -- providing companies big and small with an incredible opportunity for cost-effective branding, product display and demonstration.   Ironically, the ability to incorporate streaming video into an email campaign was practiced in the early days of the commercial Internet, yet stymied when inbox providers and software developers started blocking javascript in email for obvious security reasons.   With cutting-edge video technologies now available and the pent-up demand for video integration with email from both marketers and consumers, inbox providers are heeding the call by developing new programs for marketers to tinker with email video delivery.

Gmail YouTube Capabilities

Gmail recently announced a new "Labs" feature allowing users to preview YouTube videos in emails. This technology is currently only for Gmail users, and is limited to YouTube videos, but it stands as significant progress in the move towards true video embedding.  Many marketers are experimenting with Gmail-only campaigns, segmenting their lists for gmail.com subscribers and embedding short video clips as part of the campaign. 

GoodMail Systems CertifiedVideo

GoodMail Systems has also found a way to insert and play videos from email messages. The CertifiedVideo platform enables qualified senders to incorporate rich video and audio content directly in email messaging, without additional mouse clicks and pop?ups.  CertifiedVideo is based on Goodmail's core CertifiedEmail technology with the addition of a new CertifiedVideo tokenclass. Senders' messages are delivered directly to the inbox and ISP restrictions are lifted, enabling video to be instantly viewed by recipients. CertifiedVideo supports streaming and progressive download of .SWF and .FLV files, playable in Adobe Flash Player.  I met with Peter Horan, GoodMail's CEO, a few weeks ago at the Email Insider Summit in Captiva Island, Fla.  He seemed very enthusiastic about the beta testing that was completed with select clients and was eager to roll it out to the rest of us.  If you qualify for GoodMail services, you should definitely take a look at CertifiedVideo.

For those of you who do not have a lot of Gmail addresses and can't qualify for CertifiedVideo, there's still some hope for you.  Below are two additional tricks that work but are not as optimal as the above solutions.

Text Link

The simplest alternative to embedding video is to insert a text link to the video from your email. The video then opens in an external browser. While this approach is straightforward and uncomplicated, it lacks the obvious visual draw and speed of an embedded video or a related image. For this reason, the best practice for most marketers has been to insert a clickable screen shot or animated image of the video (discussed below).

Link with Image/Animated GIF

Simulating video with images typically generates more visual interest. How it works: once the video is loaded to your referring Web site, a screenshot is taken. HTML is coded to display this screenshot image when the email is opened, linking it to the eb page where the video resides.   Because images will render across all email platforms, this approach is considered a safe and alternative to embedding. Unfortunately, images also get blocked. Animated GIFs no longer run properly, as they are also blocked because spammers used to bypass filters. Marketers have a few options to bypass this obstacle, including the addition of a text link below the image and using alt attributes in the HTML code.  While using images to simulate video is an industry best?practice, this approach has its limitations.

What the Future May Bring

If none of the above sounds appealing to you, don't despair.  It is my intuition that email as a delivery mechanism for video will become so important in the coming year or so that inbox providers will make it much easier for marketers to do.   After all, they're going to have to continue pumping out new tricks to compete with social media for ad dollars.  And what better way to keep someone glued to their inbox than an old rerun of "Welcome Back Kotter" (for me at least).  As Vinnie Barbarino would say,  "up your nose with a rubber hose," social media.

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