The From Line

Sending, Managing & Monetizing Email

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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Quick Unorthodox Fix to the Spacer.gif Debacle

Since Microsoft decided to set Email Marketing back a few years by using Word's rendering engine , I see a fitting simple yet unorthodox kick in the hiney to them is in order. 

If you have ever worked your tail off to optimize your email message only to test it in Outlook 2007 (which for a split second before the preview kicks in gives you a nice false sense of hope) and watch it fall apart then here is a quick and simple solution that will work almost 100% of the time when spacer.gif’s are involved. 

Get ready for this solution because if you blink, you may miss it.  Rename your spacer.gif to spcer2.gif (or another file that doesn’t exist.)  I know that it’s completely unorthodox but it works.  I even tested it using Spam Assassin and it doesn’t change anything by having a few images that point to a preverbal black hole in Cyberspace.  If the message has a colored background, you may see a slim white line at the bottom of your message that may need to be tweaked a little bit, however if the background is white you will never notice it.

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Pre-Fab Email Templates Suck! Here's Why

If you're a marketing manager for a mid-sized company and insist that your email service provider offer you a bunch a pre-fab templates you're lazy and should be fired! Pre-fab templates were great back in the day when email marketing was novel and a limited number of marketing mavericks experimented with the medium however the day of pre-fab templates for real marketers has come and gone.

Just think about it, email service providers that push pre-fab templates such as Constant Contact or iContact cater to hundreds of thousands of tiny companies sending to millions email recipients. Since there is only a finite number of templates that these email service providers offer, this means that a large number of companies have the same look and feel to their email marketing efforts without any differentiation to cut through the clutter. If you're a marketing manager at a mid sized company do you really want your email marketing to look like Joe's Bicycle Shop down the street? What if your boss subscribes to Joe's Bicycle Shop email and you unknowingly use the same template? Do you think you'll have your job for long?

I know lifting and plagiarism are common practices among marketers but for G-d sakes don't copy something that's sub-par and meant for people lacking creative abilities. And if you are a small company that's serious about its email marketing it doesn't take much these days to create a professional looking custom template. Any graphic design student at your local community college can create something far better then what an email service provider will give you. Remember, benchmark the best not crap!

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Tips for Re-Designing Your Email Template

Your e-mail template is another extension of your overall brand. It needs attention to stay fresh and functional.  Follow these tips to improve the visual impact of your email marketing template.

  • Avoid background images – images help break up text and direct readers to online resource if they’re used correctly so test the message first. Background images often don’t appear in all email clients. Be sure to host any images you use on a Web site. 
  • Image alt tags are your friend – use one or two words to describe what the image is for recipients that have email clients that block images. 
  • Use an HTML programmer – “What you see is what you get” programs add extra code that can disrupt your template.
  • Choose a horizontal layout over vertical – horizontal layout allows readers to scroll down and see more in a preview panel.
  • Honor your brand – your organization has a visual brand represented by your Web site and other promotional materials. Keep your template in line with your brand but remember the reader’s needs.
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Working Around the Image Blocker

Images can enhance a message and draw attention to its key components. But, when they are blocked and appear as a big, red X in the recipient’s preview pane (often with the instruction to “right click to download”) they can lose their effectiveness. The reason images are often blocked is to enable users to prohibit unwanted (or inappropriate) images from loading automatically.  Blocking images also protects readers from spammers who use them to verify the email address is real. 

The impact of blocking images comes in multiple forms (such as lower open rates and disabled banner ads which can hurt advertiser supported material), but they all lead to lower deliverability. Like other delivery issues, email marketers can institute practices to help minimize this issue. 

  • Get whitelisted and ask your readers to add your company to their “approved sender” or “safe list” to ensure email is allowed through with a minimum of filtering, image blocking included.
  • Add a link to view the email online.  The “view Web version” links back to a version of the email hosted on your server where images are easy-to-view.
  • Provide a prominent text link to the message at the very top of your message so recipients can always choose a text version.   
  • Before sending check the appearance of your message in the preview pane.  Is there enough information to entice the reader to open the message? Or, is the preview pane filled with images and graphics that won’t download.   
  • HTML is beneficial but don’t neglect the text version of your message. A strong, relevant text version ensures you still reach users, regardless of format preference.   
  • Don’t ignore text links.  If your email includes several key linked images, consider adding text-based links as a caption to the image or in the copy of the message.
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