Thursday, May 01, 2008

Towards a richer email experience

Several times recently, clients have asked us about ways to create a richer media in their email marketing campaigns. Specifically, they want to start incorporating video or Flash into email.

Now I love a challenge, and I hate disappointing clients, or saying “it can’t be done” – especially since there’s always the risk that someone else will come along and prove one wrong. But in the case, consensus seems to be that, sadly, there just really isn’t a good way to do it.

The current state of technology in email marketing greatly limits the ability to include Flash or video in emails, and current best practices are to avoid it. Some bleeding edge types have tried adding a video file to the message as an attachment, and then including HTML code in the email body that plays it. This does work, but only for a handful of email clients – and not the most popular ones – because most clients do not support the code for video embedding. An additional drawback is that the video file can get very large, so significant compression is needed to keep it manageable, which may result in poor quality.

Another note: even the iPhone, with its ability to display web pages in all their glory, does not support Flash in either web or email.

On the positive side, what is possible – and effective – is to include a “tease” of video or Flash in an email. This can be a JPG that looks like a video player (think YouTube), or an animated GIF that shows two or three stills from the video or Flash. These images incent the recipient to click through to a web page, which then delivers the full rich-media experience.

This approach avoids all the complications of the embedding method – almost every email client can display a GIF or JPG – and, as a bonus, lets you track who clicks through to watch the video.

As with so many things in life, what’s possible and what’s practical are not always the same thing. But there are ways to deliver rich media experience through email that can engage customers and prospects and drive them to your website.

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