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Bringing Sexy Back to Email: 3 More Ways to Stand Out in a Crowded Inbox

by Karen Talavera

05 16, 2012 | Posted in Content Marketing, Creative, Email Marketing, Messaging Strategy | 17 comments

Bringin Sexy Back to EmailUnless you overhear a conversation about porn spam, the words “email” and “sexy” don’t get used in the same sentence very often. Email, the loyal silent workhorse of social media, steadfast driver of e-commerce, overshadowed stepsister of search, is more often likened to Martha Stewart – reliable, conservative and past her prime – than Angelina Jolie – slinky, seductive, and unpredictable – although both have built sizable empires of wealth and influence.

That is, until now. Oh yeah, we’re finally bringing sexy back to email marketing.

I’m not sure if email ever truly enjoyed a flirtatious and provocative adolescence – it sort of leapt from childhood to married-with-two-kids – but we got a brief glimpse of its sex appeal a little over a decade ago when video in email first arrived on the scene.  Unfortunately, deliverability constraints and increased receiving environment security quickly thwarted passage of live-motion-video and audio in the inbox, and video moved almost exclusively to websites and later, YouTube.

Today, three exciting innovations are bringing video, audio, animation and dynamically-updated content to email and the inbox has never looked hotter!

So without further ado, let me roll out the red carpet for the sizzling trends that’ll make your email marketing messages not merely stand out in the inbox, but leap into stardom:

1.   Video in Email

Thanks to the arrival of HTML5, video is back in email. Unlike earlier efforts to integrate video in email using proprietary technologies, HTML5 is an open standard, which means it’s built into today’s Web browsers and most new mobile devices. This broad adoption has created the momentum video in email has sorely needed now that security risks inherent in third-party applications and plug-ins (like that of video-in-email pioneer RadicalMail) are eliminated.

Today, the following email receiving environments can display video directly in the body of the email message:

  • All iOS devices when opened in the native mail client (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch)
  • Hotmail, when viewed in an HTML5 compliant web browser
  • IE 9+
  • Chrome 3+
  • Firefox 3.5+
  • Safari 3.1+ on desktop, and 3.0+ (iOS)
  • Thunderbird
  • Apple Mail 3, 4
  • Outlook for Mac 2011

According to this excellent post on video in email, close to 50% of all email messages read today support full video in email – which means on average about half your email subscribers should be able to have a rich media video experience in the inbox.

Better yet, deploying video in email has never been easier now that providers like Liveclicker have developed solutions such as Video Email Express. The tool allows marketers to upload a video (hosted and served by Liveclicker), configure a few settings, and embed the video in an email design in a matter of minutes. Leveraging HTML5 design, Liveclicker works with any email marketing software or ESP – no integration or switching necessary.

(Check out this Discovery Channel email using Liveclicker Video Email Express).

Best of all, video-in-email solutions like those offered by Liveclicker or agency Style Campaign aren’t subject to deliverability pitfalls because they doesn’t rely on Javascript of Flash which are disabled by over 90% of email clients. Style Campaign, although also supporting video in email, does so without sound as in this example from Kraft.

Despite the widespread technical support of video in email, most marketers still opt to redirect responders to video hosted on either their website or – in an attempt to drive beneficial traffic – their YouTube channel. And almost none configure video to auto-play on open (a wise choice in my opinion).

Consequently, video-in-email placeholders like the one in this Vail Resorts email appear as though they will stream video directly into the inbox, but instead redirect the responder to the company’s YouTube channel.  To my dismay, this Disney email takes a similar approach, redirecting clickers to the Disney Nature site instead of streaming video into the message itself.

The good news? HTML5 has brought video-in-email out of the IT closet and will, I believe, usher it into the mainstream. With close to 50% of your recipients able to see full video in email and the appeal and visual engagement that video still commands online, now is the time – especially for marketers with ready-at-hand video content – to begin using video in email marketing if they’re not testing it already.

2.   Animation

Animation is a close relative of video in email, and like video has been around in email for over a decade. It’s currently experiencing a resurgence in popularity for similar reasons to video (the HTML5 open standard). Perhaps its biggest advantage – for now at least – is how easy it is to create.

While video in email requires the existence of video footage, animation can be accomplished with static images in .gif or .ping format, something most email marketers already have in their content arsenal.

Recent examples of note include this message from Bed, Bath and Beyond which routinely uses animation in other ways like this (check out the roving eyeballs). What I love about the first example, however, is how it leverages limited screen real estate by showcasing three times as many images in the space needed by just one.

Here’s a similar approach from BuyBuyBaby. And let’s not forget British retailer Johnnie Boden which also creatively uses animation to bring motion and action into its emails, as you’ll see here and here.

Even without sound, animation can show vs. simply tell. Email is primarily a visual medium, so a picture is truly worth a thousand words and a moving picture even more.

3.   Dynamic Content

Perhaps the ultimate in email creative is live, up-to-the-minute, date- place- and time-specific message content. What if, depending upon when your recipient opens a message, the content could change to reflect:

– how much time remains before your offer expires?

– real-time inventory quantities remaining?

– updated event or travel itineraries?

– maps showing what’s nearby?

– names and faces of others attending a conference or event?

– social media (Facebook or Twitter for example) comments?

With dynamic content it can. There are two players leading the way in real-time dynamically-customized email marketing: LiveIntent and Movable Ink.

LiveIntent is focused on advertiser-oriented dynamic content solutions for publishers. Their aim? To help publishers monetize email subscribers as easily as they can monetize web visitors by dynamically-placing publisher-sold ads into email newsletters or allowing LiveIntent to dynamically-serve ads (from across their agency network) seeking an audience.

Movable Ink, on the other hand, seeks to turn marketing emails into containers for live content. When an email created with Movable Ink is opened, they serve content based on current time, recipients’ locations, social context, or business rules marketers define.

I love the countdown clock in this 1-800 Flowers Mother’s Day email.  Here’s another example – from Movable Ink – highlighting a count-down clock plus dynamically-changing location, inventory and social media content.

Both providers can sense the device email is being opened on before sending dynamically-customized images, so a recipient opening an email on a smartphone will see one version of a message whereas another recipient opening the same email on a desktop will see a different version.

Email: Finally sexy and we know it

I’ve long-predicted the email inbox to eventually resemble a portal more like television that a Web page, and we’re now closer to that reality than ever before with the triple threat of video, animation and dynamic content in email.

I don’t know about you, but when I see moving pictures in my inbox, I experience a “pattern interrupt” that gets my attention. I appreciate and value relevant, specific up-to-date information tailored to me as an individual and crafted with my (vs. 10,000 other people’s) selfish interests in mind. I want a little “show” with my “tell”.  If that’s not feelin’ the email love, if that’s not bringing sexy back – or finally to – email, I don’t know what is, but I do know I’m excited to see what’s coming next.

Struggling with your email message development? Need a messaging strategy or help planning your email marketing calendar? Then a coaching program is for you; learn more here.

Related Post: 3 Tried and True Creative Tactics for Instant Visibility in a Crowded Inbox


photo by: AJC1
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  3. Jodicrosby says:

    I’m hopeful your are correct but a test I just ran on our systems using HTML5 video came out at less than 25% of people being able to play the video within the email in the spot and see the email where it was supposed to be seen.  Several people were able to see the video at the bottom of the email (gmail, yahoo).  Liveclicker is a great option but still a little expensive for the small businesses I work with.   We’ve tried to segment the email for different services to improve our stats and that is working but still a lot of work.  I know Liveclicker does that but, as I said, still a little more than the small business I’m working with want to pay.

    I appreciate the information!

  4. Guest says:

    Great read but…this will not really work for B2B markets as the majority are still locked into Outlook for Windows and Lotus Notes.

    • Animation is alive and well in Outlook – I use Outlook almost religiously for email and have no problems seeing either animation or video. And Lotus Notes? Really? I don’t know many corporations still using that . . . where’s your intel coming from?

  5. Guest says:

    I would have read your article completely if it did not contain such blatant anti-women themes and the photo. Why do you have to compare email to women’s sex appeal?! What does that have to do with anything?? Grrr…. 

    • Guest says:

       Okay, obviously you did not read past the first paragraph…

      • Guest says:

         Exactly! I could not get past that first part comparing email marketing to Martha Stewart and Angelina Jolie. What women’s purported sex appeal has to do with email marketing, I have no idea.

  6. I’ve really only seen one email campaign that did animation, but I loved it. The NHL did it a couple years back with a gif for the Stanley Cup. It got me excited for hockey!

    • If you want to see animation used routinely sign up for Bed, Bath & Beyond email. Many clothing retailers are also experimenting with it. Also, I’ve seen Saturn (cars) use it.

      • Ruby says:

         Outlook on a Mac? Because I get nothing on that Discovery email (sent it to myself) except a fuzzy image and a link to Liveclicker. Not even a play button to trick me into clicking through. My vote is that if the other 50% of your audience doesn’t even know what the image is, it’s a fail.

        •  Liveclicker JUST redid their website so the above link may no longer be working. But now you can request the Discovery Channel LIFE email that I referenced be sent to you. I did that myself  and it came through loud and clear to me in Outlook on a Mac with full motion video and sound. Head here http://www.liveclicker.com/video-email/examples/ to request the live examples. I’ll update the link in this post.

          • Ruby says:

             Sorry, I should have been more clear. I asked about Outlook on a Mac because I’m using a PC, and our results were different.

  7. ActivePath says:

    Glad to see that dynamic email messaging – what we call an active inbox – is getting attention! It’s where email should have been all along, and we’re glad to be a part of making it happen. 

  8. Helpful article – would love to get video embedded in our emails. Does Constant Contact allow embedded video yet? Mailchimp? What other eNewsletter services allow you to embed videos to play directly in eNewsletters?



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