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June 18th, 2012
Bringing Sexy Back to Email: 3 More Ways to Stand Out in a Crowded Inbox


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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

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Karen Talavera is the founder of Synchronicity Marketing where she provides digital and email marketing training, coaching, education and strategy. For free insight into online conversation marketing, visit Karen's blog Enlightened Emarketing.  Since 2000 Karen has been the creative mind behind the live and online email marketing certification programs of the Direct Marketing Association, MarketingProfs, and the Online Marketing Institute.   In 2010 Karen co-founded High Altitude Marketing Academy with social media marketing expert Mande White where together they help solo-preneurs and small businesses improve online visibility, deepen customer relationships and grow revenue just like the pros. Their joint product - The Mile-High Email & Social Media Flight Accelerator - is the first self-study course to teach solo-preneurs how to get up and running with integrated email and social media marketing that is affordable, manageable and works.

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