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Video in B2B E-mail: A Good Option if Done Well

  |  November 11, 2009   |  Comments

See if your brand or campaign would benefit from video in e-mail.

Most business professionals don't click or take action unless there's a compelling reason to do so. That's a big responsibility for marketers, as we want large numbers of clicks or sign ups, but we also want real engagement. This creates a quandary for those testing new technology or rich media: Is it novelty or real value that drives that click?

Video in e-mail is one of those "new things" that can backfire. Video e-mails can still significantly boost response -- but the initial click returns high lead quality only when the video adds value instead of distracting from the call to action. As in other shiny new tactics, tricking customers and prospects is a dead end alley -- revenue and goodwill are lost along with future trust in the brand.

For a long time, deliverability concerns severely restricted the use of rich media in e-mail marketing. Java or JavaScript has never been an option, and will still be widely blocked both by corporate and Web-based ISPs for small business like Yahoo or Gmail. Today, deliverability is still not a given: even animated images can risk inbox placement for various configurations of ISP, desktop filter, Web browser, and e-mail client.

The best options today for high-reach video e-mails are really just some form of animated image. Nearly everyone agrees that audio should always be off by default (until the subscriber clicks). Thus, in the e-mail message itself, the best options are a "video like" experience.

For sophisticated B2B marketers, this may limit the e-mail channel as a full participant in larger Web-based campaigns, which may include video, interactive, or commerce-based creative. A recent campaign by IBM, however, shows that video can be effectively used in B2B e-mail marketing.

"The problem with e-mail overall is that there is so much terrible content," says Robert Schwartz, executive director of digital dialogue strategies at Ogilvy Worldwide, which has created and managed video e-mail campaigns for Sears, IBM, Kodak, and others. "Take a look at what we all send -- too busy, no design theme, way too much copy, and it's 15 miles long. We exacerbate all that when we simply add video for the sake of video."

IBM did the opposite of that. By using video that was central to the message, the Ogilvy team helped IBM create the multichannel (print and digital) Mr. Fong campaign. Mr. Fong has been disconnected from his team and, dressed in an astronaut suit, is sending out an SOS via online video. Developers can help Mr. Fong connect by downloading a trial of the Rational software, which gives them a key to play an online game for providing Mr. Fong with various tools (some serious, some silly) to reach his team.

The audience responded. More than 9,700 people watched the video linked to the e-mail campaign, which also enjoyed significantly higher than average open and click-through rates, 20 percent open vs. 12.8 percent average, and 3.35 percent CTR (define) vs. 0.25 percent average for this audience, according to Schwartz.

"What makes this IBM program work is the entertainment factor," Schwartz says. "We created a character for the developer community based on research insights on how these buyers purchase and what tickles and engages them."

For this campaign, Ogilvy used Vismail to deliver the video stills via e-mail. Other vendors include Liveclicker, Sympact, and VHD Technology, along with multivariate testing services like 8Seconds and Omniture.

Although your mileage may vary, expect to pay some premium for video delivery, usually a small set-up fee, plus a $1 to $20 CPM (define), calculated on the size/length of the video and the open rate or number of videos actually downloaded.

Video in e-mail isn't a panacea and won't make up for a weak call to action or lack of relevance. Video can, however, be a great way to tell a story, interest prospects in a demo, or engage customers in thought leadership or training.

"IBM is one of the best known brands in the world. There is a certain level of expectation around the creative and approach from them," Schwartz says. "Historically, this has been mostly absent from the inbox. Video can help add that missing impact."

A quick checklist to see if your brand or campaign would benefit from video:

  1. Does the video help tell the story or improve the call to action?

  2. Do you have good creative assets? Despite the proliferation of homemade video on YouTube, B2B brands are expected to be professional and at least somewhat dignified.

  3. Do your subscribers have the bandwidth and desktop configuration to handle video easily? If they are mostly mobile, then you may want to wait or segment carefully.

  4. Does the video have viral potential?

  5. Should the video go to your entire file? Would it be better to focus on social influencers, or your most recent buyers?

  6. Do you have the budget required for creative and delivery?

  7. What is your expected result? Will the lift from the addition of video make up the premium cost?

  8. Can your video hosting provider give you meaningful results and reporting?

Have you tested video? Tell us your story and share an example in the comments section below.

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Stephanie Miller

Stephanie Miller is a partner with brand and marketing technology strategy firm TopRight Partners, which helps customers use the technology they have today to do the marketing they want to do today and tomorrow. She is a relentless customer advocate and a champion for marketers creating memorable customer experiences. A digital marketing and CRM expert, she helps sophisticated marketers balance the right mix of people, process, and technology to optimize a data-driven content marketing strategy. She speaks and writes regularly and leads several industry-wide initiatives. Feedback and column ideas most welcome, to smiller AT toprightpartners DOT com or @stephanieSAM.

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