Using Rich Media in Email Marketing

With all of the excitement surrounding the use of rich media in email marketing, one would assume that its use brings tremendous returns on the marketer’s investment. However, the technologies are still in their infancy and must be thoroughly tested to determine whether they constitute an effective tool for getting a better response from target audiences.

What It Is

Rich media refers to audio, video, or animation within a digital environment. Rich media advocates promise that beyond the benefits of heightened interactivity between the advertiser and the audience, rich media email will deliver higher click-through and conversion rates, greater potential for message pass-along, rich demonstration and product-sampling capabilities, and a stronger brand experience for the audience.

In fact, a recent study by Millward Brown Interactive found that streaming media ads were almost five times more effective than simple web banners in creating recall for an ad. Although banners are certainly different from email messages, many of the same branding principles apply.

How It Works

Audio, video, and animation can be delivered in an email message either as streaming media or as attachments. With streaming media, content may be delivered “inline,” meaning that the media engages automatically (upon the opening of an email message) or via a “play” button. Nonstreaming formats include executable attachments, meaning the media is delivered as a program (*.exe) in email or is downloaded with a built-in player.

Although each format has unique advantages, streaming media has a greater chance of being viewed by the email message recipient. With streaming media, fewer barriers exist between the viewer and the message — there is little download time and there isn’t the perceived danger of opening an attachment from an unfamiliar source. However, as a result of Internet latency, streaming media may result in choppy video, audio, or animation.

This is not the case with rich media attachments; moreover, they are more likely to have pass-along value, thereby extending the reach of a marketer’s message.

Many marketers, lured by seven percent click-through and two percent conversion rates, are considering the use of rich media in their email marketing campaigns. But they should also consider that the per-customer acquisition cost marketers pay when using rich media email ranges from $70 to $100 (according to Jupiter Communications).

Keeping Track

Before running the first test, marketers should ensure that they can track the ROI of their rich media undertaking. Here, streaming media offers an advantage: One can track the interaction time of the audience with the message, the number of unique media streams, and other relevant statistics that can be used to optimize future email marketing campaigns.

A sophisticated rich media service provider should also be able to tell you the click-through, conversion, unsubscribe, and forward rates for both formats (streaming and attachment).

What the Costs Are

Costs for deploying rich media vary depending on the marketer’s goals and on the provider’s pricing, but costs are, on the whole, decreasing. In general, the cost for a rich media campaign consists of fees for creative services and/or production, delivery, and streaming:

  • Production fees, depending on the media type and complexity, can range from a few thousand to a few hundred thousand dollars. One should therefore ensure that the creative content is valuable to the user and reflects the quality of the brand. For example, a television commercial served through email may not be the best application of the medium.

  • Delivery fees are associated with the number of email messages sent, and they are usually $0.02 to $0.04 per message.
  • Streaming media fees are generally $0.10 to $0.20 per stream.


Aside from the potentially high production costs of video, audio, or animation content, perhaps the largest limiting factor for the use of rich media is bandwidth. In the United States, home Internet access through cable, DSL, or satellite connections is increasing, as is workplace bandwidth; however, dial-up will remain the dominant mode of access, according to Jupiter Communications, limiting the audience for rich media for some time.

So before you begin planning your rich media campaign, review your goals and develop a testing and learning plan; then, ensure that you track the results of your first run! Once you’ve gained insight into how well the audio, video, and animation emails help you achieve your business objectives, you can determine whether to use them again in the future.

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