Video in E-mail

If you have been in this industry a short time, you’ve probably seen a lot of highly hyped technologies crash and burn in the marketplace. If you’ve been in this industry as long as I have, you’ve seen those same technologies crash and burn multiple times. Take Second Life, touted as the next greatest marketing vehicle. Over 10 years ago, I watched and participated in the crashing and burning of Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) as the next great marketing vehicle when I was the VRML evangelist for SGI. The things that kept Second Life from being a successful marketing platform are the same things that kept VRML from being a successful marketing platform. And perhaps I’ll write an article one day on exactly what those things are.

We’ve seen the same with other technologies like RSS, which a few years ago was next big thing in marketing. But it is basically the old PointCast model repackaged. As a marketing vehicle, RSS has not fared better than the “push” technology.

Lately, there is a resurgence in the promotion of video embedded in e-mail. Video e-mail, of course, has been tried in the past to little success and many companies have crashed and burned, or reinvented themselves after crashing on the rocky shores of technologies that sound good on paper, but had difficulty in gaining acceptance.

About eight or nine years ago, the poster child for video e-mail was a company called Radical Mail. Its technology toppled not that company, but also another business, called MindArrow, which acquired Radical Mail. Another technology that seemed interesting at the time was Dynamics Direct whose claim to fame was inserting the recipient’s name in an audio message played when you opened the e-mail. The most successful of these technology companies was TMX Interactive, which successfully reinvented itself as a digital marketing company and remains one of the only companies with an video e-mail business left standing today.

According to a recent report by David Daniels, VP, Forrester Research, 9 percent of marketing executives interviewed are using video in e-mail today and 21 percent plan on using it in the next 12 months, leaving 70 percent with no plans on integrating video into their e-mail strategy. And there is data to show that e-mail can increase click-through response and reduce presales call center inquiries.

New companies are entering the marketplace with technologies vastly improved from the old days including Goodmail Systems, which recently announced certified video as part of its certified e-mail platform, and Eyejot launched by WhatCounts founder David Geller.

Marketers should be aware of some issues inherent in video e-mail. The first, obviously, is cost. Do improved click-through rates result in higher ROI (define) when the added costs of developing and producing the video portion are factored in? And things that are vital to success in e-mail: segmentation, A/B test splits, and behavioral targeting, can be cost prohibitive once video and animated .GIF technology is integrated into the mix.

In the past, one factor that may have prevented e-mail video from taking off is that video and e-mail are processed by the recipient in very different ways.

Video is primarily a linear medium and requires time to play out and present the message. You need to hold someone’s attention from a message’s beginning to its end; it’s not easy to do.

Traditional e-mail with text and graphics, on the other hand, is spatial. If you’ve ever seen the results of eye-tracking technology, people’s eyes roam over the e-mail looking for elements that interest them. They take it all in as a whole and scan the message for images and phrases that appeal to them. People make split second decisions on whether or not to trash an e-mail message, which is often not enough time for video to make its impact.

Traditionally, video e-mail has worked best in markets where testimonials are important. Nothing quite sells a testimonial like seeing the actual person give the testimony. Back in the day, video e-mail worked for conference and trade show businesses. Video excerpts of keynote addresses from the year before and testimonials from past attendees all helped sell the next event. This is where the lion’s share of video in e-mail money came from. Fewer and fewer people attend trade shows, and with more shows cancelled or merged due to the down economy — factors that will have an impact on the success of vendors getting into the video in e-mail space.

On a positive note, tools like Eyejot are pretty exciting. Eyejot lets you create on the fly personalized video e-mails quickly and very cheaply. One of my salespeople, for example, was astonished when David Geller responded minutes later with a personalized e-mail to my salesperson’s e-mail pitch. One-to-one B2B (define) prospecting holds the greatest promise for video embedded in an e-mail message.

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