You’ve Got V(ideo)-Mail

It’s no surprise many people find video messages an appealing way of receiving information. Apart from their familiarity, TV and video ads are compact messages easily assimilated by an audience long comfortable with their form and function.

When considering video content in rich media, advertisers must consider the added value the video format brings. As a communications tool, video is unsurpassed in ease of use. However, in its online, digital form, video faces a number of detractions that may hinder its effectiveness.

New technologies are attempting to bring video formats into the world of rich media in ways still untested but that may show great promise for the future. In the basic model, an email recipient opens the email and a digital video stream starts in a browser or mail client window. Though this can be a valuable form of marketing communications, it can also be vastly ineffective if done incorrectly.

In the past, I’ve written about staying away from using video in rich media for video’s sake. Although cutting-edge technologies may appeal to some, for the most part they can muddy the effectiveness of the approach.

Current bandwidths make streaming video a higher-end tool. If you create a message for a corporate audience, you might be able to get away with a heavier data load. But for a consumer still using 56k dial-up, most video options are nonstarters.

Video is a great illustration tool. For example, if an advertiser wants to quickly show the benefits of its product (ease of use, comfort, effectiveness, etc.) through demonstration, a video format is a direct and fast method. A text-based message might make it harder to get the same degree of information to the ad recipient as quickly.

When a message can be delivered via text or video, I’ll always opt for text. Text, like video, is a familiar format, but it doesn’t require any additional technology. Text can be streamlined and can allow the recipient to treat it in a nonlinear manner. Most video formats are still based on a start-here, end-here A-to-Z format. Text can offer a message second-life potential by being printed out and passed around. Video isn’t as pliable.

Video isn’t always the right tool for the job. A talking-head video of the CEO pitching wares might seem self-serving (or be very poorly acted), while a transcript of that same video might become a solid marketing tool. If the content is the same in both cases, go with the easier-to-use format.

Video is more expensive to produce (if done properly) than textual content, harder to get done quickly, and much harder to get to a recipient due to a myriad of mail clients, system requirements, and formats. If done right, video formats can eclipse all these detractions and be effective.

I see more and more solutions for video-based email technologies, but many seem to be using a “TV on the desktop” model to get the job done. Though the effectiveness of this approach will depend on the appeal of the video ad to the individual consumer, it’s still a passive, linear ad. I may have little choice when watching TV, but receiving an email with a TV-formatted ad in it is easily avoided — and most likely will be.

By providing the consumer with an interactive video format, advertisers might just be on the right path to bringing the appeal of video-based emails to a mass audience.

Several interactive video approaches are available. The simplest to understand and implement are presentation-based. In these examples, a traditional slide-show format is combined with video content to allow a user to click on a link and jump forward and backward in the video stream while associated slides keep pace. Good examples can be found at the Interactive Video Technologies and Cormana sites.

Another variation on this approach is video streams with embedded hot spots that can change the outcome of the stream or link up with associated dynamic information. A great example of the potential of this approach can be found using VideoClix from eline Technologies.

A similar offering is made by Team Banzai Media Group using V2 Interactive Technology, in which advanced interface designs are incorporated into interactive video formats with very pleasing results.

Streaming video isn’t the right tool for every email campaign, but don’t be surprised if it starts to appear more often. As bandwidth increases, technologies, like those profiled here, will continue to set the standard. Advertisers using interactive video messaging may be on the bridge between where we are now and where we hope to be.

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