The age of v-mail - how video will transform e-mail marketing

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There's no doubt about it: we've entered the era of online video. More than three-quarters of the US online population over the age of 15 initiated a video stream in April, according to a June 2007 comScore report. Some recent reports claim that YouTube alone accounts for more than 10 percent of all Internet traffic.

The emergence of online video offers an unprecedented opportunity for e-mail marketers to connect more strongly with their audience. But using video in an e-mail campaign has to be done correctly. The wrong kind of video will frustrate consumers, whereas the right one will create a powerful brand experience.

More companies are getting it right, including German automaker BMW and women's fashion retailer Lane Bryant. Both companies have used prominent graphic prompts in recent e-mail campaigns, motivating recipients to click through to landing pages in order to view a video. In both cases, the videos and delivery methods were well received, without being obtrusive or non-compliant with current e-mail best practices.

So where do marketers go wrong? Before they take the time and incur the expense of generating a video e-mail campaign, it's important for them to be realistic. Most e-mail clients, including Outlook 2007 and the majority of Web-based providers, disable the scripting mechanisms that enable video to be played. This means few consumers will be able to view a video directly from within an e-mail.

Marketers are increasingly using a click-to-view link in the e-mail that directs the viewer to an external landing page that plays the video. That way, the customer can decide whether he wants to open it or not. (If a customer is at work in a cubicle or on the road checking e-mail via a Blackberry, he or she is unlikely to view a video, but may do so at home later). The best video content also includes tangible calls to action, such as "learn more" or "get 10 percent off now." And since video is viral in nature, smart marketers are also adding a "send to a friend" button because, at the end of the day, it's always "cooler" to have a friend forward you a video than a company.

With any experimental marketing technique like video, there is always the risk of a negative user experience. If viewers cannot decide whether or not to view the video, pause it or control the volume, they'll likely be annoyed. Overall, in today's consumer-centered world, the customer controls the marketing relationship - so make sure they have control of the videos you send.

Video e-mails may be in their infancy, but they're here to stay. In a few years time, it will be second nature for consumers to click a link to watch a video of a product before they buy it. So, why not start tapping the power of the future today?

Julian Scott is the creative director at Responsys. Reach him at jscott@responsys.com.

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