Why should you be using video?

The old adage goes that a picture paints a thousand words, but a video does that and more.

It is more immersive, is easier to understand, and creates a more immediate emotional impact. All of these factors undoubtedly contribute to the substantial uptake in consumer engagement witnessed by brands that integrate video into their email campaigns alongside, or in place of, text and static images.

They spend more time reading emails containing video content, and share and forward them more frequently.

Crucially video boosts conversion rates by a quarter, and consumers spend more per purchase. 

All of this should make the decision to embed relevant video content in their marketing emails the archetypal ‘no brainer’ for brands, right?

Unfortunately, as with so many things, the truth is altogether more complex.

Compatibility issues 

The implementation of multimedia content in email campaigns has consistently been shown to improve consumer engagement rates, but recent updates to mobile and desktop operating systems, as well as email software, combined with trends towards new video formats such as HTML5, have created a number of compatibility issues that mean user devices may not be able to properly display video content.

An audit of video compatibility and performance taken across a range of devices and mail clients found some strikingly divergent results…

  • The only devices found to seamlessly play embedded videos were Macs running Apple’s native desktop mail client, PCs and Macs running the latest version of Outlook, and, among mobile handsets, HTC devices running Android 5.0.1 (and even then only in HTC’s native client, not the Gmail app that is also bundled on the handset, and only after tapping twice on a seemingly broken video pane).
  • On the majority of devices and platforms tested, only a static fallback image was displayed in the email, with a link directing the user to a landing page hosting the video or to the brand website. 
  • Older versions of Outlook, and Gmail’s app for Android devices, also produced a fallback image, while on iOS8 devices, the Kindle Fire HD, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3, and the native email client on devices running legacy versions of Android, even this was not possible, with the video being totally non-functional.

It is not surprising that some older devices have been left behind by the relentless march of progress, but the incompatibility of embedded video with the native email client on brand new iPhones is something for marketers to take note of.

Meanwhile, web-based clients (declining in popularity as more and more consumers access email on the move) also fared poorly…

Across Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Firefox on PCs and Macs, AOL, Gmail, and Yahoo displayed only a fallback image, while Outlook.com showed an unclickable static frame from the embedded video.

What does this mean for marketers?

At best, this means that the consumer experience of interacting with a brand becomes less intuitive and seamless.

The need to click through to a separate page or app to view video content creates friction by dragging the consumer out of the journey from email to brand website to purchase, particularly if they then have to navigate back to their email client to click through to the brand site.

Many simply will not bother, being distracted or put off by the interruption that has thrown them off course. The impact of the video will be greatly reduced.

At worst, customers may be turned off a brand if they come to expect a substandard experience when they open up an email from them. 

How can marketers ensure the best possible experience for the largest possible audience?

In much the same way as they tailor the other content of their emails based on demographic segmentation and observed insights into consumer behaviour on their platforms, brands need to be aware of the devices their customers are using and factor compatibility into their campaign planning.

Of course, it may not be practical to do this on an individual level. The best solution may be to include video directly on product pages, and use these as the landing page to link to from an email, therefore creating a seamless transition to the purchase process. 

Video is far from dead as a means of boosting consumer engagement in email campaigns and consumer appetite for video content shows little sign of abating.

But brands need to acknowledge the nuances of compatibility and think smarter about how they go about presenting that content to their customers if they are to continue to reap the rewards.