Email and video marketing

As a digital marketer, it is really satisfying when new tech is available to try and it promises to improve your work in some way. But when it’s not of any use for your job, the prospect of trying that tech feels kind of… meh.

Video playback in email perhaps belong to the latter.

The latest HTML5 element allows you to embed a video directly in an email. And by directly, I mean literally just click and play: Users don’t have to go anywhere else to watch the video.

But the question is not whether you can use video playback in email. It’s whether you should.

Video playback sounds like it could make you different and put you ahead of the competition. You get your videos in front of your audience and they don’t have to use their web browser/video player.

But let’s look at this closely.

What’s the advantage of videos in email?

Before we get to the pros and cons of embedding video in emails, ask yourself: Why should I use video in email in the first place?

Let’s be honest. An email newsletter without value is much like the weekly junk mail in your mailbox: It’s more annoying than useful, and you don’t want it to come on a regular basis.

A study by MarketingProfs gathered a bunch of keywords in emails and analyzed their impact on several different actions. Guess what? Video is one of the words with a positive overall impact, from open rate (+18%), to click-through rate (+20%), to a reduced unsubscribe rate (-26%).

email marketing statistics

Kissmetrics aligns their argument with this data. In addition, they point out that video in email marketing helps your email stand out and makes rather complicated topics easier for readers to understand.

How can it improve users’ experience?

The main benefit of embedding videos to your email is that your audience will have a better user experience. On mobile devices, embedding video directly to email saves users a click. This is because most mobile platforms don’t support autoplay features, so if a user clicks on a thumbnail image of a video, they’ll have to click another play button.

On desktop, the user experience improvement is more subtle. To put it in perspective, Ezra Fishman from Wistia recorded a screencast of him receiving an email with an embedded video.

And here’s another email with a thumbnail that directs him to a landing page:

As Ezra puts in in his article:

The two experiences are pretty similar on a desktop (especially when utilizing selective autoplay). I click a play button and a video plays. In the non-embedded case, that involves opening a new window, which is a non-trivial difference.

Other than an improved user experience, embedding video to email doesn’t give any real advantage.

Why can’t the majority of email clients play videos?

As flawless as an embedded video can play, there’s still a big problem to face. Not all email providers have caught up with the latest technology.

Only two-thirds of email clients today can play embedded videos. Gmail, which holds a 40% market share for webmail, isn’t one of them. Neither are Outlook (23%) or Yahoo (21%). However, email clients with new technology such as Mozilla Thunderbird, Outlook 2011 for Mac, Apple Mail 4 and Mail Pilot can.

As a fallback, programmers often add a clickable thumbnail so viewers on email clients that didn’t support video will see a static image that links to the video, just like they would with a pre-selected thumbnail that’s linked to a landing page.

Worst-case scenario, they’ll see a broken image that can’t be clicked and doesn’t link anywhere–in other words, a dead end.

This doesn’t mean that there’s nothing you can do about it. Email service providers provide tools to code or create a workaround to avoid broken image problems.

But the point is, as cool and cutting-edge as embedding video in email may be, it’s more often technical than not.

If you do decide to give it a shot, here’s a guide by EmailOnAcid, complete with the coding you’ll need and a list of compatible email clients. Just be aware that each platform requires different coding, so you’re going to spend quite some time coding your emails.

Why does an image-linking workaround work better?

As much as you want to embed a video in your emails, the current preferred method remains the same: not embedding video at all. Many designers, programmers, and email marketers avoid using embedded video once they’ve weighed its pros and cons.

Most of them prefer using animated GIFs and static images imposed with enormous play buttons to encourage users to watch the full video on their landing page.

This has a couple of advantages. It’s easier to code and allows click-throughs, making it easier to track which of your emails are driving traffic to your landing page. This is what we did with one of our explainer videos:


But at the end of the day, email is just a stepping stone to take a customer to a landing page where the journey can continue with deeper engagement, whether that’s getting a download, receiving a quote, exploring products and solutions, filling in a form, or making a purchase.

In other words, you want them to click and go to your landing page. The fewer clicks between your user and your landing page, the greater the chance of them being your potential buyer. It’s as simple as that.

So, when you should use a video embedded in email, and when you should just link to it?
Embedding a video in email means two clicks are needed to get to the landing page: one to watch the video and one to click through to the landing page. This is good if your video amplifies readers’ desire to purchase.

On the other hand, using the classic approach of a static image with linked video and then auto-playing the video on the landing page means just one click is needed to get to the landing page. This is good if your website is an e-commerce site that sells FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) and relies on impulse purchases, so that “BUY NOW” button is always within their reach.

The Verdicts

An embedded video in an email does improve users’ experience. Despite that, it’s still not worth the time and effort needed to embed a video to an email, at least for now. You might want to use it every once in awhile for special occasions, but for now, I recommend you stick with the static image or GIF that links to your landing page, and only add video to the email if you are positive that most of your readers don’t use Gmail or Microsoft Outlook.