Why Has Video Been Slow to Take Off in Email Marketing?

Playable, a company which enables marketers to add video into their email campaigns, today announced the launch of a new stock video library, which businesses can use to search for and add video elements into their Mailchimp campaigns. The two companies say the integration will make it easier for small businesses to add video elements to their campaigns, without needing to create their own video content.

While video has become increasingly prevalent pretty much everywhere else on the internet, it’s been slow to take off in email, held back by fragmentation of devices and email clients. VAN spoke with Playable CEO Bob Hitching to hear how his company is solving this problem, and what sorts of data marketers can use to power their video campaigns.

How do Playable’s video units work? And how do they appear within a consumer’s inbox?

Companies can input a video into our system, either through uploading a file or via a YouTube URL, or now we have the stock video library too, and then we generate dozens of different versions. Historically the problem with video email has been one of fragmentation – you need different versions of the video for different devices and different email clients. We generate all of those and create a bit of code which is added to the email template, so that when the user opens their email our system knows which version of the video to send.

That video then auto plays in the inbox, which is an experience which hasn’t been done before. Previously, you’d usually put a static image in the email and wait for people to click on it to watch the video. And with global email click rates, only five percent of people are going to click on it and watch the video. But with our video, ninety-eight percent of people who open the email will be able to see that content.

We enable sound as well, but it will only work on around 60 percent of devices. A lot of customers want a consistent experience for everyone, so they treat it like video in Facebook and Twitter where the video is muted and uses captions. If the user wants to engage further they can click on the video, and that might take them to another page which plays the video with sound. We do also offer an option which plays sound on the 60 percent of inboxes where it works, but that’s only really recommended for a few marketing objectives. If the marketer is trying to drive sales, usually it’s better to use a muted video, and then lead them on to a product page.

What sorts of data do you get back from these videos, and how can marketers use that data?

We get all of the data that’s used in those first few milliseconds to decide which version of the video we send to the user. So we can tell the marketer the locations where people are watching more videos, how long people are watching the video for before they click on it, time of day, things like that.

We also do live A/B split testing for some customers. So again in those first few milliseconds, we can choose between different edits of a video based on which one is getting more clicks. We work with Warner Bros., and they’ll often have three or four different versions of the video, so they can choose whichever is performing best. With Blade Runner 2049 for example they had a Ryan Gosling edit, a Harrison Ford edit, and a cityscape edit, and they were able to optimise based on which edit was performing better.

And finally we also use AI-based computer vision which we get a lot of data from. We analyse video using that technology to understand what appears in each video, and which characteristics of videos are generating the most clicks. If a marketer is trying to sell a handbag, is it pictures of the handbag that’s driving clicks, or shots of someone smiling while holding the handbag, or shots of them out and about with the handbag? That data helps marketers improve future campaigns.

So can marketers target different demographics with different videos?

Yes, absolutely, marketers can choose to target different creative to different users. One of the things we’re prototyping at the moment with that computer vision data is automatically remixing and re-editing the video for different segments. So going back to that Blade Runner example, if we know you’re a Harrison Ford sort of person, we’ll send you the version of the trailer with more of Harrison Ford in, and if you’re more of a Ryan Gosling person, we’ll send you the Ryan Gosling version.

So it’s data-driven video marketing, it’s treating video not just as a big fat file of content that needs to be delivered, it’s treating video as a source of data which can be tested and used to improve marketing performance.

Which sorts of objectives does video email tend to be most useful for?

Firstly it increases click-through rates for email campaigns. If you look at the content which people spend time with on mobile in particular, so much of it is video – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok. So it elevates email to be able to better compete for attention with those things, and our customers see higher click-through rates, up to 10x in some cases compared to a static image.

And the second impact is downstream conversion, which is particularly important for retailers. Video conveys more than a static image, which means by the time someone clicks they’re better qualified. People don’t click on a video by mistake and then decide they’re not really interested in the product, they’re more likely to convert after the click and buy something.

How should creative be tailored for video email?

We find the sweet spot tends to be a ten second loop, which is similar to video feeds on other channels. It should look good on mobile, so a square aspect ratio or a portrait aspect ratio. And as I said earlier captions are good for where there’s no sound.

And finally a call to action end card is useful. Most of the time video email is used for direct-response marketing, and we see better results where there’s a clear call to action at the end which invites the user to click to get a discount, or to buy the product etc.

Do publishers also use video email, say within newsletters they send out to subscribers? Can they sell video advertising within those newsletters?

Yes, we work with some publishers who do that in a few ways. Some publishers add a two or three second bumper ad onto their own video content which they include within the newsletter. And then others use a whole video ad unit and sell an entire ten-second loop.

Those deals happen through sponsorship between those publishers and marketers, we don’t plug into programmatic demand sources at the moment. The customers we work with on this are big publishers with sales teams who are selling campaigns across multiple channels, and they can add video mail onto those packages too.

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