Using Video in Your Email Marketing: A How-to Guide

Illustration by Pedro Piccinini

If you really want someone to pay attention to what you have to say in your emails, video in your email marketing is one of the best tools at your disposal.

There’s been a huge shift to video in recent years. It’s dominating social — people watch more than 100 million hours of video of Facebook every day and a Facebook executive recently predicted that the platform will be all video in less than five years.

On top of that, YouTube reaches more 18-49 year-olds than any broadcast or cable TV network — and that’s just mobile traffic.

But what about video emails? Well, video email marketing is definitely worth the effort. Research by marketing firm Adestra has found that just mentioning the word “video” in an email subject line improves click through rates by 20%. Other research has found emails that feature a video experience click-through rates 96% higher than non-video emails.

Unfortunately, the way emails are coded and delivered makes incorporating video especially difficult. That’s why I’ve developed this how-to guide for using video in your email marketing. Incorporating video into your email can be challenging, but knowing a few clever tactics can significantly increase your success.

Still Image with a Play Icon

The most reliable method of incorporating video into your email marketing is also probably the most popular: using a still image with a play icon. This workaround is relatively easy to enact, even if you aren’t a photoshop expert:

  1. Take a screenshot of your video while it’s playing. Try to ensure that your screenshot is flattering and that you don’t get your cursor in the screenshot. (You could also create a video-shaped graphic or background image and use that instead of a screenshot.)
  2. Place a play icon over the screenshot (if you can’t make this icon yourself, you should be able to find solutions online).
  3. Save the image.
  4. Place the still image with the play icon in your email.
  5. Ensure that the still image links to the video you want the user to watch.

To show you how it’s done, here’s how Twitter uses this technique in its emails. Notice how the play button makes it look like you can immediately view the video, but instead you’re taken to another page to view them.

How, exactly, your image links to your video in your email marketing will depend on what you’re trying to accomplish. In some cases, you can simply link to the Youtube or Vimeo page on which your video is hosted.

Other times, you may wish to link to a blog post or webpage where your video will be embedded. You could also link to your social media page or profile where the video in question is embedded and easy to share.

When using this particular trick, you do want to make sure that you don’t in any way attempt to mislead your email readers. That is, don’t take a screenshot from one video and link to another.

Or, don’t put your own branding on your screenshot and then link to another company’s work.

You get the idea. This strategy works best when you’re transparent about what kind of content you’re linking to.

Use an Animated Play Button

If a static image and play button isn’t eye-catching enough (and let’s be honest, we are all indeed trying to catch as many eyes as we can), you could always try adding an animated play button to your email such as the one below.

The process for an animated play button is quite similar to a static image and play button combo:

  1. Take a screenshot of your video.
  2. Create a play button animation. You can do this with a variety of software options, but you typically won’t want something overly fancy. Just a simple countdown or circle animation should suffice. You’re just trying to catch eyes, remember.
  3. Apply that animation to the screenshot you previously captured and save the entire thing as an animated gif.

Most email services support animated gifs, so your readers will be able to see the circling play button. It’s impressive, and it’s a good way to ensure the user’s attention is being directed where you actually want it — to your video.

Here’s a nice example of how Monica Vinader draws attention to a video in email:

Embed an Animated GIF

Animated GIF files are incredibly common these days — they’re the same animated file type that allows for popular memes of all kinds. And this is a good way to create some visual interest for your email.

An animated GIF is, essentially, an image that moves. And this can be an excellent option, depending on the situation. Creating an animated GIF takes a little more thought and planning than a screenshot will. To create a GIF for your email:

  1. Begin by selecting the video clip you’d like to turn into a GIF. Remember that image size will be an issue here, so the shorter the clip the better.
  2. You have several options when it comes to creating the actual GIF from your video. The most reliable way is to use a program such as Photoshop. If your Photoshop skills aren’t that great, there are a variety of online platforms, such as GIPHY, that you can use. But be wary, as many of these platforms will automatically make your GIF public, and you might not want that.
  3. Once you’ve created the GIF, place it into your email the same way you would an image.

There are some drawbacks to be aware of when it comes to using an animated GIF. First and foremost, you have a limited amount of time. The longer your GIF goes on, the more you’ll have to compromise on quality, as you can see in this example below:

Second, GIFs don’t have any sound. This means that your “videos” will be totally silent. Sometimes you can add subtitles and the video will still work effectively, but it’s something to be thoughtful about along the way.

Animated GIFs, therefore, won’t really work for every instance, but they’re a great compromise between videos and still images. You can always link to your main video in your email marketing the same way you do with a still image. And GIFs can be especially useful for tutorials or advice newsletters. How and when to deploy this particular strategy will depend most especially on your overall goals.

The Risky Approach of Embedding Video Right in the Email

When you want to put video on your blog or a website, the process is pretty simple, especially if you’re using a content management tool such as WordPress. It can really be just as easy as copying and pasting the YouTube link onto the page and — boom — you have video.

It’s not that easy with email, and there are a number of reasons why. The most important takeaway is that not every email service is capable of delivering video content. Currently, only Apple Mail, Thunderbird, iOS 10 (native client), and Samsung Galaxy (native client) emails will play videos.

Here’s an example of what embedded video in email looks like, courtesy of Wistia:

The problem is that you can’t really control what service someone uses to view your emails. So, if you’re going to take this approach, you need to be careful:

  • Use whatever analytics tools at your disposal to gather data on how your subscribers view your emails.
  • When you embed the video in your email, ensure you have a backup coded in. That way, if the email does not display (which is likely), your reader will see something other than a broken link.
  • Be sure that you have the technical expertise to embed your video. And, if you don’t be sure that you at least test often and thoroughly before you send out your video.

When Should You Deploy a Video?

Wrangling a video in your email marketing can be a challenge — even when you know all these shortcuts — and that can get you thinking about ditching the whole enterprise. Why use a video when you can just write up a quick block of text?

The reason video is so popular, even in email form, is because it works: video is exceptionally powerful. The trick is that you have to pick and choose when you deploy a video. The work that you put into making a video function properly needs to be worth it.

Let’s look at some examples of instances in which the use of video might be to your benefit:

1. You Have a Very Personal (or Personalized) Message to Send

Video tends to be quite intimate. If you’re sending out a very personal or very emotional message, video in your email marketing is a good way to do that. An emotional appeal–especially a personal one–won’t always read quite as compellingly as written content (unless you happen to be a particularly amazing writer).

That intimacy works both ways. Many organization will develop videos that they send out on personalized occasions. Those occasions might include:

  • Anniversaries (here’s a video for you on the anniversary of your subscription to our newsletter).
  • Birthdays (here’s a special offer for you on your special day).
  • Special occasions or holidays (the holidays are approaching, so watch this tutorial on holiday decorations).

2. You Have a Particularly Important Announcement to Make

There are some big announcements that simply require generating the most buzz and attention possible. When you have a big announcement to make, video is usually the way to go. A video, right from the start, makes it clear that this announcement is a big deal.

Of course, you’ll want to make sure that whatever you’re announcing will support that deal. And you’ll want to spend some time crafting copy that either provide details or successfully direct readers to watch your video.

3. Tutorials or Learning Opportunities

Tutorials are one of the best ways to generate goodwill and views all at the same time. If your business or organization has anything to teach, a video is often the best way to do that. With a video, you can really show your subscribers how to accomplish something.

The nice thing is that tutorials can be broken down into several gifs, depending on the subject matter.

Don’t Forget About the Basics

When planning your use of video in your email, it’s important that you take some time to remember the basics — both when it comes to creating emails and when it comes to videography. Here’s a quick punch list of some of the things you should remember.

Videography

  • Keep an eye on your production values. If you’re shooting your own video, try to record in an interesting location.
  • Ensure your video is well edited (watch it several times before you post).
  • Always, always, always record your video in widescreen formats. If you’re using a phone to record, make sure the phone is oriented in a horizontal or “landscape” position.
  • Where and when you can, spend some time to think about the lighting and ensure your primary focus is well lit.

Emails

  • Make sure that you’ve composed a catchy subject line. You can even mention in that subject line that there’s a video inside. So try for something like: “VIDEO: We make an exciting announcement!”
  • Don’t forget to include a call-to-action. Even though, in many cases, your reader will click off site (to YouTube or something like that), you still need to provide a call to action in your email.
  • If you’re linking to a YouTube or Vimeo page, make sure you’ve taken the time to properly fill out all of the pertinent information on that page.

Improve Engagement and Your Message with Video in Your Email Marketing

When you include a video in your email marketing, you’re probably doing so for an express purpose. When you really need to improve engagement and get your message out there, a video is a wonderful tool to deploy.

It may take some clever thinking to get that video in your email to show up just right. But hopefully this how-to guide can help you develop and employ the video solution that works best for your business or organization.