One of the hardest things to do as a digital marketer is to look at some exciting new technology and say, "that is cool… and it doesn't help me do my job more effectively, so I'm not going to use it."
I think video playback in email is one of these technologies.
Instead of putting a thumbnail image in our email campaigns, what if we could put the video itself in the email? How cool would that be? It does seem like a pretty cool way to get our videos in front of our email subscribers more efficiently. And after years of waiting, the technology is finally here to let us do it (details on that later)!
So why am I not planning to use this in all of our future emails?
Simply put, a thumbnail image with a link to our site will be more effective for our marketing efforts in almost every instance. Here's my analysis of the costs and benefits of embedding video directly in email.
An improved user experience
The primary benefit of embedding a video in email is an improved user experience. On mobile devices, embedding a video saves users a click. Because most mobile clients don't allow any form of autoplay, a viewer who clicks on the thumbnail image is forced to click play again when they reach our landing page.
On desktops, the improvement is more subtle. To demonstrate, here's a screencast of me receiving an email with a video embedded:
And here's the same email using a thumbnail linking to a landing page:
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.
Embedding video in email does improve the user experience, but we have to weigh that against some pretty substantial costs. Let's dive in.
Video as a permanent content resource
Linking to a video on our site instead of playing it in an email allows the content to live on as a more permanent resource. From an SEO perspective, we want people sharing and linking to the content on our domain. This is obviously much easier if we're directing viewers to consume the video there from the start.
We want to make it easy for viewers to return to this resource a week, a month, or a year from now. As we create more and more content, our site becomes a powerful library of resources. This is a double win for us. Our audience members have more incentive to visit our site, and when they do (whether on their own or from one of our emails!), they're likely to stick around to consume a few videos. In our own Learning Center, we've seen that two thirds of people who watch a video go on to browse another page on our site.
Imagine you're watching a video embedded in an email, and then the video ends. What do you do next? Most likely, you archive the email and move on. From a marketer's point of view, that's a big missed opportunity.
Getting people to watch our videos and read our content is great, but I want a lot of things that can't be accomplished from my viewer's email client. I want interactions, not just views.
When your video is on your own landing page, you have more control over your viewers' next action. They can leave a comment, ask a question, or start a discussion immediately after watching. They can explore the other content on your site and consider signing up for an account. They can share your content, and the people they share it with can do it all over again!
The verdict: embed your video on your site
When we use email marketing to promote our written content, we almost always include a small preview of the content in the email and link to the full content on our site. We could, of course, include the full article in the body of the email, but we don't. Removing video from the equation and analyzing how we handle text-based content helps reinforce many of these ideas.
Even though video in email is a cool new technology, we would prefer our audience consume the full content on our site instead of in an email client. At the end of the day, the primary goal of our email marketing is to drive people back to our site. Content is a great way to do that, and regardless of whether that content is in written form, video form, or some other form that hasn't been invented yet, getting people to our site is a critical step in the process.
We know the best way to get you to do something is to tell you not to.
We admit that there might be some situations where directly sending a video could work well, and we totally encourage you to try it if it aligns with your brand's goals. My recommendation: experiment! Maybe you'll find a great use I haven't thought of.
To make that experimentation easier, we've a built a new Wistia Lab that generates HTML5 video tags from your Wistia videos. The video tag includes both the video itself and a fallback image of the thumbnail for emails clients that do not currently support video playback.