May 13, 2010, 2:27 PM

New service promises to deliver the marketing videos into e-mail inboxes

With a new video e-mail offering from Return Path and Liveclicker, a marketer’s video begins to engage a recipient as soon as she opens the e-mail. No extra clicks to fire up the video are required, the companies say.

With a new video e-mail offering from e-mail services provider Return Path Inc. and Liveclicker, which provides technology for managing online videos, a marketer’s video begins to engage a recipient as soon as she opens the e-mail. No extra clicks to fire up the video are required, the companies say.

“Overall, this is a positive step for the e-mail marketing industry,” says David Daniels, a former e-mail marketing analyst at Forrester Research Inc. who is now CEO of The Relevancy Group, a marketing consulting firm he launched early this year. “Animation in e-mail creative can drive response rates higher. And this partnership between Return Path and Liveclicker helps to remedy deliverability issues, which e-mail marketers continually cite as a top challenge.”

The two companies say they are coordinating their technology and services to address problems marketers have long encountered with inserting video into e-mail messages. Internet service providers, to block video content that could be offensive to viewers or that could lead to technical or security issues, for years have prevented video content from automatically appearing in downloaded e-mail messages. To view videos embedded in e-mail, recipients usually have to click to view it after they’ve already opened an e-mail—the idea being that recipients should recognize and trust the e-mail sender before launching videos.

Liveclicker’s Video Email Express service is designed to render e-mail-imbedded video content in a format compatible with a recipient’s e-mail program, says Justin Foster, the company’s vice president, marketing development. Liveclicker avoids rendering videos with Flash and JavaScript—common technologies that ISPs often block, he says.

Liveclicker instead works with animated GIF video images and HTML5, the latest version of Hypertext Markup Language designed to render rich media content on the web, Foster says. The challenge, however, is that there is not a single video format that all e-mail systems will receive and display properly, even if marketers avoid Flash and JavaScript, he adds.

To ensure that video content gets into inboxes, an e-mail marketer would need to develop several versions of video content, then figure out which version works best with each targeted e-mail system. “But all of that is very complicated to do, and there are not a lot of retailers who can create 14 different video assets,” Foster says. “Liveclicker automates that process. We create multiple versions of video content and automatically determine which will render properly in each e-mail system.”

Still, to ensure that e-mails with Liveclicker’s video content automatically appears in a recipients’ e-mail as soon as she downloads, recipients would need to add the sender’s address to their e-mail program’s safe sender’s list, Foster adds.

That’s where Return Path comes in. When an e-mail marketer gets registered in Return Path’s certified e-mail program, the Liveclicker video will appear automatically in downloaded e-mail without requiring the recipient to click to activate it.

For now, the Return Path certified program works with 1.8 billion e-mail addresses in e-mail systems including Yahoo, Hotmail and Comcast, says
George Bilbrey, co-founder and CEO of Return Path.

Liveclicker also works with e-mail services provider Goodmail Systems Inc. to provide a similar service for other ISPs, Foster says.

Daniels, the e-mail consultant, adds that his firm recently surveyed 496 e-mail marketers and found that they cited e-mail deliverability as their third-largest challenge after subscriber churn and managing e-mail frequency.


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