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E-mail marketers should also pay close attention to the size of the video file as that directly impacts download times of the message itself. "Video can add a lot of bulk to an e-mail," says Buzzeo.
One way to overcome playability and download issues is to embed an image from the video that displays a play button in the e-mail. When the play button is clicked, consumers are linked to the retailer's server or to YouTube, which plays the video.
"It's a very seamless process and a good solution for marketers that want to include video because not all the e-mail clients can support video," says Experian CheetahMail's Bergman. "It's also a nice alternative to simply including a link to the video in the body of the message, because it adds some visual appeal."
An alternative to video is animation that plays when the e-mail is opened. "Animated GIFs adds visual appeal, but without the sound," says Gregory. "One well-known example is that of a retailer that included a chocolate bunny animated GIF for an Easter promotion whose ears were being eaten away. Retailers can also use animated GIFs to show a 360-degree rotation of a product or swap products in a hero image."
Given some of the technical hurdles retailers face by adding video to their e-mails, it is recommended marketers first determine whether the medium fits their objectives for the e-mail campaign. If the objective is to educate consumers about a product, it may be worthwhile to include a video product review submitted by a happy customer or one that demonstrates how to use the product.
Product demonstrations, for example, make sense when the consumers targeted in the e-mail campaign are likely to have limited knowledge of the product.
"A health and beauty retailer that sells primarily to teens should not assume their customer base knows how to apply the product, so in this case a video can be extremely relevant," says BlueHornet's Ju. "What retailers don't want to do is simply add video because it is a trendy thing to do. Adding technology for the sake of technology is not the best use of technology."
As retailers prepare for the upcoming holiday season there are a number of tweaks they can make to improve the effectiveness of their e-mail campaigns. Identifying and encouraging brand advocates that post promotional e-mails to Facebook or forward them to friends is one way to expand the reach of e-mail during the holiday season.
Retailers can add widgets that make it easy for consumers to post the retailer's e-mail offers to a Facebook page or forward it to a friend. Retailers will want to prominently display the buttons to activate the widgets; those widgets can also track how many additional people receive and view the message.
"Brand advocates are a powerful marketing tool, especially when they use social media to take a message viral," says StrongMail's Trivunovic. "Retailers can readily identify them and create offers they are likely to re-circulate based on past behavior. The more a brand advocate spreads the word about a retailer, the more credibility they can lend to the retailer's brand."
Simply targeting brand advocates to take a message viral is not enough. Retailers need to make sure they are reaching the brand advocates that have the most dedicated following within their social circles.
"A consumer that shares one message that is clicked on by 20 people is more valuable than someone who shares 20 messages that get only one click," says Ju. "Both customers have value, but retailers that want to be sure their message is viewed by the largest audience possible should be concentrating on their most effective brand evangelists."
Consumers that are just getting to know a retailer, and those who have come close to buying before abandoning a shopping cart, are also good targets for e-mail marketing during the holiday season.
Consumers that have recently opted in to the e-mail list can be sent a series of automated welcome e-mails highlighting best-selling products or popular gift ideas over a several week period as a way to expose them to the retailer's top products.
"Another quick, low-budget split test optimization opportunity is in changing the subject line to indicate the message comes from a person as opposed to a company, as some consumers respond more favorably to an e-mail from an individual," says Emailvision's Heys. "Retailers can also test subject lines that ask an intriguing question, such as ÔWhat are you doing this weekend?' as a way to engage the customer."
Retargeting consumers that have abandoned a shopping cart can serve as a reminder they have an item in the cart or provide a nudge to complete the purchase, especially if the retailer offers an incentive to buy now, according to Ability Commerce's Buzzeo. Timing is important, she adds.
"E-mail campaigns can even be used to precede slower transaction days of the week to level out warehouse and shipping activity," she adds. "There are a lot of ways retailers can use their customer data to make their e-mail campaigns more efficient."
Marketers can boost e-mail open rates by adding a call to action in the subject line, such as a request to share tips on the retailer's Facebook page or web site about how to throw a memorable holiday party or decorate the house for the holidays.
"Not every e-mail has to focus on making the sale or result in a sale," says Trivunovic. "A call to action that gets the customer involved by visiting the retailer's web site or Facebook page can be a subtle way to improve open rates down the road or generate a future sale, because the message keeps the consumer interacting with the retailer."
Delivering the e-mail