March 1, 2010, 12:00 AM

Latest and Greatest

New tricks, such as video and social sharing, are adding pizzazz to retailers’ e-mail campaigns.

Reading about an attacker being disarmed by a person using Krav Maga, the official self-defense system of the Israeli Defense Forces, is one thing. Seeing the attack is something entirely different, and much more compelling.

Thrillist, an informational, magazine-style web site catering to affluent young men who live in big cities, wrote a story on a new gym in New York City that specializes in Krav Maga. When it sent the story to its readers in its daily e-newsletter, it included a video of one of its editors being taken down by an instructor-a video that could be played within the e-mail message itself.

This is state of the art e-mail. Recipients can play the video within the e-mail, at least those who use the e-mail systems of certain Internet service providers that have agreements with Goodmail Systems Inc., Thrillist’s e-mail provider. Goodmail’s CertifiedVideo system attests that the video is not harmful, and the inbox providers let the video past their security filters. Recipients that use other e-mail providers can click on an image from the video that takes them to a page on the Thrillist site to view the takedown.

Goodmail charges Thrillist $10 per thousand e-mails for CertifiedVideo, compared with $2.50 per thousand for its standard CertifiedEmail program. The only other costs are small chunks of time from editors and an in-house video professional. Thrillist has only just started with the technology, but it’s already seen increased click-through rates on video e-mail. And it says a major benefit is readers who see video in e-mail are more likely to go to the site and spend more time on it.

“It’s really cool to see video playing in an e-mail, and you can’t make as strong a case for some stories in e-mail with just the words,” says Ben Lerer, founder and CEO of Thrillist. “The video adds value and makes content even more compelling.”

State of the art

Video is just one technique that a small but increasing number of retailers and other companies such as Thrillist are beginning to use to make e-mail marketing more effective. Video is the one getting the most attention. Other new techniques center on integrating e-mail marketing applications with other systems, such as site search, order tracking and social networks, to give consumers much more than a conventional e-mail marketing piece has to offer.

Road Runner Sports Inc. is working its way up to embedding video in e-mail. Today it’s testing video by including an image from a video in an e-mail, an image customers click on that takes them to Road Runner’s YouTube channel for viewing.

“We’re taking it slow, sending out a few, and we’ll analyze the numbers to make sure it is something we want to pursue,” says Scott Lachance, e-mail marketing specialist at Road Runner, which uses e-mail marketing services provider e-Dialog Inc. “Our next goal is to build a page on our site to host videos in-house. Assuming video performs well, the final goal will be to get them embedded into the e-mails.”

Road Runner recently sent an e-mail with a link to a video of one of its prominent runners endorsing a new shoe. The click-through rate increased 7% compared with the average 2009 rate, and sales of the shoe the day the e-mail was sent increased five-fold.

But Lachance says if a retailer is going to do video e-mail, it really must aim for playing video within an e-mail.

Staying on message

“As soon as a customer clicks away from one thing, they are off to something else. It’s imperative to keep the people focused as long as you can on one thing, your e-mail message,” he says. “If you can keep them in the e-mails, give them the video, give them other relevant content, they’ll have everything they need to click to a product, directly, without having to go anywhere else, and that will increase your chances of success. It will be off the charts.”

The big challenge with video e-mail is getting the e-mails past Internet service provider and e-mail systems filters. These companies have tightened security around their customers’ inboxes to prevent spam, malicious messages and viruses. They’ve determined video files pose a threat because they can be a carrier of viruses and other mischief. So Internet service providers block video e-mail or classify them as spam, and the filters of e-mail systems, like Yahoo or Outlook, either dump video e-mail as spam or prevent them from being played.

Goodmail Systems found a way around this obstacle by placing identification tokens on its clients’ e-mail that Internet service providers recognize. But that’s not the only way to do it. E-Dialog has just introduced a new product that can get past filters without such agreements. The vendor calls the product GIFeos, a play on the GIF file format and the word videos. Retailers’ content is delivered as animated GIF files of the kind many consumers have seen in e-mails forwarded from friends and family of kittens frolicking, people dancing and so on.

Most Internet service providers let GIF and JPG images through their filters. With this in mind, e-Dialog offers a service that helps retailers transform video files into animated GIFs that can be included and played within an e-mail. But there’s one drawback: animated GIFs cannot play sound.

“But an animated GIF is one of the only ways to add interactivity into e-mail right now that you know will get through,” says Jim Kelley, manager of creative services at e-Dialog. “It is a trusted image format and long has been.”

More powerful e-mail

Video is not the only newer technique that retailers are using to spice up e-mails and make e-mail a more powerful selling tool. A major area of innovation is tying e-mail to other systems, such as site search and order management, to make e-mails more personalized and valuable for the customer.

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