May 8, 2001
(Publish) Bruce Stein, CEO of Radical Communication, calls it "short attention span theater." Radical, which provides multimedia technology such as streaming video and audio to direct marketing e-mail companies like yesmail.com and Bigfoot Interactive, is one of the leaders in the emerging market of "rich media" e-mail–a group of technologies that enrich e-mail messages with audio elements, embedded video shorts, animation and even secure encrypted connections for credit card processing. Companies like Bigfoot Interactive use Radical’s technology to offer clients new methods of communicating with their audience: methods that can provide much more impact than plain text e-mail.
Video e-mail stands out as the key difference between "rich" e-mail and plain text messaging. Video, after all, fully encapsulates the vocabulary of persuasion–humor, pathos and emotional impact–well understood by traditional marketers through decades of television experimentation. Content that is unique to an e-mail mes sage increases the chances that the initial recipient will want to share it with others–which will get the e-mail in front of many more eyes. This is especially true if the content is tied to an incentive or is humorous, like the "Dancing Baby" animation that became so popular via e-mail distribution that it eventually made a cameo appearance on the "Ally McBeal" television show.
While techniques such as humor can increase the pass-along rate of an e-mail message, a successful campaign should include both a call to action and a send-to-a friend request directly in the video message itself. For instance, a recent Radical Communication campaign for Planned Parenthood contained a video appeal from actress Sarah Jessica Parker to "forward this e-mail to as many people as you can." Jay Stevens, director of marketing for Radical Communication, says that the forwarding rate was over 15%, much higher than average.
Fortunately, the cost of producing compelling video content for e-mail does not come close to approaching a television production budget, especially in the B2B sector. "The best use of video in B2B [e-mail] is case studies," says Mike Pennell, vice president of marketing for MindArrow Systems, an e-mail technology vendor that has developed the "eBrochure" to replace traditional sales brochures. "It’s the best way of putting a reference customer in front of your prospect. As everyone knows, testimonials in sales brochures are often written by the company’s marketing department. So when you can put the person on video actually saying that his ROI increased [because of your product], it is much more compelling."
Today, a large percentage of B2B video e-mail campaigns comes from the seminar and trade show industry. In fact, claims Stevens, "Although somewhat of a generalization, response rates [for video e-mail] in the B2B market are nearly double [other markets such as B2C] and most [of the B2B business] is in conferences." The reason for the increased response rate is that business e-mail lists are usually more refined and accurate than those in the consumer space.
A great way for a company to experiment with video e-mail and work out the kinks is with its internal communications, says Clint Kaiser, chief solutions officer with Blue Ink Solutions, a firm that counsels clients on the use of rich media e-mail. "Test it out internally first and see what it’s like; figure out what works and what doesn’t. How long does it take to load? Is there a need to download a plug-in? It’s a great way to verify what the vendor has told you." Before launching a campaign with customers, however, Kaiser stresses thorough testing of things like the time it takes to open the e-mail, the open rate, pass-along rate and response rate.
Ultimately, more industry-wide testing is needed. While there is significant anecdotal evidence that video e-mail is more effective than plain text e-mail, hard evidence isn’t in yet and controlled studies still need to be done. Says Bigfoot’s Feinstein: "It’s pretty intuitive that if the call to action is there, [then video e-mail works]. But the quantitative aspect hasn’t been tested. And pushing our clients to get there is a process."
Bill McCloskey is president and CEO of Emerging Interest, an organization dedicated to educating the Internet advertising industry about rich media and other technologies.
By Bill McCloskey, Copyright © Publish Media, LLC, 2001