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Multimedia takes mobile email up a notch

Mobile email has become crucial for brands. However, marketers need to move beyond bland formats by incorporating multimedia into their campaigns to stay ahead of the game.

Multimedia such as GIFs, video and animation offer marketers a unique way to personalize their campaigns, which is especially important on smaller-sized screens. Despite the opportunities, multimedia also presents lots of challenges around standardization and best practices.

?Using GIFs and video in email is a budding trend that will make content more interesting and engaging in 2013, yet there are still plenty of issues, like HTML5 standards across mobile devices,? said Stephanie Colleton, director of response consulting at Return Path, New York.

?First, make sure that using multimedia is worth it ? don?t do it because it seems cool or it?s the latest thing,? she said.

?Make sure that having an animated GIF or a video helps drive conversions.?

Email is mobile
According to a report from Return Path in May 2012, email opens on smartphones and tablets grew 82.4 percent over the past year (see story).

As consumers continue to take to their mobile devices to read email, marketers should be looking beyond cookie-cutter mobile email formats to take campaigns to the next level.

One way to do this is to include images and videos that not only entice users to open an email on their mobile device but also encourage consumers to take an action from a campaign such as visiting a brand?s site.

Similar to other mobile initiatives, it is also important to let the user choose how to interact with content.

?Make sure that if someone does not want to watch or hear a video, there is still a clear communication of the offer and call-to-action in the email even if the video is not watched or the GIF is not working correctly,? Ms. Colleton said.

?I would also recommend against autoplay for anything with audio ? let the subscriber hit play,? she said.

Mobile challenges
Experts agree that fragmentation remains one of the biggest challenges with mobile email.

For example, Ms. Colleton says that she has found that mobile video and animated GIFs work well on iOS devices. On the other hand, multimedia on Android devices such as embedded videos tend to not work as well.

Since multimedia does not work on all devices, making sure that consumers can still understand an email that incorporates a video is crucial. 

?Multimedia often means larger file sizes for HTML and images ? this can be an issue for mobile users who don?t always have the fastest internet connection and therefore don?t always have the best multimedia experience,? said Andrew King, senior strategy director at Lyris, Emeryville, CA.

Content also needs to be trimmed down to the bare essentials. For example, videos need to be kept to less than 30 seconds and GIFs should be tested as JPEGs first to make sure that they do not appear grainy, per Mr. King.

Marketers using mobile multimedia also need to remember to not neglect the PC experience as well.

Although mobile email open rates continue to grow, there is still a healthy amount of emails that are opened on PCs.

Depending on the objective behind a campaign, email can be a multiscreen experience, meaning that users might view the email originally on a mobile device but move over to the desktop to take an action.

Therefore, multimedia needs to be used in a way that complements all types of email campaigns.

Testing is key
It is critical that marketers run test campaigns to see which types of content users are most responsive to.

To do this, marketers should split campaigns into test and control groups. From there, marketers can run a test matrix for campaigns that covers different operating systems, devices and Internet service providers.

Marketers can then track which email subscribers open content most frequently and tweak copy and calls-to-action to drive mobile-unique actions such as click-to-call, leading users to an optimized Web site or finding directions.

?The primary difference between mobile email and desktop email is the mindset of the mobile user. A challenge for multimedia engagement would depend on how various ISPs restrict things like javascript and video,? said Bryce Marshall, director of strategic services at Knotice, Akron, OH.

?Engagement with mobile users in 2013 will be less about multimedia technologies like GIFs and video and more about testing and optimizing to find performance gains through better knowing the unique needs of this audience,? he said.

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is associate reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York