Including video in your marketing e-mails can double, if not triple, your clickthrough rates, according to a Forrester Research report. But that’s not the sole reason Thrillist, a 21st-century interpretation of the traditional city guide, began embedding streaming video into its emails last year.
The Thrillist Web site and its e-newsletters—more than a dozen localized versions and counting—deliver information about the hottest restaurants, shops, gadgets and more, written in the post-ironic, laddish voice of men’s magazines. Given that Thrillist’s reason for being is to provide cutting-edge content online and via e-mail, “we need to be on the cutting edge of e-mail,” contends cofounder Ben Lerer.
Beyond maintaining its image, there was one more compelling reason for Thrillist to be among the first to embed video into its e-mails. “Having guys stay engaged is key to retaining advertisers,” Lerer says. “Advertisers want to have as many options as they can. We kept getting requests for video from advertisers who said they had content they wanted to showcase and from advertisers who wanted to see how engaging our content could be, video being among the most engaging content.”
In fact, when it signed with Goodmail’s CertifiedVideo platform last spring to deliver streaming videos within its e-mails, Thrillist used the technology only to deliver advertiser content. The company, which reportedly has more than 1 million e-newsletter subscribers, had “tiptoed” into using video, Lerer says, by allowing advertisers to host their videos, such as movie trailers, on the Thrillist Web site and then sending out e-mails driving subscribers to the sites. “But obviously there was this disconnect in that people have to clickthrough to watch it,” he says.
Camera brand Canon was the first advertiser to sign up for the video e-mail. Although only AOL and two smaller ISPs currently support CertifiedVideo, the promotion nonetheless attracted a lot of media and advertiser attention that reached far more people than the actual embedded-video version of the e-newsletter. “There’s a lot of buzz around it,” Lerer says. “A lot of brands want to be on the cutting edge and doing things before other brands are doing it.”
Buzz wasn’t the only benefit. Thrillist also reviewed standard metrics such as clickthrough rates to gauge the success of its e-mails. Without divulging numbers, Lerer says the Canon campaign and subsequent video efforts from advertisers such as Sony Pictures (for the film “District 9”) were indeed successful.
Given that the content is delivered directly to subscribers’ inboxes, one might expect embedded-video e-mails to reduce click-through rates. But that hasn’t been the case at Thrillist. For one thing, the company makes sure to include an additional, different call to action in its messaging to drive traffic to the site once the recipients have viewed the video—the ability to view another trailer or behind-the-scenes footage for an advertised film. For another, only a small percentage of Thrillist’s audience use the three ISPs that support CertifiedVideo.
(While a Goodmail spokesperson concedes that the reach of its CertifiedVideo is limited, she adds that when its CertifiedVideo.Gif solution is added to the equation, Goodmail can deliver approximately 90% ISP coverage. And for recipients, she says, CertifiedVideo.Gif, which delivers embedded streaming Gif video, is almost indistinguishable from true embedded streaming video.)
What some may see as a drawback—the relatively small audience that can currently view embedded-video e-mails—Lerer prefers to frame as an advantage, in that this limited audience acts as a test market. “And what the test has shown is that people like video and advertisers do like video and that we can really engage with readers with video,” he says.
Which is why Thrillist is expanding its video efforts to include self-produced content. It will begin to produce at least one original video a week for each of its local e-newsletters. It has hired one employee dedicated to working with the local editors to storyboard and create the short-form (30 seconds or thereabouts) videos. The editors, who already handle the photography for their e-newsletters, will be responsible for the actual filming.
What’s the greatest challenge to introducing embedded streaming video into e-mails? Ensuring that the initiative delivers a return on investment, be it in the form of additional ad revenue, an increase in subscribers, or incremental product sales, says Lerer.