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The sight, sound and motion of multimedia can add significant creative appeal to an e-mail campaign, but with serious rendering and delivery issues to consider, marketers must proceed with caution. "The more you load on to an e-mail, the more the marketer needs to be very sure that the recipient wants it," said David Hallerman, a senior analyst at eMarketer. "It's not the bandwidth problem in most cases that existed five years ago, it's that it's demanding more of the recipient in what still is a very personal medium."

Using Flash, video and audio in e-mail marketing is problematic, said Morgan Stewart, director of strategic services at ExactTarget, a provider of e-mail marketing solutions. "E-mail doesn't want to support that, and there are good reasons why e-mail doesn't support it," he said. "The reality is, from an ISP perspective, they're still fighting the spam epidemic, and so they don't want to allow some of those more sophisticated programs through and thus potentially cause issues, so they block them."

Though a few companies have found ways to embed multimedia in e-mails, said David Daniels, VP-research director at JupiterResearch, a best practice for now is to drive e-mail recipients back to a landing page because of deliverability issues. Also, driving recipients to a Web page offers marketers better analytics options, he said.

"You're now not just measuring the click, but what you'd want to measure is how engaged people are with that video, how many people watched it through to its completion or what the average viewing time was," he said. "While that form of measurement is possible with the Web analytics providers, the e-mail service providers don't necessarily have that in their arsenal of tools at this time."

E-mails that feature a clickable image that launches a video playback window may provide marketers with another alternative. Mike Adams, VP and co-founder of Zeop Inc., said his company's software allows marketers to send video in e-mail that could be blocked by a spam filter.

Adams, who also co-founded e-mail marketing software company Arial Software, said marketers can paste HTML code into an outbound e-mail to generate a thumbnail image that launches a video playback window when clicked.

Adams said that videos which, for instance, demonstrate a technology or service, or show animated graphs or charts, can help marketers boost response. "There's a novelty factor of having a clickable video thumbnail in the e-mail," he said. "That attracts attention in ways that typical graphics or text may not."

Video also encourages direct response and interactivity, Adams said. "Getting a user to [click the thumbnail and view the video], as simple as it sounds, tends to increase that person's level of interactivity from that point forward. If they're willing to click a video, they're more willing to fill out a form to subscribe to your company's newsletter."

Adams said there is a resistance to video that automatically plays. "[But] if you have the option to click it, it's seen as less intrusive," he said.

Hallerman said marketers that do use multimedia in e-mail should get specific permission from the intended recipients. This is especially true in a b-to-b selling environment, he said, when the company is trying to develop a relationship with the customer or prospect.

"They want ongoing establishment of the brand and the product in the mind of the recipient, therefore the more it becomes a dialogue—in this example by asking distinct permission for this additional form of marketing, the video and audio—the better the relationship will be," he said.

Stewart said animated gif files are an option for marketers that decide the risks of multimedia are too great but who still want to include movement and imagery in their e-mails.

"They're not the sexiest thing from a creative director's standpoint, but they do at least give the sense of some motion. ... You can create a pseudo-multimedia experience in the body of the e-mail itself, and then have people going off to a landing page where you can have your videos," he said.

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