GIFs have revamped the online experience, enhancing everything from news stories to websites to even emails. While these video-photo hybrids are a fun visual treat for consumers, marketers are using GIFs as a valuable way to showcase products that a static photo just can’t do justice.
by Allison Banko, Reporter
Dell was geared up to show its consumers the best of both worlds via a cutting-edge device. The tech powerhouse was prepping to launch its Dell XPS 12 Convertible Ultrabook: a laptop with a hinge design that allows it to transform into a tablet.
The product belongs to a family of devices described as "convertibles" — a group that's been gaining both share and interest in the marketplace.
However, the problem with marketing a convertible is the same as its allure. It's a new breed, differing from all other PCs, laptops and tablets traditionally sold by companies, making it difficult to explain to potential buyers.
"No one knows what a convertible is yet," explained David Sierk, Email Strategy and Analytics, Dell. "It's not synonymous with products like the tablet is now or anything along those lines."
Because the Dell XPS 12 Convertible Ultrabook is a transformative product, static imagery wasn't going to accurately convey its capability in an email. Dell's team was thus challenged with finding a way to communicate how the product works in an email campaign without crowding the email send with copy attempting to explain its features, Sierk said.
While a static image couldn't visually demonstrate the XPS 12's capabilities, the team thought something more animated could do the trick. Dell opted to utilize a GIF of the product to illustrate the XPS 12 morphing from a laptop to a tablet.
"I think [GIFs] are a good way for people to communicate what their main story is very quickly," Sierk said. "People are visual learners."
Dell had toyed with animation a bit in the past on smaller scales, using it to show things such as falling snow. However this email campaign would be the team's first use of the technology to demonstrate one of its products.
"From an online perspective, it's almost like a try before you buy," he said. "When a customer can't touch and feel these products right away, it's a good way to show them exactly how the product would be utilized for them and how it would work in their lives."
Whenever the company does a major product launch like this, Dell's global creative team provides Sierk's team with some approved copy for the email effort. Prior to the development of the GIF, the creative was already crafted — minus the imagery.
The headline read, "Go from dreaming to doing in a flip," with the supporting copy:
With the majority of the creative finished already, the team was able to focus its attention and brainpower on the animation.
Dell would be using the GIF technology to serve as a sort of mini product demonstration for the convertible device, exhibiting a relatively new feature in an easy-to-understand and visually appealing way.
"It's a great way for a customer to get a full understanding of how that product is going to work in their hands," Sierk said.
The GIF of the XPS 12 showed the face of the tablet flipping to morph into the laptop. The screen was filled with Windows software to illustrate that the convertible was a Windows 8 product as well as a touch screen.
In the creative process, the team also toyed with the timing of the GIF, varying the duration of the loop.
Sierk said that some of the options were too long, lasting 10 seconds which the team deemed as much too slow for the GIF to recycle back to the starting point. The final version was sped up to less than half that time — just under four seconds.
"We wanted it to be really simple and go back and forth so that the customer who is only going to look at the email for a very short amount of time — maybe a couple of seconds — could see the full thing and it would tantalize them to click," he said.
Because this was a product launch, Dell sent its campaign to a predetermined house file of its full U.S. customer and prospect database. Sierk said the team was so excited about this effort, they decided to measure its success against previous campaigns rather than perform an A/B test.
"It was certainly not a Dell-looking email that we historically run, and that was the most exciting part for us," he said. "It really got a lot of other people internally excited, a lot of our executive team, etcetera, about what we were capable of and what we could do with email rather than just make it an image and a price point."
Compared to quarterly campaign benchmarks, Dell's first GIF-centered email effort produced the following lifts:
"Anytime you do something different, new, it's always a little bit scary," Sierk said. "'If it ain't broke, don't fix it,' is kind of the mantra."
However, he added it was worth the politics and persuasion given that everyone was on board, loving the GIF idea by the campaign's end. Moving forward, he said Dell will continue to look for new ways to take advantage of animation.
"We want to make sure we are providing an experience for our customers that is engaging and they want to click on," Sierk said. "We know that they aren't going to buy from every email we send, but we certainly want to make them exciting enough that they want to open every email we send."
See David Sierk's keynote presentation "Old Dog, New Tricks: How Dell designed an email with old technology to launch a new product" at MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2014, held February 17 through 20, at the Aria Resort & Casino Las Vegas.
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