April 11, 2007
Adding animation to email was all the rage five to seven years ago, and then it fell out of favor -- a classic been-there-done-that-we’re-bored type of thing. Which means, of course, that it’s probably time to revisit the subject.
Olympus and other marketers are testing adding animated gifs into their emails, despite so many email providers blocking images by default. We have lessons learned from a real-life mailer who knew the risks but tested it anyway. They’re happy they did: conversions are up 49%.
“We had items that we only sell once or twice a year, and we wanted to find something extra to push the performance of the email campaigns promoting them,” says Greg Tickle, Loyalty Direct Marketing Coordinator, Lake Champlain Chocolates. “We did worry about deliverability. The idea going in was that we would likely trade some deliverability for sales conversions.”
Tickle and his team knew the idea of adding more multimedia into their messaging was risky -- according to MarketingSherpa’s Email Marketing Benchmark Guide 2007, 48% of consumers say they have HTML images ‘always’ or ‘sometimes’ blocked. But they thought their product line offered an opportunity to visually capture the imagination of their audience with animated gifs.
They decided to work on an animated gif feature that they would develop inexpensively in-house, test like crazy and then -- if it worked -- use a few times a year to push limited-edition chocolate boxes. Here are the five steps they took:
-> Step #1. Create the animated gif
First, they had their photographer create animation of two items by taking hundreds of stills of each product.
In a few days, they had two test HTML emails with three images at the top. Products were in the outside boxes while the middle box had the animated image:
- chocolates in a box disappeared one at a time until the box was empty
- a cup of hot chocolate was poured and whipped cream added
“We wanted to do something extra and convey the ‘limited edition’ message,” Tickle says. “We would never do it for every single product. But we wanted to see if it would capture people’s attention.”
To help with that, they added a link and the words "limited edition" immediately under the animated gif.
-> Step #2. Test the ISPs for file size and delivery
Next, they wanted to guard against creating an image size that would get their message blocked, so they sent the creative to test accounts they had made for Yahoo!, AOL, MSN/Hotmail, Outlook and Gmail, among others.
They also talked at-length with their email vendor before going ahead with the tests. Each party wanted to make sure that the emails worked properly, because the emails were being sent from the vendor's server and the emails were going through so many providers.
-> Step #3. Include link to online version
Knowing some users would have problems seeing the images in the emails, they made sure they included a link to the online version.
-> Step #4. Colored hyperlinks
Tickle had heard from a peer that colored links lifted conversions. So for the limited-edition runs, he matched the link colors to the shades of red that recipients saw in the images of the chocolate boxes in the email -- red for Christmas and pink for Valentine’s Day.
“I used Adobe Photoshop and Dreamweaver in what was a relatively uncomplicated process in testing out this small design tweak,” he says. “The colors weren’t necessarily matching for every [test]. We also tried colors that stood out from the rest of the copy to see what kind of an effect that would have.”
-> Step #5. Segment email list
Tickle didn’t want to send the animated emails to their entire house file. One-time or infrequent customers didn’t seem like the best targets.
Because they had segmented their files extensively in the past 18 months, they were able to target recent shoppers who had holidays purchase histories and likely to be interested in a limited-time offer.
"We didn't see any problems when sending the animated gifs to the test accounts with Yahoo!, Gmail, AOL, Hotmail, Outlook [pre-2007] and three others. We could view them after multiple trials, so there weren't any huge concerns," Tickle says. "Our undeliverable rate didn't cause any alarm bells to go off either. The 'limited-edition' link under the gif has been the most highly clicked-on link consistently in all the campaigns that use the feature."
Nor did they see any increases in the hard bounces in the handful of deliverability tests. They found their first email files sizes were too big, so they slimmed the animation size 8% to 719.75KB and 246 pixels wide by 242 pixels high.
“We wanted an image that was big enough to be effective, but not too big for deliverability,” Tickle says. “It didn’t take us long to figure out that people who didn’t have high-speed were not going to receive the feature the way they were supposed to. Dial-up users often just see a blank where the animation is supposed to be. A huge majority of our customers are on high-speed, though, so we are able to live with that.”
Compared to email promotions before the animated emails, sales increased an average of 49%. After being wowed by the Christmas results, they ran a small test for Valentine’s Day to see the difference in clickthrough rates. Recipients with the animation clicked through to see the offer 203% more often than those with just a static product picture.
“It’s become an effective and fun tool for us to use that our customers appear to be enjoying,” Tickle says. “We’d never send the animations for just any offer or to the wrong kind of customer. The colored links have performed surprisingly high as a design function as well.”
Regarding the links, clickthrough rates for emails with color-coordinated links tested 70% higher than those with regular black link copy. While themed colors performed the best, Tickle says colors that had little to with the offer but stood from the rest of the message did surprisingly well.
Useful links related to this article
Creative samples from Lake Champlain Chocolates
Bronto - the email marketing services firm that helped LCC:
Adobe Photoshop and Dreamweaver
Lake Champlain Chocolates: