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still a long way to go

The HTML format is increasingly being used for email marketing. What about rich media? While HTML email added a new world of interactivity and design capabilities to the previously purely textual email there is a new range of ‘rich’ formats knocking at the door of email marketing: rich media.

The advent of rich media and rich internet applications, such as Java and Flash, have certainly added an additional interactive dimension to the Web. But can some of them, in this context mainly Flash-based creations, also conquer email marketing?

Rich media in email: expensive, challenging and lower returns

Not in the short run and probably not even for many years to come. While rich media allow you to send interactive games, animation, motion graphics and audio via email chance is high you will have to keep using plain old links and HTML for quite some time to invite people to discover ‘your creations’. It’s not likely you will be able to really embed them within your email marketing any time soon.

The possibilities to use some rich media formats in email are limited, remain very expensive and only a few recipients can see them, simply because most email applications are not able to read them. Some email platforms even still have problems with HTML and as new email clients keep popping up, including web-based ones, the challenge remains.

According to a Jupiter Research study only 30% of the applications to read email today support rich media. In my experience it’s far less. Especially large web-based email providers such as Yahoo! and Hotmail don’t support rich media content.

As mentioned also the price tag of rich media email is currently a major barrier. Jupiter calculated that an email campaign in the Flash format to a list of 250,000 emails costs about $ 43,750 while an HTML campaign on the same database costs $ 27,500, at least according to Jupiter. And it’s not just the cost of the mailings.

Jupiter also mentions a conversion rate for Flash mailings of 0.5% on average, compared to 0.25%, for an HTML campaign.

Focusing on the email marketing priorities that matter

The data only talks about the direct return as expressed in conversions and says nothing about branding impact. As email marketing is often chosen for its high ROI and lower costs and rich media really hasn’t been made with email in mind, it’s unlikely marketers will use the possibilities of rich media and Flash soon.

Furthermore, the question is whether people want to receive emails with rich media. As always, ultimately the consumer will decide, even if there are technical and cost challenges as well. And, last but not least, quite some organizations still struggle with getting their email marketing right and making it relevant, measuring it better beyond the single campaign and – even more importantly – matching it with the broader customer life cycle and connecting it with CRM. Relevance and recipient trump format and rich media today is not a priority. Certainly in email marketing.

Update: Jupiter Research has been acquired by Forrester Research.