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Effective marketing requires that you capture a moment of someone’s attention so you can get your point across. When using email marketing, this means that recipients have to actually read your email message first in order to respond to your call to action. As more and more marketers send email marketing campaigns, you have to do something special to get a campaign to stand out and be noticed, and not just discarded. This article talks about how you can use Macromedia Flash to create more effective and exciting email marketing campaigns.

Why Use Flash? Because 97% of Internet Users Already Do!
Flash is probably the single most effective web technology to increase the visual impact of your email marketing campaigns. Small file sizes, a tremendous capability for animation and interactivity, and the fact that over 97% of Internet users already have Flash installed on their computers make it the first choice for most online marketers. Flash can really help maximize the “wow factor” and thereby improve the bottom-line results for a campaign.

Different Ways To Use Flash Email
Here are some of the different ways that one can use Flash in email marketing.

  1. Flash Promotions
    The most commonly used application of Flash email is the Flash promotion. From a simple animated postcard to a mini "TV commercial in the Inbox", any promotional campaign can benefit from being able to present the core message of the promo in a compelling way.

  2. Flash Newsletters
    Newsletters are designed to be more informational in nature, rather than trying to get an immediate response like a promotion. One way that Flash can be used in a newsletter is including a Flash banner ad, most likely a sidebar to the primary newsletter content. Another way is to use a Flash based "masthead" to establish strong branding related to the newsletter.

  3. Flash Correspondence
    Flash can also be used in regular email correspondence by including a Flash animated logo or tagline used as part of the heading or signature line. This requires a much simpler approach to design, so that the Flash does not distract from the actual message content itself.

  4. Flash Interactives
    Flash interactives are movies where instead of simply playing back from beginning to end, the recipient can click to navigate inside of the movie, like a miniature web site. For example, an e-commerce retailer can put together a Flash-based catalog that highlights the newest products. Another way to use interactives is a mini slide show of success stories that allows recipients to click thru to each of the specific case studies ( thanks to our client JDG Communications for this idea ).

  5. Flash Games
    A new and highly effective technique is using Flash games in email marketing campaigns. These types of campaigns are particularly good for encouraging viral marketing. We like to call it “viral infotainment”. These games can not only take the form of long time marketing favorites like contests and sweepstakes, but they can also be more purely entertainment oriented, where the brand is reinforced indirectly by the association with a cool experience.

Best Practices For Flash Email

  • Watch Out For Flash Player Versioning
    Always create movies for Flash email marketing campaigns that are compatible with older versions of the Flash player. It takes time for people to upgrade to newer versions of the player, from the time that such player upgrades are released. In some email client programs, this may cause problems for recipients if they do not have the correct player to match the movie, so staying a version or two behind the very latest is prudent.

  • Quick Loading Movies
    You must send Flash movies that start playing back very quickly, or else risk your email ending up in the trash before the recipient even finds out what it is. The only way to achieve this is by maintaining a very small file size, as well as taking advantage of the streaming capabilities built in to Flash to create preloaders (see next section).

  • Use Preloaders
    When you create a more sophisticated movie, or one that uses audio or photographic images, the file size will increase accordingly. One way to deal with a larger file size is to use a preloader. A preloader is a mini "movie before the movie" that is designed to let the recipient know that something actually is happening. A progress bar that indicates how much longer the user will have to wait for the main movie to begin is a very commonly used preloader. This may be enough to convince them to wait until is starts playing back before deleting it, giving you at least a fighting chance to get the message across.

  • Only Send Flash To Email Clients That Support It.
    Not every email program allows recipients to view Flash. To achieve best results, you need some automatic way to determine if a recipient can view Flash. Once determining that a person cannot view Flash in their email, an ideal system will instead send a non-Flash HTML version for future mailings.

  • Create a Flash Landing Page
    Create a Flash landing page for recipients who cannot view the Flash in their email. This page should be accessible via a link in the text-only and non-Flash versions of your email. The landing page should allow visitors to click-thru to the final destination page on your site when they are finished viewing the Flash content.

  • Always Have An Image Equivalent
    Have an image substitute for when the recipient does not have Flash active in their email program. This includes both the case where the recipient’s program doesn’t support Flash, as well as the case when the recipient’s security settings prohibit ActiveX or Java applets in email.

  • Use Audio Sparingly In Email
    Don’t use excessive audio playback that starts playback immediately on first loading without user interaction. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that many people use the preview pane to view emails. When something interests them enough, they open that email full screen. Flash that incorporates audio will cause two views of the audio to playback out of sync at the same time in this common scenario. A better way is to put a button in the Flash movie that plays back the audio if the recipient so chooses. A small teaser audio clip can be used to attract attention to the email, without becoming as overbearing as a soundtrack that plays back automatically.

  • No JavaScript In Email
    Do not use JavaScript in email! Many email clients will display warning messages due to JavaScript used in email. Some email programs will play back Flash correctly if embedded directly in the email itself, but will NOT play Flash if using JavaScript due to security restrictions. In this day and age, JavaScript is something to be avoided in email altogether.

  • Track Statistics For Flash And Non-Flash Versions
    Make sure that you can track all key information in both your Flash and non-Flash versions of email. At the very least, this should include showing how many Flash recipients opened the message separately from how many non-Flash HTML recipients opened it.

Email marketing is like any other form of marketing, in that the competition for attention is fierce. Adding Flash is not a substitute for a well thought out marketing campaign. Rather it is a way to get that message to actually be read by your recipients. There are a number of requirements for doing it correctly, but most of them can be addressed simply by choosing an email service provider that specializes in Flash email marketing. Use Flash in email properly, and you can dramatically improve your response rates, which will give your results an always needed boost.

This Web Marketing article was written by Ron Evans on 2/14/2005