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Why You Need GIFs in Your Email Marketing

By Elise Paulsen

How can GIFs make emails more interesting?

We get dozens or even hundreds of emails a day, all trying to grab our attention and make us take action. How can your marketing emails stand out from the competition? Videos are among the best marketing tools out there—especially when communicating to your target audience. However, sending even a small video via email is next to impossible thanks to attachment size limits. So what are you supposed to do?
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Gmail can play YouTube links in an email, but no one can guarantee every addressee has a compatible email client. Getting people to click on a link can work sometimes, but why not consider incorporating some animated GIFs in your messaging? Whether you are showcasing your animation work or marketing a service or product, GIFs are an incredible tool to level up your email marketing.
In this article, we’ll go over:

What are GIFs? Why are we using them in emails?

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GIF stands for “Graphics Interchange Format” and is a great way to catch and keep a reader’s attention. You have likely seen these animated pictures in text messages, Slack, Microsoft Teams, and more. GIFs are a sequence of pictures in one file, similar to a video without sound...but luckily for us, much smaller! This makes them ideal for sending our motion graphics work and small animations through email for better marketing.

Why should you send a GIF?

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Did you know visuals can increase conversions, grow revenue, and accelerate growth? These are all great reasons to incorporate them into your email. When Dell supported their product email campaign with GIFs, they saw a 42% jump in click rate, a 103% increase in conversion rate, and a 109% increase in revenue. With those results, it’s easy to deduce that GIFs are an incredible resource.
Before you run off to include GIFs in everything, ask yourself: Is this GIF speaking to the point you want to convey, or is it distracting from the idea? It should be relevant to the intended goal of your message.
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It helps to know who your audience is and what action you want them to take so you can get the desired results. Some examples might be to increase sales, educate a new customer, elevate your business’s reputation, and more. You will want to shape any messaging or visuals around that.
With Dell’s campaign, their goal was to increase sales revenue. They showcased the product physically transforming from laptop to tablet modes. Here, the GIF helped describe the product better than text or a still image, and increased customer understanding which led to that 109% increase in revenue.

Examples of how you can use GIFs for email marketing

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Now that you know more about GIFs, what they are, and why you should use them in emails, let’s go into a few examples I have seen in my inbox that you could shape to your needs.

Countdowns

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Product marketing uses countdowns and time-based media to bring urgency to their communications. It conveys that you must click now, otherwise you might miss something important. Countdowns—and other similarly time-based media—push the idea that this resource is scarce.
A message might say my cart is expiring soon, or that a sale ends tonight. They will give me a few hours to engage and have the graphic simulate a countdown by the seconds. More often than not, I end up opening the site again and finishing a previous session or buying the product, because maybe there will never be a sale like it again. This marketing move gets you to act fast before it’s too late which is great to boost sales if you are advertising a service or product.

Blinking icons/graphics/text

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Anything flashy can catch a reader’s eye when they first open up an email. I have seen this blinking text/graphic effect used most often in emails featuring limited-time sales, but you can use this for headlines or anything else you want to highlight in the body of your message.
I would suggest including it early in the email so it is among the first images viewed. Try not to overuse this effect, otherwise you might give a reader sensory overload. To avoid this in the GIF above, I used hold key-frames to extend the length the text would be in each state; around 1 second or longer. This “Web Content Accessibility Guide” specifies that you should avoid making content that flashes over three times in a one-second period. 

Sneak peek at a video

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We recently sent out an email regarding our Holdframe workshops and included the above GIF. It is a short 2-4 second clip, but it hints at the style of the film being featured and catches the eye of the reader. The aim is to make you curious about what is happening in the animation and click on it to learn more. 
You can use this sneak peek idea for your own work. Choose some of the best few seconds of your animation and export it as a GIF to include in your email. You can then add a link to your full-length video so your audience can easily access your work or services.

Adding to Brand Identity

Another way you can use GIFs in your emails is to include animations of the brand logo or motto. These animations do not have to be complex, and it might even be better if they are not. Having these animations match up with the brand identity can give credibility. 
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Source: TENBA
In the example above, TENBA has a clean logo build they put at the end of their emails. It was small and not too distracting. This simple design works for a brand that makes sleek, functional camera bags.
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Source: umamicart
Meanwhile, in this example, umamicart has little vector icons of the foods they offer (Asian cuisine). This gives a bit of the fun and modern vibes that they have going on with their branding. This was at the top of their branding but the animation was minimal that it did not come across as overwhelming.

Here are some things to keep in mind when making your first GIFs for email

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If you can minimize the number of frames, colors, and info in your GIF, do it!

Minimizing the details of a GIF helps keep its file size smaller. If an email takes too long to load, you may have already lost the interest of a valued reader! Also try to reiterate any info in your GIF also in the text of your email.
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A GIF is more a supplement to the message being sent. Think of it this way, if you take away your GIF, will your reader still know what the call to action is? If the answer is no, it’s time to write it into your email.

GIFs are also not compatible with older versions of Outlook. 

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Be wary of sending too many GIFs to older email clients. If you believe this will be a problem (it will be, the larger the list you send to), you will want to code into your emails the ability to show the animated GIF to compatible clients and an alternate still image for everyone else. You can also relay important info in the text of your email which is always a safe bet.

GIFs aren’t as accessible for the visually impaired. 

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Keep accessibility in mind. People with visual impairments often use text-to-speech software for their email, and GIFs are generally incompatible. This is especially important if you are marketing products or services. If you can, add a version of alt-text to describe the content of the GIF. You should still reiterate vital information in the email both to reinforce ideas and make your content accessible.
Also, consider keeping animations simple and not too fast or flashy. We always have to consider viewers who might be sensitive to flashing lights in films and videos, so we should have the same respect for our email readers.

Not sure how to make GIFs from your designs and animations?

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Check out SoM’s tutorial on exporting GIFs. They have some good tips there that I might not have touched on here and show the different tools available for easy exporting.

How do you make your own GIFs?

If you want to make your own custom graphics, check out School of Motion’s course catalog. There are many awesome courses there but I will touch on a couple if you are interested in producing animations to export to GIFs for marketing use. 
After Effects Kickstart is a good place to start as it introduces the fundamentals of using After Effects, and touches on Photoshop and Illustrator practices.
Working with the different programs and knowing how to import and export files from each can help you take designs to the next level.
Another great choice for learning some fundamental animation skills would be Animation Bootcamp. This course will give you the basic skills to create eye-catching animations which will also be perfect for exporting to GIFs.
Now that you have a better understanding of GIFs and their uses, experiment! Try adding some flourish to your messaging and await the results. The only limit is your imagination.