Importance of Using GIF In Email

Written by: Chris Donald
Chris is Managing Partner at InboxArmy and has more than 25 years of experience in email marketing

One of the biggest debates that’s been doing rounds on the internet over three decades now, is – how to pronounce GIFGraphics Interchange Format or GIF was released in June 1987 by Steve Wilhite, while he was working for CompuServe. The animated image file extension was found as a mechanism to compress images with minimal data loss. GIF in email was simple, flexible, and perfect for pictures with lower-resolutions. 

Back then, Wilhite used a ‘soft g’ to make it sound like ‘JIF.’ The wordplay was borrowed from the famed peanut butter brand Jif. And yet, the debate raged on as several netizens insisted on pronouncing it with a ‘hard g’ as in the word Gift (dropping the T there). Call it JIF or GIF or GIF(t), the file format’s popularity refuses to diminish over time. 

How Were Gifs Used Initially?

In its nascent stage, GIFs were used mostly for still images. The sudden twist in the way it worked, came about due to a specific compression algorithm coined after the creators – Lempel-Ziv-Welch

This algorithm worked by identifying repeating patterns, and then simplifying them. This led to lossless compression. 

Why should you use GIF In Email ?

The question that we often face from our readers/users – why use a GIF when we can use any other multimedia formats? Here are some pointers that show why GIFs are the sure shot winning formula for your email marketing campaigns?

  • Videos are majorly unsupported by email readers. 
  • JavaScript is forbidden in emails, blocking WebGL to create desired effects.
  • The size of a GIF is small, making them quick to load on different web browsers. 
  • GIFs are easy and effortless to create, without much time consumption. 
  • GIFs are the blue-eyed boy on social media and spread like wildfire as memes. 
  • They add color and break the monotony in static emails, especially newsletters or promo emails. They work their charm by:
    • Generating curiosity
    • Adding an element of humor
    • Triggering interest
    • Being a visual treat 
    • Adding a conversational tone
    • Delivering a rich user experience
    • Delighting the readers

The proof lies in the pudding – In 2014 Dell used GIFs in one of their email campaigns and saw a 42% increase in clicks. Additionally, they earned a 109% increase in revenue.   

The caveat though…

  • The desktop versions of Outlook from 2007 to 2016 don’t supported animated GIFs.
  • Outlook 2019 plays the animated GIF exactly once. Users will then have to press on a play button to view it again. 

With some custom code though, the Outlook GIF support can be resolved. 

You also need to keep the following points in mind:

  • Since GIF is an image format, the email can be blocked by spam filters. 
  • It needs to load completely; slow internet connection can hamper the user experience. 
  • Since GIFs are overused, stick to one or two in your email so it doesn’t overwhelm the readers.
  • Not every audience will appreciate the format being used in emails.

Brands that used GIF in Email

Over time, many services and products companies have used GIFs in their email like a boss. Here are some stellar examples of emails that nailed GIF usage perfectly:

1) Asana

1-Asana

We love how simple yet effective is Asana’s usage of GIF in email. Rather than be a boring announcement, they chose an animation to depict how the brand is now faster than ever. The visual will definitely stay on with the readers as opposed to a plain message.

2) Headspace

2-Headspace

A simple messaging with an accompanying GIF animation is the highlight of Headspace’s emailer to its subscribers. The copy on the email contains reference of rain and so does the GIF, bringing the text alive on the screen.

3) Adobe

3-Adobe

Adobe’s GIF-based email states things as it is, using the power of animation to describe their product features/functionalities. It brings about a WOW factor in the email, which otherwise is simple and minimalistic. 

4) Bonobos

4-Bonobos

Bonobos takes GIF in email to another level altogether. They seamlessly blend their products with the backdrop, animating it like a boss. It creates curiosity around what the product is.

Need more proof that lies in the pudding?

Take a look at some GIFs created and used by Inbox Army for its clients:

1) CanvasPrints

inboxarmy template sample1

This playful peekaboo GIF adds an element of fun to the email we sent out on Groundhog’s Day for CanvasPrints.com. 

2) Orivet

inboxarmy template sample2

Orivet’s Neon-themed email had to be brought to life and what better than including blinking neon signs to do the job. The GIF cut the monotony, making the email template appealing for recipients

3) Seasonal Sensations Eternity Collection

inboxarmy template sample3

Like seasons, the product (a ring with embedded stones) changes colors in this simple but impactful email campaign. We wanted the complete focus to be just on the product offered and the GIF delivered on that, flowing gracefully with our theme.

4) Falcon

inboxarmy template sample 4

At first glance, the email template looks like any other Halloween promotional email. However, the blinking bat GIF adds that subtle nuance, which takes the email from nay to yay. Exactly what we wanted to achieve!

5) Selenbio

inboxarmy template sample 5

This email for Selenbio Dental with an animated image in the center captures the attention instantly for the recipients. What’s more – the GIF manages to be in-sync with the messaging of getting featured.

Why Use GIFs In Your Email Marketing Strategy?

Why Use GIFs in your Email Marketing strategy

GIFs have been in use since the late 80’s. And once they were used in emails, there was no looking back for the short animation format. Why is it that GIFs’ popularity refuses to fade over time? Why do email marketers consider them an important part of their email marketing strategy? We’ve the answers for you:

All about movement – There are numerous studies that show that our attention is captured more quickly by movement as compared to still images.

So, if you want to retain the readers’ interest, hook them by showing a GIF right at the beginning. This will keep them interested and they are more likely going to read the entire email/newsletter.

Short and entertaining – No one has all the time in the world to go through long strings of text. And with video-based social media platforms on the rise, it is evident that shorter multimedia content is going to rule for some time.

GIFs being shorter than videos is therefore, a great way to connect with and entertain your readers. Moreover, they are likely to remember the message.

Personal touch – Email marketing used to be plain, drab and boring. But with GIFs, personalized emails are making it more fun. They make the communication more like daily conversations, turning the brand familiar and relatable.

Think of it, would you rather read a long email and drop off at the first para or enjoy an email with GIFs from The Simpsons or The Family Guy?

Beat competition – GIFs add that extra dose of creativity to your emailers and therefore, help you stand out from competition. Also, it is not necessary that your competition will be using GIFs in their email marketing strategy.

If you take that chance, you’ll end up getting the first mover advantage.

Show and not tell – GIFs are not always about the fun factor. They can be equally informative and practical, provided you know how to use them. An apt example is this email from YouTube that tells a lot in a short fraction of time without boring you to death!

New age CTAs – GIFs can be easily called the new age CTAs since they help readers to get their attention to the CTA button. And that’s not all, you can in fact, animate the CTA button itself and make it pop out in your emails.

This will improve your email click-through rates drastically. Give it a try and see for yourself!

Storytelling 101 – Want to tell an effective story and set the context with your readers? Do it with a GIF and you will see a great difference. For instance, you can tell your readers about all the achievements you made as a company over the past quarter in the form of a GIF.

They will be interested in seeing the information handed over in an animated format and give the email a quirky, edgy look and feel. 

Signature style – There are many examples of companies and individuals using GIFs in their email signatures. If you are a creative firm, say, an advertising or marketing agency, you can create custom GIFs with team member’s animated headshots and use it in the signature for the ultimate sign-off!

Are GIFs Free To Use?

We’ve heard of incidences such as NFL and the NCAA’s Big 12 conference have sent claims to Twitter about accounts using GIFs of sports events. And remember the time when the International Olympic Committee unsuccessfully tried to ban GIFs from the 2016 Olympics?

Here’s the good news for all you email marketers out there. Under fair use principles, GIFs are completely free to use. And they cost zilch to create. This takes us to the next question – how can you find free GIFs to use across your marketing campaigns?

Where Can You Find Free GIFs?

There are several resources from where you can get GIFs for your email marketing campaigns. Alternatively, you can also create your own GIFs using some web tools. Some of the top tools or apps for creating GIFs are:

  • Promo
  • Picasion
  • GifPal
  • MakeAGif
  • ImgPlay
  • GIF Maker
  • GIPHY

Searching for the best, free GIFs to add that magic element to your email marketing efforts? Here are our top picks:

  1. GIPHY
  2. Tumblr
  3. Tenor
  4. Gfycat
  5. Imgur
  6. Reddit
  7. GIFbin
  8. Reaction GIFs

Pro Tip: You can also use Google to source outstanding, underrated GIFs.

The catch: Getting free GIFs are a great idea. However, to deliver maximum impact on your target audience, you’ll need customized GIFs that align with your brand guidelines. Similarly, your brand’s messaging can also go hand-in-hand with the GIF created and vice versa. So the best bet for you is to work with an expert and get more professional-looking GIFs.

Which Email Clients Support GIFs?

All animated GIFs work across different webmail clients, including the desktop and mobile clients. Microsoft Outlook however, begs to differ. Microsoft Outlook 2007, 2010, and 2013 don’t support a full GIF animation. These versions will only display the first frame of the animation. 

How To Use GIFs In Your Email Marketing Campaigns?

How to use GIFs in your email marketing campaigns

Using GIFs in your email campaigns is no rocket science. Before using them, you need to do some groundwork viz checking:

  • Will the email or newsletter be supported across email clients?
  • What is the age of the audience?
  • What are the audience preferences? If the GIF is not apt for the audience, do not use it at any cost.
  • Are there any accessibility issues?
  • A/B testing – helps you assess how the email campaign is perceived.
  • GIFs are not videos. Stick to only the crucial frames. 
  • Stick to the point, hit the nail on the head. You get the drift!
  • Creating custom GIFs with the help of an expert professional iis always a good idea.

Once you have done the groundwork necessary, here are some definite ways to use GIFs in your emails:

  • Show the process (or steps) – More often than not, when there is a step-by-step process that is difficult to explain using words, a GIF-ographic comes across as a smart choice. Apple is known for using explanatory GIFs in its emailers. 
  • A dash of humor – GIFs do humor like no other email elements. For instance, a GIF can definitely jazz up a newsletter sent to the Gen Z as a target audience. No wonder, they’re spread all across social media for adding the fun factor!
  • Sneak peek –  GIFs are brilliant tools to show previews/sneak peeks of products/services/websites or any other business-highlights. They are great for those ‘coming soon’ emails that work perfectly as teasers. 
  • Persuade, persuade, persuade –  GIFs persuade the audience by serenading them with colors and animation. Think of Boxing Day sale discount announcements. GIFs will help you highlight the offer your target audience can’t refuse. That’s a brilliant piece of marketing collateral sitting right under your nose!
  • Explain product features – Product companies are taking to GIFs to explain their product features in less than a few seconds. This retains the potential customers’ interest levels. All you need to do is create some custom GIFs and let your creativity loose. 
  • Share a thought – More often than not, you’ll come across several emails from sustainable brands that use multimedia to share their thought. They also use GIFs quite liberally as a simplified way of sharing the core message, encouraging us to engage more with their emails. 
  • Promote product varieties – Move over product images; now GIFs are used to showcase different product varieties that are available in a product. The products are depicted on a much grander scale without distractions. This compared to several images and a long scroll, does much better for the readers. The audience will love the trippy, loopy animations and will be compelled to hit the – View More or Shop Now buttons!

How To Add GIF To Your Emails?

How to add GIF to your emails

Adding GIFs to your emails is not an uphill task. Here are some quick steps using which you’ll be able to add them to any of your email marketing campaigns:

Create the GIFs – First up, source or create the GIFs from the internet. You can either use the tools we’ve mentioned above or even use an online GIF maker to animate a series of pictures to create one. Alternatively, you can also convert a YouTube video into a GIF.

But before you download any GIFs from online libraries and elsewhere, make sure you are aware of the copyright policies. To avoid tricky situations like these, it’s good to hire a dedicated email marketing expert who can assist you with your requirements. With many years of experience to their credit, they’ll be able to help you end-to-end and ensure the success of your email campaign management services

Add via an email editor – There are several email editors used by email marketers. You can take your pick from endless templates with the provision of including animated features and use your GIFs in them.

Alternatively, you can also create an email template from scratch and drag and drop the GIF on the image panel/upload the file. 

Export the GIF to an ESP – Once you’ve completed the email design, the next, logical step is to download the template and export to your preferred email service provider. This can be – Hubspot, Mailchimp, Campaign Monitor or Gmail.

Test it well – Before scheduling the email, make sure that you test it thoroughly once. Sometimes, due to technical glitches, the GIF may not load at all. Or, you’ll see a half loaded GIF.

In both the scenarios, your readers will not be impressed. Therefore, put yourself in the target audiences’ shoes and make sure that the GIFs in the emails come out well and that, the testing of the emails is a concrete part of your workflow.

This will go a long way in ensuring success of your email marketing campaigns. 

Some best kept secrets of using GIFs in emails

Now that you know all about adding GIFs to your emails, here are some of the best tips and tricks that will help you do it even better:

Don’t go overboard – Your brain may work overtime to think about several GIF usage ideas in your emails. However, make it a point to not include way too many GIFs in one email. The idea is to include only one focus point in your email and that should be the GIF. 

Keep it light –  Most of your readers will be viewing the emails on their mobile devices. Therefore, it is a good practice to keep the overall email size less. The GIF itself should be less than 2MB so it doesn’t consume too much data. Also, make sure that it is the best size for the email. 

Serve a purpose – In the current era when people are constantly bombarded with marketing materials left, right, and center, you should ensure that the emails you create should serve a purpose.

This also includes the GIF used in them. Don’t just use the element because everyone else is also using it or because someone is screaming its benefits from the rooftops. Think of the purpose it will be fulfilling – be it making a clear point, teasing about a product, or egging people to take a call to action. 

Never use it as an attachment – Using GIFs as an email attachment completely defeats the purpose of the animated shorts. You need to put the GIF in the body of the email and run a preview even before you schedule the email.

Doing a test run of the email with the GIF is another good idea to see how it pans out. 

Make it aesthetic – Design is still the mainstay in any email marketing campaign. Therefore, when you add any GIF in your emails, make sure your emails look aesthetic and is in sync with your brand’s guidelines/style. For instance, if your brand is minimalist, then you need to tone down the GIF a bit to suit the subtleties. 

The Cons of Using GIFs

The Cons of Using GIFs

Using GIFs also comes with its own set of drawbacks. Here are some of them, which you need to be wary of:

Accessibility issues – Animated GIFs can be a roadblock in terms of accessibility. For instance, visually challenged people will experience difficulty in reading or reviewing the content on a GIF before the animation change takes place. .

Similarly, people who are colorblind, may not be able to enjoy the GIF in its original form. One solution can be to always use an alternative text for subscribers who rely on screen readers. Using a caption can also be helpful to the readers to get the message more clearly. 

Background transparency issues – GIFs are not the best ways to add more color or background transparency to your animated content. Instead, you can opt for animated PNG, which will give you the option to add transparent backgrounds.

However, you will still need to opt for the same compression tips and tricks as the latter format will definitely load up on the memory/storage space. CSS animations are another alternative, which you can use instead of GIFs, but they will still need someone with a technical expertise to create. 

Doesn’t go with professional emails – When you are making a serious announcement or sharing insights with shareholders, GIFs are not the way to go. GIFs tile more towards the creative, and fun side of things.

Therefore, you need to take the call before including them in professional emails with serious undertones. 

Calling it a day

There’s no denying the fact that GIFs are an important tool in your email marketing arsenal. Breaking the monotony, conversing with the users, improving the CTRs, and making your emails stand out in the inbox are just a handful of reasons why you should be using them more often than not. 

All you need to do is keep using them and keep experimenting till you find the sweet spot and take it from there.

About Author

Chris sent his first email campaign in 1995. He’s worked directly with Fortune 500 companies, retail giants, nonprofits, SMBs and government agencies in all facets of their email marketing and marketing automation programs. He’s also a BIG baseball fan, loves a good steak, and is mildly obsessed with zombie movies. For more information follow him on linkedin

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