How Financial Institutions Can Effectively Leverage Animation in Email

Imagine if your CIO showed up at your weekly meeting and animatedly shouted: “I went to a great conference last week, and I’ve got our next big thing: We’re going to upgrade everyone to AOL dial-up! It’s so much more secure than other internet services, and it will stop all of you from wasting time on Facebook and news sites. I’ve got all those old CDs sitting around, so we’ll save a bundle on internet fees.”

Bad idea, right?

But every so often, old technologies come back from the dead with a renewed purpose. One of my favorite examples today is animated GIFs. In the old days,  annoying eyesores like these littered websites:


Yech… That’s not going to get anyone to open a checking account. But that isn’t the kind of animated GIF we’re talking about these days.

Motion: Beware!

Numerous studies have been conducted on websites to show that motion without a clear purpose makes visitors less likely to engage. One of the best summaries of the research on sliders (sometimes called carousels) notes that they hurt search engine optimization by slowing the website down, no one clicks on them because they cause banner blindness, and they often don’t work well on mobile devices. Not very promising, right?

There is one powerful exception to this rule: intelligent usage of this technique in emails. Email is one of a marketer’s most powerful tools…and the most noisy. Most people receive so many emails each day that they barely have time to read them. One busy executive I know came back from a 2-week vacation to over 5,000 emails.

So how can we break through the noise? There’s no silver bullet, but the intelligent usage of animated GIFs in emails can help our busy customers to quickly understand an offering and stand out from the huge quantity of other emails they are sorting through.

Why is this relevant now? In the last few years most email clients have now begun to support animated GIFs (exceptions are Outlook 2007-2013 and Windows Phone 7), and most marketers still don’t know how to effectively use or create animated GIFs.

1. Showing vs. Telling for New Features

Let’s say you’re rolling out a new online banking system, loan application, or website. How do you get your customers excited about the new feature and minimize disruptions with the new feature?


2. Show multiple product options

Sometimes showing a single product image won’t be enough to communicate the concept. See the example below for how you can communicate multiple options without having to reduce the size.


3. Show a Video Snippet

One of the biggest frustrations for email marketers for years has been the inability to put video inside of an email. This a great example of how you can create the illusion of video from just a few still shots and convey a concept that requires video.


4. Show progress towards a goal

Imagine celebrating an achievement in your community involvement with motion. This can be a great way to bring data to life on websites and it can also be done in email.


5. Engage with a Background Video

One of the more popular techniques right now on the web is using background videos. Check out Airbnb’s website to see how they bring the ambience of different rental properties to life through background videos that change slowly. While this technique wouldn’t make sense for everyone, I could see it being a fantastic way to introduce someone to your credit union or bank as part of your welcome sequence of emails…you do have one of those, don’t you? Imagine the impact it would have if you could have a subtle background video of the local branch for a new customer.

Key Considerations for Animated GIFs

  1. Does it communicate something that can’t be communicated via a static image?
  2. Will it distract your visitors from the main content of the email?
  3. What speed should it go at? Slower is generally better, since rapidly moving images can be very distracting.
  4. Will it loop endlessly? Or will it only repeat 1-2 times?
  5. Will it slow down your email? If you’re not careful, you can end up with an image that is several megabytes large!
  6. Do you have any innovative uses for animated GIFs in emails we haven’t discussed? Please share!

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