How to Use GIFs to Boost Email Open Rates

The GIF.

More formally known as the Graphics Interchange Format, GIFs are soundless animations made from video clips or still images that usually only last a few seconds.

According to Giphy’s 2016 State of the GIF report, everyday GIF stats are pretty overwhelming:

  • More than 1 billion GIFs are served
  • More than 100 million people see GIFs
  • And, despite their stunted length, more than 2 million hours of GIFs are viewed

Much like the popularity of the Pet Rock or hula hoops, the GIF leaves many wondering “how could something so seemingly simple be so ridiculously popular?”

In fact, the popularity of the GIF hasn’t slowed for quite some time. This Google Trends chart sums up the past 5 years of GIF popularity across the web by showing that searches for the format just continue to rise.

That’s right. A simple looping animation has taken the web by storm—and there’s no end in sight.

(GIF was even America’s declared winner of the “Word of the Year” in 2012.)

The likes of celebrities and figures such as Barack Obama, Conan O’Brien, and Lady Gaga rely on GIFs in their personal branding. And corporate behemoths like McDonald’s, Facebook, Twitter, and Nike are no different—each infusing GIFs alongside more traditional marketing strategies.

The momentum of the GIF isn’t showing signs of wearing down, so why keep this format away from your email marketing any longer? If your email open rates have slumped, maybe a dose of today’s most digestible media is exactly what it needs for a boost.

Here’s how you can start adding GIFs to your email marketing strategy today to see your open and click-through surge tomorrow.

When you’re ready to get started, download this checklist that will ensure you’ve done all you need for email GIF perfection.

Get my GIF checklist

What’s in a GIF?

GIFs began life as a better way to host static images online in 1987. In 1989, the GIF could finally support short animations, and now the GIF is a universal way to communicate in one succinct animation almost anywhere across the web.

(Yes, that makes the GIF a 40-year-old technology experiencing a renaissance today, along with its friends Game Boy and Walkman.)

While the GIF has been consistently lurking on the internet since it was introduced, you might be hard-pressed to find a GIF-fanatic who knows what the format’s initial purpose was. Today, the credit for popularity surrounding the GIF can be split between advancements made in mobile communication and apps that render GIF creation easier than making a bundt cake.

The same ease and immediacy that fueled text messaging popularity is what drives the success of the GIF across nearly every application.

Ten years ago, instead of calling your friend to wish them a happy birthday, you probably would’ve sent them a text similar to “HI, BEST FRIEND! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!! 🙂 ” Today, a GIF like this would get the message across in 3 seconds and with the power of 1 million exclamation points:

via GIPHY

The effectiveness of the GIF is also rooted in several key factors that are key in turning bland content into engaging content. GIFs are:

Cultural and Relevant
GIFs help drive and define the culture of today. If you want a glimpse of what’s relevant now, skim over the most popular GIFs of the day.

Stocked with celebrities, news events, applicable nostalgia, trendy phrases—GIFs are a sincere reflection of each new day. Because of the GIF’s close ties to pop culture, they make any piece of content instantly relatable and attractive to readers.

One recent example of culturally reflective GIFs includes any GIF related to the 2016 presidential election. There were many moments of raw emotion and wild facial expression that gave GIF makers some pretty good material to work with. In fact, election-related GIFs saw more than 1 billion views, which renders virtually any content including such a culturally relevant event an instant hit.

via GIPHY

Universal
Like how music speaks any language, so do GIFs. This is especially important if you have a multicultural subscriber list. While the humor or seriousness of your written copy might be lost when translated to some languages, the expressions displayed in a GIF speak every language.

Take the GIF below, for instance. It will translate as excitement to anyone who sees it, despite the language they speak or region they live in.

via GIPHY

Shareable
GIFs are easy-to-understand, eye-catching, relatable, and short. This perfect content storm makes for the ideal marketing supplement that’s highly shareable across essentially every platform, including email.

The longer you can hold someone’s attention with a 2-second looping GIF that is especially appealing, the longer each reader will stay immersed in what you have to say. Not only does this draw your audience closer to your brand, but it also makes them excited for more communication from you. And a more engaged audience is never a bad thing.

Responsive
One of the greatest benefits of folding GIFs into your marketing strategy is how responsive they can be.

Making a GIF is cheap and quick, meaning you can create one on short notice (just in time to slip one into your next email campaign). There’s no need to rush out and hire a developer, do any coding, or even putz around in an image editor, as there are many GIF makers that can get the job done in minutes.

The Serious Impact of Not-so-Serious GIFs

The text-heavy culture of the 1980s has given way to the on-the-go, gotta-have-it-now way of communicating today. If a message isn’t understood in a matter of seconds, you’ve lost valuable attention spans.

GIFs convey precise meaning and engage with your audience in seconds. Isn’t that exactly what you’d like your email marketing to do?

Alex Chung, CEO and co-founder of Giphy, has calculated that “the average GIF contains 60 frames, and is capable of conveying 60,000 words.” The nuances present in any GIF stretch far beyond what even your most popular emoji, headline, or plain ol’ static image could ever do.

In addition to presenting emotions or reactions in one neatly bundled package, here are some more marketing-focused ideas for how to use these delightfully entertaining videos:

  • Concise demonstration of your product
  • Use a GIF to demonstrate how your product or service works. While you can always dig into the nitty gritty of your product later on, a demo-focused GIF will get the audience’s attention sooner and help guide them further down your sales funnel.

    via GIPHY

  • A mini how-to video
  • Want to show people how to do something? Consider the GIF. Its short format makes it an easy way to comprehend what you’re trying to show the audience.

    via GIPHY

  • Animated infographic
  • Animate the data you’re about to dive into in your content. It’s like a fun mini-trailer for what lies ahead.

    The GIF below is a concise and entertaining way to digest a lot of information. It grabs my attention and holds it for the duration of the GIF. Imagine placing this in an email that points subscribers to an in-depth report or blog post about marriage rates. An engaging GIF like this is more likely to draw people in when compared with a static CTA like “Read more about marriage rates.”

    via GIPHY

  • Tell a short story
  • This story can be about something serious, something silly, or just another way to show what kind of company you really are. Whatever the story is, a GIF is sure to grab attention quicker than any headline.

Plus, many email service providers don’t support videos, yet. So if you try to stick an awesome promo video smack-dab in the middle of your email, your subscribers might get a big, fat broken link.

Instead, stick a GIF in your email. Most ESPs will display them, and using it will set your marketing email campaign apart from the countless others flooding inboxes. But remember: Make the first frame in your GIF a good one. (It’s what email subscribers using an unsupported email platform will see instead of the animation.

Being noticed by your subscribers is the first step in your conversion funnel, and using a GIF is a sure-fire way to do just that.

Clever Uses of GIFs in Real-life Email Marketing

Dell saw major benefits from the use of a simple GIF in its email campaign marketing the release of its XPS 12 Convertible Ultrabook—a laptop that could easily convert into a tablet. The unique selling point of this product is how it can change form (I mean, “convertible” is even in the name).

And a GIF was the perfect way to showcase the product’s top selling point.

Turns out, making this little GIF the focus of their email marketing campaign for their latest convertible laptop had some serious results. Dell saw a:

  • 6% increase in open rate
  • 42% increase in click rate
  • 103% increase in conversion rate
  • 109% increase in revenue

Here are some more creative uses of GIFs in emails that engage subscribers and drive clicks.

This GIF in an email by Headspace is not only adorable, but it’s also a way to get readers to keep reading. Headspace is a meditation company, so putting a sock GIF in the email is enough to have subscribers wondering what the rest of the email has to say.

This GIF flawlessly demos these fresh tearaway chinos by Bonobos. We think this is a better way to display the product than simply saying, “New! Chinos you can rip off.”

Brit+Co had a feeling that showing a glimpse of what’s in their latest book would be more eye-catching than just writing about it. We have a feeling they were right.

How to Craft Your Own GIFs (and Email Them to Everyone)

Here at Leadpages, every new team member is greeted with a welcome email complete with custom-made GIF.

Here’s the one I received:

To say I was thrilled is an understatement. I felt valued and important and just as excited as everyone in that GIF appeared to be.

The best part of the whole experience is that the marketing team didn’t have to hire anyone to piece this puppy together. All it took was someone’s smartphone, a group of enthusiastic marketers, and a minute to plug the video into a GIF-making tool.

No coding. No developing. No designers. (See how easy GIFs can be?)

To start making GIFs for your own business, explore the many GIF creators that currently exist across the internet today.

They range in complexity, and some may require a small monthly payment in order to get a higher-quality display or remove icons like brand watermarks.

Giphy: Giphy is the undisputed king of GIFs right now. It’s a remarkable hub where you can download GIFs others have made or you can create your own for free. Here you can create animated GIFs from your own video files or use a video you found online (like on YouTube). Or you can create slideshow-style GIFs crafted from static images.

GIFMaker: Make free GIFs from uploaded static images. You can even add music to these GIFs. Plus, choose how fast you want the images to cycle through as well as how many times you want the GIF to loop.

Gifs.com: This is the GIF creator I use. While removing the Gifs.com watermark comes at a low monthly cost, the extra features are worth it. I’ve found that this GIF maker creates high-def GIFs, which is exactly what I need when the GIF I’m making includes lots of small on-screen text. (Plus, this maker has a remarkable set of editing features and effects I can easily add.)

If you aren’t interested in making your own GIFs right now, you’re in luck. As I said earlier, there are millions of GIFs being made every day by your web-loving comrades. Go to a site like Giphy or GifBin and type in a word that describes the GIF you’re looking for.

You can even record your computer screen and make it into a GIF. This idea is especially useful for businesses in the tech space that need to show how an app or tool works. (We do it all the time here at Drip.)

Some tools that can help you include Recordit, TinyTake, and QuickTime. Simply record what’s happening on your screen, whether that’s you showing where a certain button is or writing a line of code, then save it.

Once your video is saved, upload it to one of the GIF makers listed above. Edit the GIF to meet your needs, download the polished result to your computer, and drop the file into the body of your next email.

Plug the Power of the GIF into Your Next Email Marketing Campaign

If your email campaigns aren’t packing the punch you hoped they would, start using one of marketing’s most popular trends.

To keep you on-track to GIF stardom, download the checklist below. From ideation to implementation, this checklist will help you start placing GIFs in your emails today.

Get my GIF checklist

No matter how you choose to use GIFs in your email—a perfect display of emotion, product demonstration, animated data—you’re going to catch your subscribers’ attention and keep it longer.

Consumers today feast with their eyes, so give them something interesting to look at in a vast sea of boring emails. Your efforts will pay off.

via GIPHY

Have you been using GIFs in your email marketing? Let’s talk about how it went in the comments. See you there!