We use them every day, but few of us understand GIFs or their ability to add value and interest to our content marketing strategy. Knowing more about what they are and why they were created will help you uncover their potential as a welcome addition to your email campaigns.
What is a Gif?
Despite ongoing arguments about how it’s pronounced, there’s no debate about what the technology enables.
The acronym GIF stands for Graphics Interchange Format. They were invented in 1987 by former CompuServe programmer, Steve Wilhite, and based upon a protocol known as Lempel-Ziv-Welch (LZW). These sometimes informative, often funny, images and mini-animations are coded with the purpose of reducing file size without losing data or diminishing quality.
Previously, algorithms compressed files by storing redundant information as a single data file. Consider the run-length encoding (RLE) compression algorithm that’s used for black and white files.
Those were all well and good for plain text and static images with limited color palettes. But, what about those who want animation or to access the full 256-color bit-per-frame spectrum that remains standard for computing and graphic design?
The LZW compression algorithm allowed a new array of color abbreviations and patterns to be stored and accessed without affecting output or performance like traditional animation and images. For example, a bliteple pixel stands in for some combination of blue, white, and purple pixels in a line of code, compressing the file size to fewer bits.
Here are a couple of gifs that explain this visually for non-techs:
The computer users who wanted to send something with a little more pizzaz than a basic emoji but didn’t want to waste the additional resources it takes to send and store standard jpeg images or video files really welcomed this type of file compression innovation.
Which makes them perfect for adding interest and value to your email marketing!
In the 35 years since their invention, gifs are being used by billions of people. As of the last estimate, there were more than half of million animated gifs floating around in cyberspace. Usage increased by 35% during the first few months of pandemic lockdowns alone.
Consider how well a work from home gif connected with remote workers and business leaders during that unusual time. We had to keep our sense of humor somehow.
In short, .gifs are everywhere and familiar to everyone. So, why aren’t you using them on your marketing emails?
Why You Should I Add Gifs to Your Email
The watchwords for sending emails, especially marketing emails, are light and concise. However, you also want to make sure they’re opened, read, and acted upon.
Whether you fully animate your image or just key parts to generate interest, GIFs fill the bill when it comes to grabbing the reader’s attention. Consider the way that creating a .gif can highlight important features.
This .gif is advertising a Black Friday weekend sale. The only things that move are the dates:
They’re great for brief tutorials or to demonstrate how customers should use your product. That’s much more impactful than a block of text, numbered steps, or a full video. Take a look at this .gif for ILIA Beauty’s Multi-Stick:
An animated image that conveys your message will help you through writer’s block that sometimes sets in when you can’t think of what to say. You can display a fairly complex idea in a manner that’s visually pleasing and understandable.
They provide context with relatively little text. After all, one image is worth a thousand words, and your emails need to be concise.
This .gif from Headspace says everything you need to know about their product:
Another clever .gif from Sprout Social practically is their message.
You can even use a flowchart creator to highlight service options and then turn it into a marketing .gif like this one with micro-animations from 99 Designs.
Now that you know why you should be including .gifs in your email, let’s focus on how to use them effectively.
How to Create and Add Gif Files to Your Email Template
There are several ways that you can create a GIF from scratch. You can also use a .gif template and customize it for branding on everything from social media ads, DMs, and email.
I created an advertisement by selecting it from the library of GIF files on Canva and personalized it with my own message. I just saved the file to my laptop after and uploaded it to the platforms I used for my campaign.
Create an Email GIF by Using a Generation Tool
Meme generation tools sometimes provide the ability to convert an image into a .gif file. The best-known of these is Giphy and Tenor
Convert a Series of Images or Video Clip
If you want something that’s more customized and personal, you can use a series of images or a video clip and turn to convert them to .gif files. Just use one of the generation tools or software like Adobe Animate.
The process for adding the GIF to your email is simple for non-techs. Most email builders with template libraries use drag-and-drop functionality to create email messages.
Once you’ve created your GIF, go to your email client and upload the .gif from your files. Then, you can place it where it will have the most impact on your recipients.
Make sure to preview it to make sure the file displays properly and doesn’t interfere with other text in your email. Split test various versions to determine which placement works best with your messaging and clients.
We get around this with how the code for .gif files is formatted. They use an image and alt tags just like other image files.
Placement inside your email is the most important element after making sure that the image works and the file size is optimal. If you’re using it as the main message, place it in the center of your email after the greeting and a short introduction.
Don’t add your call to action to the GIF image. The .gif is to convey the message, but a CTA can get lost in the clutter. Besides, you want it visible and actionable. It’s better to place it just below the .gif. Make it bold and clear.
How NOT to Add a GIF to Your Email
Not all additions are welcome in an email, es[ecially when it comes to business. For example, off-color jokes, lewd images, and GIFs about controversial or divisive topics are inappropriate.
However, humor is fine. It breaks the ice and puts customers in a more relaxed, receptive mindset. Just know your audience and align humorous GIFs with your brand image and audience expectations.
Keep in mind that the file size and color palette are limited. It’s best to keep things simple anyway.
You won’t be able to edit your .gif once it’s finished and saved to your files, either. Spend as much time as you need to in the creation stage. Play with the color, text, and images or video until you have it right. Create several versions of your GIF to use for A/B testing.
Be aware that animations that are overly bright or flashing can cause problems with people who are sensitive to such content due to health conditions or visual impairment. In fact, it’s bad practice to use .gif files in such a way that they will be a distraction or take away from your message.
Although this type of file compression is more optimal than a JPEG or video file, GIFs still need to be optimized for email. Use simple images and color schemes, and keep the file size to under 1MB. The sweet spot is 200 to 250kb.
Preview it on a mobile screen, preferably one that’s attached to an actual device rather than a staging area preview. You want to make sure that it doesn’t misalign your text and isn’t too big for a standard smartphone screen. The .gif should also load fast and work properly.
When it comes to customer engagement, it’s hard to do better than email marketing in terms of personalization and ROI. Adding GIFs to your email will grab the reader’s attention and add value to your content.
Our tips are meant to demonstrate effortless ways to create custom GIFs that are on-brand and easy to embed in any email template. Virtually the only limits are in your imagination.