Aug 6, 2013

Showing Vs. Telling With GIFs

Internet fun fact: you can use animated GIFs in email. We love it when smart people use them in entertaining ways. But most marketing articles about GIFs talk about "making your email pop" and "latching onto your viewers’ attention." Gross.

At MailChimp, we think that good content = good email. GIFs are a primary means of communication around our office, but using them as a marketing tool seemed gimmicky, so we’ve avoided embedding them in our campaigns. We’re certainly not the first to use GIFs in email, but we’ve found an interesting way to use them as our content, instead of just as marketing eye candy.

When we had a large email going out to several segments of our users, we needed to communicate a few in-app interactions clearly and quickly. The interactions weren’t complex, but they weren’t easy to communicate succinctly with copy, either. Adding multiple screenshots, with arrows and circles and labels, made the email too long and cumbersome. Linking to a video was an option, but we didn’t want to have to rely on a click through or expect every reader to sit through a video to learn about one new step. All the information needed to be inside the email, easily and immediately digestible.

Enter the GIF

An animated GIF of the app showed our users the interactions we were introducing. It also showed them exactly how the interactions looked, and how they worked within the context of the app. It only took a few seconds, and people immediately understood it. Some of them even told us so.

We consider this kind interaction showing vs. telling. Being able to show people exactly how something works is incredibly powerful. It promotes clarity and speeds up the communication process. We’ve all tried to explain something to someone using words, only to find ourselves saying, "Here, let me just show you."

A lot of apps show. When you first open them, they’ll draw arrows on the screen, or animate an interaction. Sometimes video games do this, introducing  mechanics in a way that shows you how to behave without a word of instruction.

Our showing vs. telling doesn’t only happen through animated GIFs. On our homepage, we use CSS animation to show how easy it is to use our drag and drop editor. We use videos in our Knowledge Base to help answer questions users might have about how to find and use specific features. And in some emails, and occasionally here on the blog, we use animated GIFs.

We’ll continue to look for ways we can show people how to use our apps. Showing is simpler and faster, which is exactly the kind of experience we want people to have with MailChimp.