Talking Emails: Getting Back to Email Marketing Basics in the World of AI Voice Assistants

Until a few years ago, it was only a dream for everyone to own a personal virtual assistant that helps with our tasks. And if someone had told us that there’d be talking emails, we’d have definitely laughed it off. But today, that technology exists—emails talk! We have voice assistants like Alexa, Siri, and Cortana that help us with even a simple task like checking emails.

As a result, email marketing is definitely being shaped by Artificial Intelligence (AI), and the section of conversational AI making up Voice Command Devices (VCD) is fairly new to marketers. Since these voice assistants help the audience read and respond to emails, they handle the main concerns of email marketers. 

Interestingly, the more people depend on next-gen technology bots and voice assistants to read their emails and take action, the more email marketers need to get back to the basics in order to deliver an email that’ll engage the recipients. 

Currently, a voice assistant can help you read, reply, delete, archive, or skip an email. Keeping this in mind, let’s look at some basic lessons email marketers need to learn to ensure that their emails are heard and responded to by recipients who use these human-like voice systems.

The tricky trio: sender, subject line, and pre-header

Even though subject lines are generally claimed to influence the email open or click rate, with voice assistants, they are the sole drivers. The next time you say, “Alexa, read my email” or “Siri, check my inbox,” the first thing you’ll hear is the email sender’s name followed by the subject line and the pre-header. This clearly shows that email marketers need to get this trio right so that the recipients can make a decision easily when the assistant reads the content. 

First, the recipients are more likely to say, “Read this email for me when they recognize the sender, so make sure to build that trust at the start. Instead of random sender details likeinfo,” “no-reply,” or “auto-support,” start using identifiable information like your name or your team’s name

Subject lines are crucial, and they require both some thought and clarity. Keep the subject lines as comprehensible as possible and easy for a machine to read. Remember, the more complex your line is, the more misleading your voice output ismeaning your email is more likely to be skipped by the recipients who are listening. Get rid of jargon and embrace simplicity! 

Pre-headers are the next to follow, so they need to complement the subject line. This preview text adds more meaning to what the sender is trying to convey to the recipient, so instead of adapting a fancy sentence construction, being direct helps. Use the two powerful punctuation marksthe period and comma—wherever required, as you may not want the voice assistant to run over and read mix-match sentences. 

Example of a good, read-worthy trio:

Sender: The Juice Company

Subject line: Introducing 10 tropical juice varieties

Pre-header: Step into our nearest shop to indulge in goodness.  

Example of a clumsy, not-so-good trio:

Sender: No Reply 

Subject line: Check out our new varieties

Pre-header: Not displaying properly? Click here to view in browser. 

The emoji effect

“Fire,” “grinning face with normal eyes,” “face with heart-shaped eyes,” “one hundred,” “waving hand,” “down point back slant index,” “two faces rolling on the floor laughing”…

No, that’s not gibberishthat’s exactly how a voice assistant would read your favorite emojis aloud when included in the email subject line, pre-header, or content. The next time email marketers use them to replace text, they need to do it consciously. Don’t just use them because they look fashionable or attractive, but first see whether they make sense when read out loud by a human-like device. Otherwise you might end up unintentionally listening to funny audio interpretations of your emojis. 

Using emojis judiciously and replacing wordy texts with easy words will go a long way towards making your email an easy read for these voice systems.  

The plain-text way 

The plain-text way

Most marketers prefer heavily-designed newsletters, but the plain-text style is also a growing trend among many brands. A major advantage of using text-only emails to engage subscribers is the limited dependence on images, which makes it easy for your emails to be read by a VCD. This is mostly because VCDs can’t recognize HTML attributes like Alt text. So, even if you end up giving an Alt text line to supplement your images, it goes to waste when recipients use AI assistants to check emails.

Especially, if your email has to convey certain important messages, it’s better to mention them as text rather than depict them as images. When an email is mostly or entirely made up of images, chances are that it ends up in the spam folder. Even if the email happens to land in the inbox of an ESP that can’t automatically load images, it’ll still be rendered empty.

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Going the plain-text way not only helps you convey the right things in the right manner for your audience, but also helps AI assistants do their job well. 

Staying relevant with segmentation

Staying relevant with segmentation

The last thing email marketers want is their emails reaching unfamiliar inboxes. Even if emails end up in recipients’ inboxes, the voice assistants are given the option to delete, archive, or skip the email they’re reading. If your recipients don’t know who you are, your emails might as well belong to junk or spam. 

To avoid sending spammy emails, segmentation is the easiest technique marketers can adopt. Automatic Machine Learningdriven segmentation options let you instantly create multiple relevant segments within your mailing list so you know who your emails are targeting. Using tags or other clustering methods can also help keep the email engagement clean and consistent. 

Accessibility is the key

Today, we live in a world where technology has made it possible for those with disabilities to perform more tasks than everAI voice assistants are a boon to those with certain disabilities, helping them access emails much easier than in the past

This calls for email marketers to design accessible emails. One of the biggest ways to make emails accessible is to keep them from becoming cluttered with text. Proper formatting, punctuation, and paraphrasing of email content can help improve readability. Logical sentences, paragraph breaks, non-attributed HTML formats, and less-image-more-text structure can add more meaning to emails. Avoid using slapdash and made-up acronyms or internet slang words as voice assistants can’t read them properly.  

The email TLDR moment

It’s time for the voice assistants to fall into the Too Long Didn’t Read (TLDR) web of humans. Voice assistants like Alexa determine the length of the emails in the inbox and mention this to the recipient, who is the listener. 

For example, if an email is too lengthy and verbose with multiple paragraphs, the AI assistant quickly calculates the time it’ll take to finish reading the content and conveys it to the listener. 

Alexa: “The rest of the body takes about 10 minutes to finish. Would you like to continue?”

This way, a listener can just delete, archive, read, or skip the email based on their mood, time available for checking emails, and relationship with the brand that’s sending the emails. Too long to read? In most cases, emails like this tend to be neglected. So keeping a keen watch on the email content and its length is required. 

Fit for inbox placement

As emails are being read on different devices, they should be designed and optimized for several attributes to ensure they’re previewed and accessed in the best way. In terms of screen responsiveness, here’s the most important factor concerned—how likely is the email to reach and get displayed in a recipient’s inbox. This can be tricky as inbox displays vary according to many factors like screen size and resolution, portrait or landscape mode, client type, ESP used, and so on. 

While mobile displays reveal about 25-30 characters of the subject line, monitor displays provide up to 60 characters, so you should test consistently to ensure email optimization. Unfinished or broken subject lines and pre-headers can spoil the recipients’ listening experience as the voice assistants can’t read something that has 60 characters on a mobile display.
 


While the presence of these conversational AI devices can help email marketers revise their basic principles and strategies, it’s important to know that there are a couple of debatable questions still unaddressed:

Privacy limitation: Voice assistants can read out emails for human conveniencebut this could also cause privacy concerns considering the prevalent email marketing laws and regulations. It could lead to sensitive data being read aloud, increasing the chance of information being overheard by someone other than the recipient. Unconsented emails can mistakenly be read by chance too. 

Spam and Unsubscribe: Assistants like Alexa, Cortana, or Siri can only delete or archive an email, but, they cannot mark it as a spam or unsubscribe from the brand. So, when a recipient thinks an email is unsuitable for them, unsubscribing and reporting spam complaints might still need to be done manually without the intervention of these devices, causing more time consumption.

Usage of vCard: Virtual Contact Files (VCF) are used frequently by marketers to build trust with the audience. These cards are sent as an attachment in the email campaigns so recipients can directly add the sender details to their contact books. However, voice assistants currently can’t directly add a sender to your trusted-contacts list, making it a manual task again for recipients. 

Interactivity in emails: Calls-to-Action (CTAs) are vital elements of an email, and they make emails interactive and actionable. Since AI voice systems can’t click an inline URL or a CTA button that’s present in emails while readingthis often defeats the goals of promotional emails.   

The bottom line

AI voice assistants definitely reflect the evolution technology is undergoing. They may or may not rule the future, but their impact will definitely be persistent. 

As far as email marketing is concerned, these voice assistants re-emphasize some of the basic ground rules and strategies that might be easily forgotten in the journey. While debated questions still exist, the focus on strengthening the email marketing foundation with AI wins over the rest of the story. 

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.

About Aishwarya Ashok

Contributor

Aishwarya is a Product Marketer at Zoho Campaigns, the email marketing platform from Zoho's business suite. She is a techno-futurist and has a passion for driving marketing through technological humanism. She loves writing as much as painting, and certainly wishes to retire on one of those seascapes she paints.

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