The Evolution of Email: Predictions for the Future
By John Thies
We’ve seen a drastic change in email capabilities over the past couple of years. It’s been fascinating to watch. There’s dynamic content, improved segmentation, artificial intelligence (AI), email interactivity and ESPs and CRMs are becoming better integrated. All these developments are allowing email marketers to send more personalized, dynamic emails.
But where do we go from here? How will email continue to evolve?
The Importance of Email Accessibility
You’ve heard us talk a lot about email accessibility – it’s incredibly important and something we’re truly passionate about. With more than 330 million people worldwide having a visual impairment, accessibility should be part of the email development process.
And it’s not just permanent disabilities we should consider; there are temporary disabilities, as well. I think back to a point when I was a kid and my dad broke both thumbs. If he did that today, how would he engage with computers or mobile devices? He’d likely have to use accessibility features (like a screen reader) to navigate.
Between permanent impairments and temporary disabilities, there are a whole lot of potential email subscribers out there who may have trouble reading your email. If we’re not considering accessibility when we’re building campaigns, we’re alienating a lot of people.
Accessibility is driving many new pieces of technology that our society is using today. Think about it: How many times have you heard, “OK Google…” or, “Hey Siri…”? We’re using our voice to trigger commands, and accessibility needs are influencing that technology.
We’re also seeing this technology evolve from the phone to home-based systems and smart speakers like Apple HomePod, Google Home and Amazon Echo. These systems use voice commands to trigger an action or question. Companies are also integrating voice technology with appliances, so you can turn off the stove or start the dishwasher with a simple voice command.
The Auditory Call-to-Action
So, what does all this have to do with the evolution of email?
In the last few months, we’ve noticed some interesting features in these assistive technologies that indicate exciting developments for the email marketing industry. For example, If you ask your Google Home device to read your latest email, it says, “I don’t know how to do that…yet.”
The word “yet” is what gets me so excited and gives me goosebumps every time I think about it! Google – the biggest email mailbox provider in the world – may soon have a voice trigger that allows you to read (hear) an email from the Google Home device. This opens a world of opportunity for email marketers; it gives them an opportunity to engage with subscribers from both a visual and auditory perspective.
And that’s where I think the future is going—the auditory call-to-action (ACTA).
Auditory Calls-to-Action with Siri
For some devices, the ACTA is already possible. Siri (the digital assistant on iOS) can read your email to you. If you have an iOS device with Siri enabled, try asking: “Siri, could you please read me my latest email?” and Siri will recite back the newest email in your inbox. Siri will read the email in this order:
- Your sender name. Siri will follow this with “…sent you an email.”
- Your subject line. Siri will precede this with “about…”
- Your preheader. Siri will precede this with “it says…”
So, the formula for Siri’s audio is:
“(Sender name) sent you an email about (subject line). It says, (preheader). Would you like to reply?”
Listen to an example below:
So, if we set the end of our preheader as a question, Siri naturally follows up and asks the user if he/she would like to reply. And the user can reply using his/her voice — no keyboard necessary! This can be used several different ways, encouraging email engagement before a user has even clicked on your email. In some of our recent campaigns we have run some ACTA tests and received some very interesting results. It seems subscribers are already using Siri to read their emails!
Preparing for the Auditory Call-to-Action
If you’re creating accessible emails, you’re already well-prepared for the future of ACTAs. Assistive technologies (and presumably, smart speakers) don’t read an email’s plain text version; they read the HTML version. With that in mind, email marketers should start thinking about how they can better organize and describe elements of an email to trigger a response from a subscriber who is having the email read to him/her.
For example, if you include descriptive alt text for the images in your email, subscribers will be able to understand the email even if they cannot see it. If you’re a retailer, how can you convert customers from email if they can’t see your products in the message? You’ll have to start thinking about how to convert a customer with only words and no visual elements.
Taking advantage of the preheader text will also give you a leg-up. As I noted above, Siri already asks users if they would like to reply to an email. Siri will read the first 499 characters of the email after it strips out the HTML, so take advantage of this with a lengthy preheader that prompts a response.
Will these new ACTAs discount the importance of the visual presentation of an email? Absolutely not. I look at these ACTAs as a way for email marketers to further engage with their subscribers.
It’s not likely that this capability is going to roll out across every platform in the next few weeks or months, but perhaps within a year we’ll start to see this become more widely adopted. Eventually, marketers may be able to take advantage of these ACTAs to convert a customer directly through email. That is so exciting to me. Email will no longer be just a driver (sending the subscriber to a landing page); it will become a conversion tool.
Author: John Thies
John is the man behind the scenes who makes sure everything is running smoothly. He loves all things technology, from programming to tinkering with mobile devices to reading the latest issue of Wired magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @johnethies.