Voice and email: four practical tips for preparing your email flows

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30, January 2019

It may still seem like something for the future, but we can already do more than you think with voice in emails. Two years ago I wrote an article about it. Even though we are still experimenting, a great deal is already possible. If you ask Apple’s Siri or Samsung’s Bixby for your latest emails, you will have these read out to you. As digital assistants become ever more available, voice will play an increasingly important role, for example in the form of the smart Google home devices (Google Home) and Amazon (Alexa). Gartner  expects that by 2020 as much as 30% of online searches will be voice-activated.

A search request that a consumer gives a home device in the future could very well be: “Hi, I know that you are searching for holidays in Thailand. Today you received a special offer from your favourite tour operator.” Devices that communicate with one another take this one step further. Someone who asks a voice app about the most beautiful cities in Australia gets to hear three suggestions. This question will then automatically lead to the activation of an email campaign, which includes for example all the beautiful cities of Australia. Another example is the abandoned voice search. Did a consumer mention his favourite brand of shoes, but not place an order? An email listing the search requests can then increase the conversion.

Most relevant emails at the top of the “voice stack”

The algorithms at the heart of the assistants are becoming increasingly adept at understanding which emails are important to your recipient. But what does this mean for email and the organisations that employee email marketing? At ESP we, too, are going through rapid developments with regard to voice. Below are a number of concrete tips about how you can set up your email by voice as effectively as possible.

Tip 1: Convey your main message more clearly

The developments in voice go fast and we’ve also noticed that voice assistants and apps quickly change the way they read or preview emails in your inbox. One thing is certain: because of your voice assistant only shows/reads your message once, you have to stand out as a sender and get your main message even sharper. A recipient can only determine opening the email based on the attractiveness of the subject line/subheader. Read our tips for the best subject line here.

Invisible voice text block

Earlier at Webpower – for clients such as PGOSupport and HandicapNL– we were working on how emails are as accessible as possible, for example for visually impaired people. We developed a voice functionality, which meets the special needs of this target group.

Tip 2: What will be the voice of your brand?

Your brand already has a particular tone of voice on paper and perhaps also a physical voice, for example in your YouTube videos or radio commercials. There, too, soundscapes, effects and audio quality can make the difference.

Separate from the development of your voice, the time has come to think about and experiment with what we want our brand to sound like in voice. Fun or professional? Calm or animated? Experiment with word choices and pauses, and see what the effect is of a comma, semi-colon, extra space or exclamation mark.

Tip 3: Think about your overall “voice experience”

You can also already think about what happens after your spoken email. Are you going to give your customer an entire voice experience? At the moment you can’t yet reply to a CTA. The last thing that Siri asks is ‘do you want to reply?’ The reply should therefore not go to a no-reply.

You could also say ‘Register for this event by responding with ‘yes’ to this email’. This also produces manual work, as you only receive yes’s instead of completed data via a form.

In the future, you will probably be able to reply to a CTA as well. Are you after a followed-up CTA led to a voice-controlled landing page, website, your app or your chat service? WhatsApp is increasingly being used for voice and WeChat is already 75% voice controlled.

Organisations often ask us which channel will be central to voice; in other words, with which channel should we start? That actually makes very little difference. Important here is that the experience is right. Many organisations instinctively tend to start with the website; but perhaps with voice that is actually the last link in the chain. No one is going to have an entire website read out to them, whether at home or on the road. In any case, email excels in activating and connecting channels, and so it makes sense that email is an important “voice key”.

Go and test and experiment now before you miss the boat.

Tip 4: Statistics get an entirely different meaning

Of course, as a whole it is all to do with brand engagement, interaction with your brand and so also what you miss if you don’t go along with this. It is all going to change: companies used to advertise on one specific channel. Now they tend to advertise on the basis of a profile, independent of the channel that the consumer in question finds themselves on.

Statistics in email marketing also get an entirely different meaning with voice. For example, opening an email will soon be even less related to a particular time of day. After all, it is possible to listen wherever you are. In the car, on your way to the bus stop, or even on the toilet. The value of an email will therefore soon no longer lie in the moment that the recipient receives or opens it.

It is ultimately all about reach: if images are not shown, speech (reading out) will still work. Except that opened messages will not be measured, and certainly not clicks, let alone conversions. If , for example, you want to improve brand awareness, you can measure progress through KPIs such as the share of voice, direct traffic, branded search traffic, etc. Alexa rank is another good KPI for benchmarking and for observing changes in relation to your competition.


In the beginning, you started off small-scale with email and marketing automation. Here too, start off small in using voice in your emails. In fact: start now and ask your email service provider what they can do for you in this area. It may seem as if it’s all very much in its early stages, but 2020 will soon be upon us. Europe is different to the US, and according to Maarten Lens-FitzGerald this may lead to a somewhat  less rapid adaptation, but I subscribe to the prediction made by Gartner: in 2020, voice-activated searches will account for 30% of web-browsing sessions. And so if you also search through voice commands, it is a small step to having your email read out. Convenience is key. Mobile communication also started in the US, but it really took off in Europe.

The emergence of voice is forcing you to think about your real key message. In most cases, you don’t resolve the communication gap by communicating more. You do this by communicating more efficiently and effectively. Make optimum use of other sources of data and take full advantage of the latent needs of your customer. These are rapid developments. So standing still is tantamount to moving backwards, also when it comes to voice. Now is the time to experiment. From experience I know that this can be a lot of fun.

We ultimately want channels to reinforce one another. Email and voice can fulfil an important bridging function and, as I have already mentioned in my introduction, connect touch points in the customer journey.

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