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Will Consumers Let Alexa Read Their Emails Out Loud?

Earlier this year, Amazon added the ability for Alexa to read and delete emails. Google Home and other voice-enabled digital assistants will likely be developing this capability as well. That may present serious consequences for marketers.

The device reads the subject line, then asks the listener if he or she wants to “read, reply, archive or next.” Alexa and, eventually, other digital assistants could also compose and send emails, but for marketers, the receiving end is the more critical issue, though any actual impact of this development could be some time off.

Tom Sather, senior director of research at Return Path, says that though personal digital assistants are becoming more popular they still have a relatively small market. Additionally, according to Sather, most people will be relatively hesitant to have their email subject lines or their entire emails read aloud unless they are by themselves. He pointed out that there are apps and programs that can already convert emails to audio for internet-enabled devices, such as mobile phones, but that this capability has yet to make much of an impact with users or with marketers.

“This is a new capability, I would advise marketers not to put all of your eggs in the Alexa basket yet,” Sather says. “The adoption rate right now is relatively low. People will not want to have their emails read with other people within earshot.”

Having your emails read aloud presents security and privacy risks, according to Sather. He adds, “There are a lot of barriers to entry. I see it as more of a novelty.”

However, Tim Bourgeois, digital strategy director for East Coast Catalyst sees voice as having more of an impact on marketing strategies: “Marketers are bracing for the impact of voice, which is expected to have seismic implications. At the same time, it isn't getting a lot of budget just yet. It's sort of a 'calm before the storm' type of situation.” 

In the future, voice will become popular among marketing targets and marketers, according to Bourgeois. “Voice checks a lot of the boxes, in terms of its likely effect on the marketing landscape: it relies on existing technologies which have been rapidly adopted by consumers, it’s easy to consume, and can repurpose assets that are already in existence--like content assets and email newsletters.”

Sather, on the other hand, predicts that the vision impaired and the elderly will be the most likely to have digital assistants read their email.

Bourgeois sees the largest marketing firms taking the lead: “In spite of the excitement and likely growth, we're probably still a couple of years away from having it implemented by small and mid-sized marketing operations, who are still wrestling with optimizing proven tactics line search marketing and video. So it'll probably be the purview of the largest brands who have agencies to lean on to execute on new tactics and aggressive upstarts with not a lot to lose.” 

But as people start using digital assistants to sort through the flood of emails in the average inbox, marketers have reason to fear the “delete” command more than ever. For marketers, this means that they will need to endeavor more than ever to have the subject line to be compelling enough to convince recipients to listen to the message or it will most likely be deleted. That means the subject line for voice will likely need to be longer to be more impactful for listeners. That’s a change, as the trend had been toward shorter subject lines for mobile optimization, Sather says.

Sather likened the challenge to the late 1990s and early 2000s, when marketers were tasked with different messaging requirements for HTML and text, before technologies merged to convert the messages for those with different email capabilities. He says that marketers will seek to ask customers if they prefer to read their emails or listen to them and then craft their emails appropriately. He also sees the eventual development of a similar technology that will optimize emails for voice or sight, depending on the user’s preference.

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