emoji marketing

Emoji are ubiquitous. More than 90% of the world’s online population use the symbols at least occasionally. Emoji, also called emoticons, can help express emotions, engage audiences and boost sales. Yet many PR, marketing and corporate communications professionals continue to avoid using emoji.

A new Adobe survey of 1,000 emoji users reveals insights into users’ habits. The survey found that:

  • 81% of emoji users believe that people who use emoji are friendlier and more approachable.
  • 65% — and 83% of Generation Z emoji users — are more comfortable expressing their emotions through emojis than a phone call.
  • 61% use emojis at work. Emoji users believe the symbols positively impact likability (78%) and credibility (63%) and make positive news more sincere (74%) when used at work.
  • (58%) of emoji users are more likely to open an email from a brand if an emoji is in the subject line; 44% are more likely to purchase products advertised with emojis; and 64% are willing to make a purchase with an emoji, most likely purchasing meals, movie tickets and clothing.

“As we look to the future, emojis will play a key role in advancing communication to create a more connected world,” writes Dan Rhatigan, senior manager of Adobe Type. “I’m sure the best days of emoji are ahead of us, and so are emoji users — more than three-fifths agree emojis will be better developed and more progressive in the next five years.”

Companies find that emoji improve internal corporate communications. They convey intent and context that text-only message may lack. A certain symbol can summarize a message that all employees understand. For instance, at enterprise cloud software company CircleCI, a bear symbol on Slack indicates a meeting summary, reports The Wall Street Journal.

Still, most PR professionals – wedded to the written word — virtually never use emoji when they write PR content, pitches or professional correspondence. That may be a missed opportunity.

Brands Benefiting from Emoji

Domino’s introduced a chatbot feature to allow customers to order using a single pizza emoji. World Wildlife Fund created 17 emojis of endangered animals to encourage people to donate when they retweeted one. McDonald’s created ads composed entirely of emoji, and Disney promoted Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Twitter with the symbols.

Some other brands have confused or annoyed audiences and embarrassed themselves with campaigns going viral for the wrong reasons. Following these tips can help PR and marketing teams use emoji effectively.

Beware of overuse. “Brands should exercise caution when it comes to any type of new marketing,” Marissa Aydlett, Appboy vice president of marketing told Marketing Drive. “If you start off flooding users’ inboxes or notification centers with emoji-packed messages, you run the risk of turning them off.”

Know your audience. Understand how your audience communicates with emoji. Finding your own meanings for them is a mistake. However, you could seek an emoji, or combination of them, that symbolizes your brand.

Be careful to use them correctly. Be sure to double-check the meaning on Google or a free online Emoji resource – like Emojipedia, if you are not completely sure of their meaning, recommends Alexander Porter at Paperclip Digital.

Love with a heart. If you’re worried about what emoticon to use, pick the heart, suggests Neil Patel, co-founder of Neil Patel Digital. One of the most popular emoticons, the heart is well understood across cultures.

Consider cultural and geographic variances. Emoticon use varies by country and region in both frequency and meanings. Americans tend to be more direct, while the Japanese tend to use emoji as decoration or to suggest something for the recipient to deduce. In other words, different cultures may interpret an emoji differently. Check with country managers before using a specific emoji in international markets.

Add to emails. Consider including emoticons in email marketing. First research and test your audience preferences, their email platforms and their browsing patterns.

Include in measurement. By including the symbols in  social media analytics, brands may be better able to understand how consumer react to their content. For instance, a large and number of angry reactions could signal diminished trust or a coming PR crisis.

Bottom Line: Brands can employ emoji as powerful marketing and PR tools. However, they can also backfire if used improperly. Misunderstanding the symbols or overuse can lead to an embarrassing PR faux pas.

This post was first published on March 1, 2017, and updated on July 22, 2018.