Six ways to successfully use emojis in email marketing

Emoticons
Guy Hanson
Return Path
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Emojis have become a very popular addition to digital communications. In the past, they have commonly been used in personal conversations, including texts and social posts, but they are increasingly being included in marketing emails, particularly in the subject lines. An easy and quick way to attract attention, save space and convey emotion – something that is notoriously difficult to do via email – emojis are giving brands an opportunity to be creative in how they build a connection with their customers.

According to a Professor at Bangor University, emoji is the fastest growing language in the UK. Indeed, more than 60 million emojis are used on Facebook and more than five billion are sent on Messenger per day. Emojis even made an appearance in the UK general election, with the Liberal Democrats in particular choosing to visualise its email subject lines with numerous symbols.

This visual language is transforming how we communicate with each other. For email marketers, however, it’s important that emojis are used strategically. Including an emoji may spark additional engagement from subscribers, but there’s also a chance their use could turn subscribers off completely.

To give an example of how emojis can have a positive impact on subscriber engagement, our research has shown that around Valentine’s Day this year, email subject lines including the “lips” emoji drove a read rate of 24%  and an inbox placement rate of 89%.

By comparison, Valentine’s Day promotions with text-only subject lines had a read rate of just 20% and an inbox placement of 83%. Another good example is Father’s Day. On and around this day, emails with the “wrench” emoji in the subject line had a read rate of 22% and an inbox placement of 96%, compared to a read rate and inbox placement rate of 21% and 88% respectively for comparable text-only promotions.

Examples

When looking at brands and how they are currently using emojis, Asda’s email marketing programme is a good example of emojis used well. During ‘Biscuit Week’ in August 2016, the supermarket sent subscribers emails using the “biscuit” emoji in the subject line alongside the text ‘Crumbs, it’s biscuit week!’. These emails generated almost double the usual read rates, illustrating the impact emojis can have when used strategically.

However, not all emojis are so effective. Last year, the “clinking champagne glasses” emoji in New Year’s promotions had just a 9% read rate and a 38% inbox placement rate – far below the average for traditional text-only New Year’s emails.

Furthermore, in Halloween-themed emails, only 14% of subscribers opened emails containing the “skull” emoji, compared to 23% of those who received emails including the “spider” emoji. This could be due to timing or bad luck, or it could be the result of an unplanned or haphazard approach to using emojis. For example, repeatedly using the same emoji, which can lessen its impact.

How can emojis be incorporated into an email marketing programme successfully? Here are some tips to consider:

1. Test on a small sample

Don’t start sending emojis to your entire list right off the bat. Test the impact of adding emojis on a sample of your list and compare it to a control sample using the same subject line minus the emoji. This allows you to accurately measure the impact of including the emoji on the campaign while excluding other influencing factors.

2. Don’t overdo it

Just as you should test on a small scale, don’t go overboard by using too many emojis straightaway. Start with one emoji in one campaign and slowly build from there. Make sure you are paying attention to how your subscribers are responding to each emoji before you start increasing the amount and frequency.

3. Make sure they make sense in context and for your industry

Tone of voice and context is key when using emojis. While the “laughter” emoji may have a high read rate in some circumstances, that doesn’t mean it will necessarily go over well with your subscribers. Be conscious of your company’s brand identity and be careful about how you use each emoji. Most likely, a subscriber would not be happy to see a laughing face included in an email alerting them about their latest credit card statement.

4. Make sure the emojis render properly

While an emoji might cause subscribers to open your email, a subject line with a broken emoji is more likely to get deleted or generate a complaint. Rendering can vary depending on the device and platform of choice – the same emoji will appear very differently on a mobile that it would a desktop. Make sure you check that the emojis you are using are supported by the mailbox providers and devices your subscribers use.

5. Know where your emails are landing

Emails that incorporate emojis can experience a wide range of inbox placement, but this isn’t always the case. For example, using the “woman” emoji around Mother’s Day only had a 30% inbox placement rate, meaning 70% were not delivered or were sent to spam. Before you conclude whether using emoji was a success or failure, make sure you are also checking where your messages are landing.

6. See how your competitors are using them

There are many options when it comes to using emojis in email subject lines, so keep an eye on what your competition are doing. You might be able to avoid making similar mistakes.

Using emojis in email subject lines has the power to transform conversations between brands and their subscribers by offering a much more effective and engaging user experience. Inboxes are increasingly being targeted with marketing emails from different brands trying to build a relationship or encourage a sale. When used well, emojis can unlock a level of creativity text-only emails cannot offer. 

Guy Hanson, chairman of the DMA Email council and senior director of professional services at Return Path.

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