Can emoticons add a smiley face to your marketing?

23rd May 2016

Love them or loathe them, emoji’s - or emoticons to give them their formal moniker - appear here to stay.

Once the preserve of social media-savvy teens as an ultra-shorthand form of expression, now everybody appears to be embracing them. 

Facebook of course launched its Reactions recently, enabling users to add a range of happy, sad, angry faces as part of its ‘like’ option. 

Even Sir Paul McCartney is in tune with emoticons. He composed music for a series of 'audio emojis' to celebrate Valentine’s Day – an acknowledgement that this form of communication once viewed as mere child’s play is now an established part of our literary lexicon. 

And unsurprisingly some of the world’s biggest brands are now following the trend to using the tiny symbols to promote their products.

So how can emoji’s help the world of business?

For more than a decade emoji’s have been used as colourful emphasis on social media postings – now cyber-based exclamations seems incomplete without them. Recent figures show 92% of the online population uses emoji’s, and Neil Patel, co-founder of the analytics companies KISS metrics, Crazy Egg and Quick Sprout, said the casual use of these colourful animations can be expanded upon by marketers to help bolster campaigns to the right audience.

According to research, an emoji smiley face is equivalent to looking at a human smiling face, hence the relevance of a well-placed emoticon in a professional capacity. Their new-found acceptability means an emoticon’s use in a formal email could help create “positive expectancy” without hindering the sender’s credibility, the research found.  

Research by Mailjet reveals Brits are 63% more likely to open an email with an emoji accompanying the subject line.

In fact, open rates almost doubled when the choice of emoji juxtaposed the tone of the email subject line to indicate sarcasm. In the instance of using a crying emoji to accompany the subject line “Do your emails look this good?” open rates surged by as much as 95%.

According to the research: 

  • Tearful emojis such as the face with tears of joy emoji (41% open rate) and the loudly crying emoji (39% open rate) generate the best results.
  • In the US, the average increase in open rate from emojis drops to 43%, nearly a third less than the UK.
  • Average open rates actually dipped by 11% among French recipients, indicating the strong cultural differences between European countries.

Amir Jirbandey, UK marketing manager at Mailjet, noted: “Sarcasm, the research shows, has been unlocked by the growing popularity of these expressive little icons. By choosing an emoji that contradicts or corresponds with the message a marketer is looking to deliver, marketers can deliver far greater clarity in their intent to help, entertain or relate with their target audience.”

If emoji’s are to be used effectively in a formal communique or advertising campaign, Patel insisted they should not be used “for having fun” and users should consider their functionality before posting. He pointed to a recent World Wildlife Fund (WWF) campaign retweets following its official launch - which featured emoji’s of 17 endangered animals and gained 34,000 retweets following its official launch - as an example of a well-executed emoticon-led awareness promotion. In another successful campaign, General Electric teamed-up with science educator, Bill Nye, to create short science videos using emojis.

To boost brand engagement, Patel offers some emoji-based examples of how it can be achieved:

  • Use emoticons in push app notifications to announce product sales.
  • Use emoji’s to add colour and fun to official announcements.
  • Emoji usage can vary based on country and locality, so know your audience before applying emoticons.
  • Tag users next to emojis to get their special attention in your comments.
  • Don’t clutter your message with emojis in order to appeal to a younger audience. Keep it simple to avoid confusing consumers.
  • Try to use emojis that represent the specific product you are trying to promote. For example, a travel agency might choose to use emojis of luggage and travel destination images, or airplanes to announce flight deals.
  • Use relevant emoticons in Facebook and Twitter updates to increase audience engagement by up to three times.
  • If budget is no object, consider creating custom emoji keyboards to help boost a promotion.
  • Use animated symbols in gmail subject lines to increase open rates by up to 20%.
  • Forget the notion that only youngsters like emojis. People across all age groups like them so there really is no limit on what they can be used to promote provided they are used effectively.

Patel insists emoji’s are a form of communication and are processed in our brains as non-verbal communication. To get the right reaction from your content or promotion, he advises against applying emoticons too liberally. Just as verbosity should be avoided in word-from, so it must in emoji usage.

So would businesse be wise to embrace the Emoji Age?

There is no question more and more businesses are using emoticons to boost their brand. Emoticons are now an accepted part of everyday communication, be their use private or commercial. From a commercial point of view, though, I think its important marketers ensure emoji-led campaigns are targeted to the correct audience. There is little margin for error, but a relevantly-placed emoji can say so much more than words, with the result being a very well-executed and successful marketing campaign.

Although a few remain resistant to their charm, the future of emoji’s can be summed-up with a little smiley face. 

Ashley Sterland is communications director for The Change Organisation.


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