Emojis: Super Marketing Tactic or Super Tacky?

Do emojis speak louder than words? It depends on your brand and your audience.
See how your audience responds to emojis in different marketing strategies to see if they are a fun fit for your brand. (Photo: TihyIrina/Shutterstock)

What’s the fastest growing form of language in history? According to linguistics professor Vyv Evans of Bangor University, it’s emoji.

“As a visual language, emoji has already far eclipsed hieroglyphics, its ancient Egyptian precursor, which took centuries to develop,” he told BBC News in 2015.

Emojis can quickly convey emotions and concepts, making them extremely popular in a time when consumers are glued to their smartphones — and tempting businesses to use them in their marketing. But reviews of that tactic are mixed. Some marketers feel emojis are a great way to humanize a brand and make it more relatable. Others argue they’re not appropriate.

Before you jump on the emoji bandwagon, here are a few things to think about to determine if emoji use is a good strategy for your small business.

Related: Jumpstart Your Social Media Strategy and Separate Yourself From the Clutter

Are they a fit with your brand and audience?


Using emojis can help give your brand a fun persona, says Tyler Riddell, director of marketing at eSUB.
(Photo: Tyler Riddell)

Consider how you want your brand to be perceived — what you want your brand identity to be. Emojis are lighthearted and humorous, said Tyler Riddell, director of marketing for construction software company eSUB. He said they entertain your audience “and can give your brand a fun persona.”

They can also breathe some life into an otherwise uncreative market, said Amber Speer, marketing manager for air and water filter vendor DiscountFilters.com. “The products DiscountFilters.com offers isn’t exactly the most exciting, but using emoji’s in our emails and social advertising can express that we’re a fun company.”

Speer said they tested using emojis in the email subject line “3⃣ > 2⃣ > 1⃣ We’ve got a SURPRISE… (no joke: it’s 20% OFF!).” Compared with the same subject line using regular numerals, the one with emojis had a 36 percent higher click-through rate.

But it all depends on your brand. Businesses that focus on serving a more serious or professional audience could turn off potential customers by using emojis.

If you feel emojis are too edgy or inappropriate for your marketing communications, you may still be able to leverage them in a customer service setting.

E-commerce marketplace Bonanza.com has found emojis to be effective when used during support chats with sellers or answering questions on the platform from potential buyers. “Emojis are a great way to personalize our responses and establish a connection with our customers,” said support lead Justin Weckhorst. Personalized touches that are visual and thoughtful are a great way to create a positive experience for users and cultivate brand loyalty, he said.

Related: How a Chatbot Could Benefit Your Small Business

Test, test, test

“The most important thing is to know your audience, understand your audience and then test, test, test,” said Laurie Aquilante, senior manager of the North American funnel at inbound marketing and sales software company HubSpot. “There are plenty of documented examples out there of emojis working well, but I’ve spoken with other marketers for whom it hasn’t worked well or has raised their unsubscribe rates.”


Test out emojis on your audience by sending two versions of an email — one with emojis and one without — suggests Laurie Aquilante, a senior manager at Hubspot. (Photo: Laurie Aquilante)

Aquilante suggested running the same type of test described by Speer. “Start with a small segment of your audience and do a clean A/B test of emoji in the subject line versus the same subject line without an emoji,” she said. Look at open and engagement rates, as well as unsubscribes.

Related: 5 Tips for Writing Email Newsletters Your Customers Will Read

You could also experiment with how well emoji resonates with your audience across different platforms. Email and social media tend to see a much better response to emojis than paid search advertising, according to Speer.

Amelia Ohm, creative marketing team lead for high-end home decor retailer LuxeDecor, said they’ve found using emojis in email campaigns boosts open rates “when used sparingly.” But across social media platforms, emojis can be used more freely. “Almost any social post can benefit from the addition of an emoji or several emojis, to help drive engagement and interest among followers,” she said.

If you test it out and it works for you, Aquilante said, “embrace the emoji language and enjoy the uplift in engagement.”

Beware of overuse and multiple meanings

Too many emojis can come across as overreaching and inauthentic, said Ohm. “In addition, marketers must be aware that emojis leave a great deal of room for interpretation. Within popular culture many emojis have garnered meanings that extend beyond their original intended definition. A marketer must fully grasp the evolving cultural understanding of an emoji before using it.”

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