Emoji Marketing: How to Use Emoticons to Significantly Increase Your Conversions

Written by Neil Patel on January 5, 2016

emoji

They’re everywhere. Our obsession with them started with mobile phones while sending/receiving text messages.

They gravitated towards social media and now they’re a regular fixture even in email communications.

There are even startups like Swyft Media creating and selling them.

I am talking about emoticons.

Whether you hate them or love them, you’ve seen them. There are 6 billion of them floating around the world on mobile applications everyday. And they’re the fastest growing language in history in the UK.

They’re such a phenomenon that brands have now started to integrate them in their marketing messages while communicating with younger generations.

Download this cheat sheet to learn how to use emoticons to significantly increase your conversions.

An example is Chevrolet’s recent press release that created a lot of buzz. I guess they took it too far. See for yourself.

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They asked their audience to decode the news. Or “watch out for the decoder at 2 p.m. EDT Tuesday.” I doubt the effectiveness of an all-emoji press release for creating excitement. My point is that emojis have completely infiltrated our lives.

Look at these 3 specific cases.

1. We can now use emojis on Twitter to order a pizza from Dominos.

This concept of delivering through emojis even won a Titanium Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

2. Google launched its extended collection of revamped emojis for Gmail in July.

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3. Taco Bell filed a petition asking the Unicode Consortium to introduce a taco emoji. Their petition read “America wants a Taco emoji.” And their change.org campaign was met with success (they received 32,802 supporters).

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As per Emogi, they’re used by 92% of the online population.

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As a marketer, can you think of creative techniques to capitalize on this consumer appetite for emoticons?

I am here to help you. In this post, I’ll share some successful and some over-the-top emjoi campaigns conducted by brands. You can learn from them how to use (or how not to use) these adorable Japanese pictographs the right way (without crossing the line).

Later on, I’ve put together 4 strategies that will help you to immediately integrate emoticons in your marketing and increase your sales. 

How to leverage Emojis with utility to humanize your messages and connect with your audience?

If you want to use emojis purposefully in your marketing, then you have got to understand why they have become part of our culture. So let’s look at research on the emotions that emojis evoke in various environments.

As per a 2008 research paper on typographic facial expression like 😉 – Emoticons are effective in improving enjoyment, personal interaction and the perceived information richness of our messages.

More recent research has also found that a smiley face online is equivalent to looking at a smiling face in real life. Are you skeptical that they might look indecent in a professional environment like email or that they don’t suit your brand voice?

Then you’re mistaken. A University of Missouri-St. Louis study examined the effects of using emoticons in a socio-economic vs. task-oriented setting.

They found that even in a formal email: “Using emoticons might create a positive expectancy violation by being friendly, emotional, and personal.” Even when 4 emoticons were used in an email, the sender’s credibility wasn’t affected.

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Florida Institute of Technology also conducted research on using emoticons in business-related emails. Here is an example message they used during their experiment.

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They found that the same message sounded less negative when it was paired with a smiley emoticon. So the negativity effect is reduced in email by using emoticons.

No wonder emoticons have become a usual feature in our daily communications. In the limited word count territories, they’re a powerful tool to convey more information using lesser words. They’re visually engaging and cast a (human) friendly brand image.

At the same time, you need to be careful to not cross the line. Don’t use them irrelevantly in your communications in an attempt to increase your user engagement or indicate that you’re on top of communication trends.

Let me show you an example.

Goldman Sachs is a highly revered brand. It’s perceived as an authority in the industry possessing valuable insights. So this tweet by them about their “Millennials coming of Age” report probably went a bit too far (just count the number of emojis). image01 My point is that you cannot bombard emoticons in your message for the sake of having fun. Consider their functionality as well. They’re processed by our brain as nonverbal information. They aren’t the words, but the emotional part of communications.

Let me show you a couple of examples of brands that have used emoticons effectively.

#1 World Wide Fund for Nature’s #EndangeredEmoji Campaign – Many of you use an animal emoji regularly in your messages. Right? So the World Wide Fund for Nature launched a campaign, wherein you can use 17 endangered animal emojis for doing good.

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How exactly did the campaign work? A user can sign up by retweeting the following tweet by WWF (a confirmation tweet was sent by them).

Once you’re on board, you can get back to your normal emojis tweeting routine.

At the end of the month, WWF will send you the number of endangered animal emoji icons you used. Each icon you used is worth a small £0.10 voluntary donation.

But you can choose your own amount for donating to support WWF’s conservation efforts.

Here is a short video explaining the WWF’s #EndangeredEmoji fundraising campaign.

As you can see, the campaign has received tremendous response. The announcement tweet above has earned over 34,000 retweets (at the time of writing this post).

#2 General Electric’s #EmojiScience Campaign – Are you interested in knowing the science behind climate change? Or how to explore your brain on the internet?

Sounds interesting, but you might be worried about how the information is presented to you.

How about expanding your scientific knowledge with emojis in short 2 minute videos?

I’d guess most of you would be interested in learning science this way.

That’s the approach General Electric took.

On December 11, 2014 they launched their EmojiScience campaign with a microsite and an invitation on Twitter. They asked their younger audience to send any emoji and “see what happens!”

On their emojiscience website, you’ll find an ‘emoji table of experiments’ on people, nature, objects, places and symbols.

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Clicking on an icon from the table above will fetch you some science behind it (if currently present in GE’s library) explained with emojis. Here is the GE Twitter status I got when I clicked on the Mars emoji.

GE also collaborated with science educator Bill Nye to create short science videos using emojis.

Watch this 2-minute video by Bill explaining How You Dream with Emoji.

Isn’t it fun and engaging to learn through such videos and emojis?

The takeaway for you is to always respect your target audience and use emojis naturally in your communications. Don’t force 15 emojis in your message just to appeal to millennials. You need to deliver simple customer experiences. Or else you’ll only end up confusing your consumers and even face a backlash.

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In the next section, I will help you identify the particular marketing channels where emoticons can be used effectively.

4 strategies to integrate emojis in your marketing and increase your engagement as well as sales

In 2011, Apple added emoji keyboard in iOS 5. Since then they have been widely adopted in America. A month after the introduction of the emojis in iOS, 10% of text on Instagram was emojis.

Now they have become a native in our digital language. An indication is the fact that 1,620 emojis are supported in iOS 9.1.

On certain platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, their popularity has exploded. Nearly half of comments and captions on Instagram are composed of emojis.

But, like I said, you cannot just toss 10 emojis irrelevantly in your communications. That will only make your message complex.

You need to use emojis with purpose if you want to boost your brand engagement. Here are 4 specific strategies.

1. Use emoticons in your push app notifications to announce (and increase) your product sales

I don’t think I need to tell you the importance of mobile marketing for brands. We’re already past the mobile tipping point as per ComScore.

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And most media consumption takes place on mobile apps.

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So if you’re a brand serving 224 million monthly active app users in the US, then you cannot miss push notifications.

These push messages are a prized possession for marketers because they offer a direct interaction with your users’ home screens.

Brent Hieggelke (Urban Airship’s chief marketing officer) describes the smartphone home screen perfectly – “the most valuable real estate on the planet.”

But these precious push messages also bring an added responsibility with them. You can spam people’s email, but they will mostly get filtered and not reach their inbox.

But just send a couple of annoying/irrelevant push notifications and you get your app deleted.

Why?

Because it requires effort to go to Settings->Notification Center->tweak preferences for your app.

So you definitely need to rock in sending push notifications from your app.

Studies show that consumer buying is influenced strongly by emotions rather than information and logic.

So what do you think is an effective strategy to announce discounts on your products?

Yep you guessed it right.

It’s using emoticons in your push notifications.

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They’ll personalize your promotions, increase your message’s clarity and accurately convey emotions.

Additionally these small, visually attractive icons will also save you space by cutting down on words.

So how do you choose the emoji characters for your messages that garner immediate attention of the user?

Try to use the ones that represent the specific product you’re trying to promote and help the user in interpreting your message.

Suppose you’re a travel site.  You can use emojis of luggage, travel destination images and airplanes to announce flight deals.

Similarly, if you’re a fashion retailer, you can use emojis for clothes when conducting flash sales. Or, maybe you’ll use high heeled shoes, when you’re announcing a shoe flash sale.

I’ve already shared the example of Dominos. The pizza company lets its customers order pizza just by tweeting or texting the pizza emoji.

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Let me show you 3 more emoji use cases by brands in push messages.

#1 Pink Nation – You want to attract women to vote and choose their outfit. How can you create excitement?

By using the emoji of a woman fist-pumping the air in excitement.

This Pink Nation push message is difficult to miss.

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#2 RetailMeNot – You’re a coupon collection website and want to announce a clearance sale on an upscale home decor and furnishing brand.

How can you creatively announce the sale?

Just like RetailMeNot did with the house emoji.

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#3 GIF Keyboard – You cannot find a contextually relevant emoji to suit your announcement.

But that does not mean that you cannot have fun.

This GIF Keyboard push message shows how you can add color (and a dash of fun) to your official announcements.

It’s party time because GIF Keyboard now works on Google Hangouts!

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You’ll need to check with your mobile CRM solution to know how to integrate emojis in your push notifications.

On mixpanel, you need to send the unicode value of an emoji using the “Custom Data” JSON payload under its push notification builder to send emojis.

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Suppose you want to send “High Five Bro” with its emoji.

You can find the unicode value for the emoji for iOS here. And for Android here.

Here are the push JSON payload constructions for both the mobile operating systems.

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And here are the push notifications with emojis on iOS and Android.

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2. Triple your Instagram growth with these four tips

This rise of emojis on Instagram was initially fueled by iOS Emoji keyboard. And later with native support for emojis on Android.

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You can now order cocktails at Boxpark in Shoreditch through Instagram by using a sequence of emojis.

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As I mentioned before, half of Instagram’s text contained emojis as of March 2015.

The vocabulary of Instagram has changed dramatically. Thomas Dimson explored the semantic similarity between English words and emoticons.

He found that popular emojis have meanings that are in-line with popular internet slang. For example: the words “lol/hehe” have similar semantics to (?), “xoxo” has similar semantics to (❤️) and the word “omg” has similar semantics to (?).

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And the distinctive emojis had particularly distinct meanings.

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Here is an examination of Instagram comments and captions by Thomas’s team of four cohorts. They measured the percentage of text containing internet slang or emoji.

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As you can see, emojis are now a major part of the Instagram vocabulary. And their use is anti-correlated with internet slang.

So how can you leverage these non-verbal symbols to boost your engagement on Instagram?

Here are 4 tips.

#1 Understand how your audience communicates with emojis – Are you new to the emoji world and use them in your own ways to take new meanings?

Then you’re committing a huge mistake.

Caveat: If you find a combination of emojis (or a single one) that can symbolize your brand, then you can use them to convey your own meaning i.e. to represent your brand. Your followers will hopefully recognize your wittiness and latch on to using those emojis in their communications.

As a marketer, it’s your job to understand how your target audience uses emojis and what the different colored versions of them signify.

Only then will you be able to fit the emojis in your Instagram communications.

Here are 3 resources to get you started.

i. HubSpot’s Emoji Translation Guide

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ii. Sue B Zimmerman’s breakdown of some specific emojis: People, Nature, Object and Places

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Sue has grown her retail earnings by 40% through Instagram. She suggests using emojis in these 3 locations to stand out.

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iii. A breakdown of what the different hues and shapes signify on Instagram

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#2 Love from your heart – Simply measured in its analysis of 2,500 Instagram posts found that the heart triumphs all other emojis.

The 2014 Global Language Monitor “Word of the Year” was also the heart emoji.

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The love heart engagement averaged 120,000 likes and comments per post.

The next two emojis in Simply Measured’s list were sparkles (80,000 likes and comments) and artist palette (with 50,000 likes and comments).

Here is the graph showing the top 10 emojis that receive the best engagement.

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#3 Mind your country and region – Hearts are good to use generally, but your target audience emoji usage can vary based on their country and locality. Finland users love emojis, so their Instagram text contains 60% of emotion characters.

In contrast, Tanzania Instagram users don’t like them as much. Only 10% of their Instagram text contains emojis.

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The emoji use also differs from state to state in the US.

Let’s look at another contrastive analysis conducted on American and Japanese online communications. Both the English-speaking and Japanese speaking emoji users were asked to read emoji messages out loud.

The pitch and tone of these two users was different and it helped the researchers to conclude that:

English-speaking emoji users in US are more “direct.” While Japanese users leaned towards using emojis as decoration or to suggest something for the recipient to deduce.

#4 Play visual brain tease using them and tag users next to them – Anthony Thompson has tripled his Instagram engagement by using emojis. Here are a couple of his simple strategies to foster explosive emoji engagement.

Anthony uses emojis as a visual brainteaser to play the guessing game with his audience and strengthen his bond.

As an example he commented on this immersephotography post with a Tim Tam (brand of chocolate biscuit produced largely in Australia) Shooter emoji.

That ignited a discussion on Tim Tam’s cookies.

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Here is his differentiation between a normal and a “crush emoji” comment.

Next Anthony suggests you to tag users next to emojis. This way you get their special attention in your comments.

Look at the following post by @CoffeeEmporiumRouseHill below and note how @crushsocial tags users.

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3. Use relevant emoticons in your Facebook and Twitter updates to increase your engagement by up to 3 times

Facebook already allows its users to use emojis in their status updates to express “how they feel.”

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And emojis have replaced slang even on Facebook. For instance, users generally stray away from ‘lol’ and rather use emoticons to express laughter.

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Recently Facebook also launched 6 new emojis for users in Spain and Ireland to say “love,” “haha,” “yay,” “wow,” “sad,” and “angry.”

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Even Twitter followed Facebook’s lead and was found testing richer responses to a tweet besides the heart symbol.

These richer emoticons present an exciting opportunity for brands (if they get rolled out for users in the US and worldwide). You will get additional personalized data and can conduct sentiment analysis of your audience.

But, for the time being, let’s look at how you can use emojis in your Facebook updates.

Plain text is boring. It does not convey your emotions and enthusiasm.

As per Zazzle media Facebook posts with emoticons have a 57% higher like rate, a 33% higher comment rate and a 33% higher share rate.

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So, emojis are a great way to humanize your brand and set a tone for your post.

Here is an example of how Zappos used a heart emoticon in this status update that attracted 700+ likes and 20+ shares within 24 hours.

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But not all emoticons receive equal response on Facebook.

😀 and 😛 receive the highest engagement.

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You need to be mindful of the context and quantity of their usage. The grinning emoticon does not fit every post, so don’t sprinkle it in every update . And overloading 10 emoticons in a single update is also an overkill.

On Twitter, emoticons work like a charm to fulfill the missing context of emotion and increase social engagement.

Larry Kim from WordStream regularly uses them in his tweets. Sometimes he does not even use words, just an emoji.

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He has seen upto 3 times more engagement in his promoted tweets with emojis versus those without emoji.

Let’s look at one such test he conducted on emoji vs. non-emoji tweet.

As you would expect, the emoji version of the tweet received 25.4% higher engagement and it also had a 22.2 percent lower cost per engagement.

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The key in using emojis, though, is to stay relevant to the update.

If you’re ready to shell out dollars, then you can even consider creating your own custom emoji keyboards.

Burger King is one such brand that created a proprietary emoji set to promote chicken fries.

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4. Use animated symbols in your gmail subject lines to increase your open rates by 20%

As per Litmus, 53% of emails were opened on mobile devices in 2014.

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And since emoticons have long been associated with instant messaging on mobile phones, they make for really stand-out subject lines.

Rene Kulka tested Gmail’s animated emoji symbols in email subject lines on his subscribers that were likely to open the web version of Gmail.

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The result was not just a boost in unique open rates, but more email responses and blog comments (when the mail linked to a blog post).

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Here are the open rates compared by segment: Gmail web vs. rest.

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Even using a relevant unanimated emoticon in your subject lines will boost your email open rates.

So what kind of emoticons are the most widely used?

Here are 15 most popular subject line appearances as per MailChimp (data from its 214,000 campaigns with emoji support that delivered 1.4 billion emojis).

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But remember that relevance is key.

For example, consider these subject lines.

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And now view this second set.

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The first set adds clarity and a dash of color to the subject line.

But doesn’t the second test leave you confused?

It’s because the emoticons used are irrelevant.

Do you feel inspired to test emojis in your subject lines?

If you’re using MailChimp, then you get a direct option under the smiley face tab.

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But what if you’re on another email client or want to test animated emojis?

Then you can refer to the Unicode Method and Twitter Emojis method in this guide by James Johnson.

Word of Warning: For successfully executing subject line emoji campaigns, you’ll first need to research and test your audience preferences, their email clients and their browsing patterns.

Because while Mailchimp will allow you to use all the emoticons you like…

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They might not show properly in all inboxes just yet.

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Gmail might show a colorful and dazzling view of your emoticons in subject lines.

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But other inboxes might cut out the color to only show more monotone emoticons.

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Conclusion

75% of male and 84% of female respondents believe emojis are a better way to express their emotions than words. So, they’re helpful in setting your brand’s tone of voice.

Real-time engagement using emojis can give you tremendous exposure like Bud Light got with this tweet.

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Or you can even try an interactive emoji campaign like Tampico. They created a social media game with 24 emoji combinations. And asked their users to guess the winning emoji combination.

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Shed the myth that only millennials like emojis. Women might like them more than men, but most people across all age groups like using them.

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You can capitalize on the current emoji climate by starting with implementing one of the four strategies I shared in this article. You should see increased engagement and sales.

Have you tested emojis in your marketing campaigns? Which marketing channel do you plan to target for testing emoticons?

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