How to Increase Engagement with Emojis Marketing

in Strategy

How to Increase Engagement with Emojis Marketing

It’s incredible to think that these tiny digital ideograms created by Shigetaka Kurita became a language on their own.

Colour me impressed, they even got their own holiday – the 17th of July is the official World Emoji Day!

There is more – they have grown to be an irrevocable part of digital communication to such an extent that the scientists confirm their ability to affect emotions of people, who see them.

This post will let you in on the emoji marketing secrets and explain how you can successfully increase engagement with emojis marketing on your online channels without appearing out of touch.

Emoji Fun Facts

There are 2,666 emojis in the Unicode Standard as of May 2017, reports Emojipedia.

In 2015, for the first time ever the word of the year was the universally loved ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ – ????

Originally meaning pictograph, the word emoji comes from Japanese e (絵, “picture”) + moji (文字, “character”). The resemblance to the English words emotion and emoticon is purely coincidental. (Source: Wikipedia)

In the first large-scale study of emoji usage, the researchers at the University of Michigan analysed over 427 million messages input via the Kika Emoji Keyboard and announced that the Face With Tears of Joy was the most popular emoji.

The Emoji Sentiment

The mystery of how big of a deal this is dissipates once you dig into the actual emoji research, namely emoji sentiment analysis. A map of emoji sentiment was published in December 2015 indicating what emotions are caused by all existing at the time emojis against three-point scale: positive reaction (colour green), neutral reaction (colour yellow) and negative reaction (colour red). How come emojis are able to elicit strong emotions? To put it simply, first emoticons and then emoji filled the void in digital communication that nothing else had been able to remedy with the same dexterity and popularity before – by adding what the author of Texting Toward Utopia defines as ‘ the nuances of face-to-face or voice-to-voice interaction […]which are necessarily lacking when you’re interacting by way of the screen’.

“Emojis are actually making us more effective communicators in the digital communication space because they’re filling in something that’s actually missing… the non-verbal cues that tell us how the message should be interpreted’, Vyvyan Evans, the author of Emoji Code.

In fact, a research by TalkTalk Mobile conducted in 2015 found that emojis are the fastest growing language ever, with eight out of 10 people using the symbols and icons to communicate. The survey even revealed that 72% of 18- to 25-year-olds found it easier to put their feelings across using emojis than with words.

Still wondering how come an emoji can influence the recipient of a message more than the text itself? Actually, the conclusion has nothing to do with the power of emoji itself- humans are naturally inclined to pay more attention to images because our brains process them faster. According to a study by 3M, the corporation behind Post-it Notes, visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text, which means you can deliver your point quicker with an emoji. The finding also points a finger at the Internet speech preferences – we do like to read posts that are short and punchy and naturally gravitate towards such content.

What Do Emojis Mean for Marketing?

Well, quite a lot. Larry Kim wrote in 2015 that adding an emoji to a tweet increases engagement by 25.4%. Twitter is the prime location for emoji bonanza – giants such as Coca-Cola and Taco Bell took their emoji business to Twitter, cashing in on the correct assumption that users love to participate in playful brand stunts when they feel the companies speak their language. In addition, Twitter’s functionality makes it possible to trigger an emoji with a branded hashtag – an attractive option to strengthen brand identity and invite virtual crowds to the party.


Game of Thrones Twitter Campaign 2017

The natural affinity of Twitter users to express themselves with emojis is unquestionable. You can witness it with this real time Twitter emoji tracker.

Instagram is not falling behind – in 2015 the platform conducted a research analysing emoji usage and it came up with some staggering statistics:

Now, nearly 50 percent of all captions and comments have an emoji or two. Instagram’s research has also revealed that folks in Finland insert emojis most frequently, with 63 percent of all text posted from the country containing at least one graphic. The US (38 percent) takes the ninth place in that list, after France (50 percent), UK (48 percent), Germany (47 percent), Italy (45 percent), Russia (45 percent), Spain (40 percent) and Japan (39 percent).

Instagram’s parent brand, Facebook, can also benefit from a smiley face or praying hands, reporting that ‘posts that use emoticons have a 57% higher like rate, a 33% higher comment rate, and a 33% higher share rate’. Recently revealed Facebook emoji usage stats present even more interesting numbers: ‘more than 60 million emojis are used on Facebook each day, paling in comparison to the more than 5 billion that are used on Messenger daily’, writes Adweek.


On top of increased post engagement, emojis have the distinct ability to humanise your brand and create the sense of relatability, which in turn puts your brand on the same level as your customer. Needless to add, brands, which try to create the aspirational world (‘You need to fulfil certain requirements to use brand x’) rather than positioning themselves as readily available to solve your problem will see a smaller share of voice as the time goes by.

How to Incorporate Emojis into Your Marketing Strategy?

You know the emojis matter but you are not sure how to seamlessly plot them into your content plan without missing the mark or seeming fake. Understandable – your brand has a tone of voice and the way you express it online needs to be harmonious. Take note of the following steps when choosing to play the emoji game.

#1 Match Emojis to Your Audience

“The approach we use is going to be much different than a company targeting Millennials in terms of what emojis we use. While we might use a simple smiley face in an email subject line, a business looking to really grab the attention of a younger target market might use more edgy emojis,” explained Buzz Burgett of Northwest Mechanica to The Entrepreneur, exhibiting more than just a basic understanding of the dynamics of emoji language – he realised that emojis, just like the regular language, differentiate in terms of being generic and demographic-specific.

Emojis are versatile in terms of being commonly understood but your target audience will have emojis preferences. Your dream clients will use certain emojis more and give cold shoulders to other symbols. Make sure to spy on your ideal customers’ online behaviour and get a sense of what emojis they tend to gravitate towards and which ones are expressive of their lifestyle.

For example, back in 2015 Norwegian Air Shuttle decided to target specifically millennial audience with their new direct flight connecting Copenhagen and Las Vegas. They chose to promote their offer on Instagram (a platform native to Millennials) using emojis, a language loved and popularised by them. They had eight influencers (another representation of how well they researched their target group) post an image of an URL exclusively made up of emojis. On the day of the campaign launch, 600 people visited the site, reached over 500,000 users and generated 4,171 likes on all promotional posts in total.


#2 Match Emoji to Your Audience’s Tone of Voice

It does not matter what industry you are sitting in when choosing to use emoji marketing. However, it does matter who your audience is. I once had a client tell me that emojis are not to be used on their social media accounts because they do not match their luxurious profile. I would have agreed with him had he not tried to reach influential and young urban celebrities.

However, don’t fall into the trap of assuming that every single emoji will be suitable for your brand.

Let’s look at the memorable House of Fraser emoji fail from 2016. House of Fraser is a British premium department store known for upper-shelf goods. Last year for unknown reasons the brand suddenly filled its Twitter feed with emojified photos, trying to speak the lingo of the younger generation. Except 1) they are known for a refined and classy tone of voice and 2) that target group does not shop in HoF stores unless mum is paying.

Imagine the confusion:



Pro tip: instead of plunging right into the conversation, start small – select couple of emojis matching your brand’s personality and introduce them gradually.

#3 Be Wary of Double Meaning

When you look closely at the map of emoji sentiment and what emojis are inducing positive reactions versus negative reactions, you might get a little bit confused why some innocent symbols have negative sentiment. While originally emojis have been generic communication aids, some became appropriated to ambiguously represent cultural topics, such as the nail painting emoji 💅 , which stands for carefree attitude and sassy women having none of it.

Do your research and figure out the cultural and implied meaning of your chosen emoji as well as in what way your target demographics use them. You can use Emojipedia to see what emojis are available and also what they look like on different software or operating systems.

Good examples of how deceitfully innocent emojis can be are two symbols: peach and eggplant.


In Durex’s campaign aimed to encourage the use of condoms, it took ownership of the eggplant emoji due to its phallic shape and heavily incorporated emoji language into their communication obviously targeting younger generations.

#4 Emoji-Talk Naturally

Use emojis naturally rather than with the intention to attract people otherwise you are giving off a whiff of desperation. How to distinguish between the right dose and trying too hard?

First of all, the way you use emojis should emulate the way one would write a personal message – this is the make or break of emojis marketing for a lot of brands.

“There is a constant push and pull between people finding new ways to express themselves online, and companies trying to make money off that expression,” Luke Stark, a digital media scholar, told the New York Times, hammering the point home – if you are trying to take advantage of a trend for financial gain, you will be found and online-shamed.


When emoji marketing was fresh and exciting, many brands went on the emoji craze creating branded emoji keyboards, IKEA and Burger King being prime examples. However, the novelty of custom emoji quickly worn off, something that could have been avoided had the brands decided to incorporate existing emojis into their communication.

The best example of a brand, which was ahead of the game and appropriated one particular emoji creating a cohesive online front is Domino’s Pizza. Pizza slice icon became their signature and the centrepiece of their Domino’s Emoji Ordering campaign in 2015 when customers with an online DP account could post a tweet with pizza slice emoji and this way order a pizza.

Years later the slice is still there:

Similarly, PETA, an organisation that does not pull its punches, tied existing emojis to their animal mistreatment awareness Cruelty Beyond Words 2014 campaign.

The key takeaway is to sound natural and take things slow as opposed to using emojis without the goal of connecting with your audience. A great example of taking it too far is the 2015 press release for Chevrolet 2016 Cruze written in emojis…

#5 Involve Your Audience

When it comes to emoji and engagement, many brands successfully ran posts along the lines of ‘Respond with an emoji to enter the draw’ or ‘Comment with your favourite emoji to let us know …’. Direct request to express yourself in the simplest way possible rarely goes unanswered. The funkier the poll, the better…

Facebook extended its emoji offering by adding reactions and feeling statuses with emojis assigned to different emotions. This gives you the tools to start getting personal with how your brand is behaving on social media. Speaking of which…

#6 Make It Personal

Many marketing experts argue that emojis give brands a human demeanour. When talking about getting closer to your audience, don’t forget about email marketing.

Emojis marketing and email marketing mix well – 56% of brands using emoji in their email subject lines had a higher unique open rate, according to a report by Experian.

A study by the University of Missouri-St.Louis, examined the effects of “smiley emoticons” on the various relational outcome and the effects of emotions on the perceived credibility of the sender in task-oriented and socio-emotional contexts. The researchers found that ‘Participants in a task-oriented condition actually liked the sender more if the sender used an emoticon rather than if the sender used no emoticon’. Going further, they confirm that actually using emoticons is desirable in business emails: ‘in order to build credibility or professionalism, using emoticons in an email might create a positive expectancy violation by being friendly, emotional, and personal’.

The findings go hand in hand with the research by the Florida Institute of Technology, which concluded that using emoticons in business emails ‘reduced the negativity effect in the business-related email messages, such that the same message sounded less negative when paired with a positive (smiley) emoticon.

Campaign Monitor compiled these two amazing guides on emojis in email marketing, which you should read if you want to start adding smileys to your subject lines. Read the real scoop on email emoji in subject line, and a ‘Using Emoji and Symbols in Your Email Subject Lines’ guide.


As Christian Brucculeri, CEO of Snaps, says:

“Currently 270 [billion] messages are sent per day and somewhere around 6 [billion] emojis [are sent] per day. Assuming the projected growth holds, this medium will become more important, not less.”

When you decide to venture into the land of emoji, make sure you remember that emojis should be tailored to

  • your target audience (What emojis are they using?)
  • your brand (Will these emojis express the values of my brand?) and
  • your message (Is this emoji appropriate? Could it be misunderstood?)

Whenever choosing emojis to accompany your branded message, don’t forget that, while teenagers use them aggressively and are fluent in the art of decoding them, you are tuning into an existing conversation as a commercial entity with an agenda. Be respectful of that, don’t try to steal the thunder and appear cool. Instead be clear, supportive of what makes your fans tick, and stay relevant.

If you check these boxes, your audience will respond.

Blog Cover Photo by Kyle Sterk on Unsplash