From emojis for branding emails to those that are more evocative, we’ll look at the potential of these small but effective graphic elements that can add expressiveness and immediacy to campaigns.
There are few things that symbolize modern communication needs as well as emojis: the central role of images (to which text is subordinate) and the need for immediacy, for being expressive in the fastest way possible.
To understand emojis’ degree of relevance today, it suffices to know that:
- There is a World Emoji Day
- The Emoji Movie played in theaters worldwide, and earned 82.5 million dollars in American box offices in the first 6 weeks after its release.
- In 2015 the British Oxford Dictionary named emoji the word of the year. This: 😂
Emojis are all the rage: they have become part of written expression, including in chats, social networks, and emails.
This post will focus precisely on this last channel, looking at how brands can enrich the subject lines of their communications with smiley faces, drawings, and all types of stylized figures. But first let’s take a step backwards to see how and where emojis were born.
Emoji: short (uncertain) historical profile
The identity of the initial creator is still debated: some attribute them to Shigetaka Kurita, some to Nicolas Loufrani, and some to Scott E. Fahlman, who however – to be precise – introduced emoticons in messaging programs in 1982. Emojis are instead the graphic evolution of emoticons.
Let’s go far back: it was 1971 when Franklin Loufrani patented the first smiley face, using it in the newspaper France Soir to highlight positive news. More than 20 years later, in 1997, Franklin’s son Nicolas Loufrani digitized his father’s smiley face.
Then they appeared in cell phones, thanks to a partnership between Loufrani and Alcatel. Next in 2001 the Official Smiley Dictionary was published, which soon came to include 887 smiley faces divided by category: extravagance, flags, moods, sports, and so on.
Emojis have been on an uphill course ever since then; going back to email marketing, Jess Nelson of Email Marketing Daily calculated that the use of emojis in emails has increased by 775% on an annual basis.
The advantages of emojis in subject lines
📧 + 🙂 = ⚡
Emojis in emails let you express the content of the subject quickly, immediately and with a greater degree of expression. Beyond being an additional resource for improving recipients’ engagement, according to a study conducted by Experian, 56% of the brands that used emojis in the subject line of their promotional campaigns found an increase in unique openings.
Emojis to copy ✂ and paste 📋
Here is a list of sites you can use for your emojis:
The 4 ways to use emojis in subject lines
1. The iconic emoji to brand the subject line
Let’s start with the least common use. It could be the simplest one, but it turns out to be the most sophisticated. It consists in selecting an emoji and electing it as a distinctive graphic sign of all sendings. An excellent example is that of On, a running shoes brand known for its Cloud line.
On inserts the cloud emoji at the beginning of all its emails: ☁, a sort of natural extension of the brand.
The cloud has the undoubted advantage of making the brand’s emails easily identifiable in recipients’ inboxes.
Death to Stock is another perfect example, as it inserts a skull emoji in all of its emails’ subject lines.
This use is highly iconic, clearly illustrating how emojis can be much more than small decorations. With threatening clouds and human bones, they’re certainly not the most cheerful emojis around, but are definitely examples of the most courageous and experimental brands.
2. Emojis as a visual representation of the copy
The use of graphics to animate an email’s subject line is no less effective. This is the most frequent use and is closely connected to an email’s copy. Its easier to start with the examples in this case:
In these subject lines, the emojis are linked to a single word; they are graphic extensions of individual key words, which condense the concept underlying the communication sent.
3. Emojis that substitute words
We ❤ u is the best known and most widespread case. Replacing words with emojis is a way to add expressiveness to a subject line, offering an equivalent visual/graphic for a word and saving characters, giving the subject line a concise style and the right size.
4. Evocative emojis
Let’s talk about all those cases where emojis are not connected to a specific word, but refer to an implicit context. The emails that are usually sent at the beginning of seasons are excellent examples, as they seek to emphasize the transition to the new period of the year. Here is the email Trenitalia sent me in mid-March:
The emoji only makes sense if you consider the context (spring), since there is nothing in the copy that refers to good weather. In the same way, snowmen, sleds, and snowflakes work for the winter.
In an alternative to seasonal logic, we also find emojis like lightning ⚡ to indicate opportunities and occasions that must be taken advantage of immediately, or similarly fire 🔥, to underline the potential of a product, the effectiveness of a tool, or the growth opportunity offered by a training course.
4 Best Practices
- Listen to the target
Always consider the type of audience you are sending your emails to. Sometimes emojis risk being out of place. We have emphasized their excellent visual impact, yet for some recipients this impact could have the opposite effect, causing the email to wind up in their trash folder or even worse, their spam folder.
- Don’t exaggerate
Use emojis sparingly, studying the right opportunities to use them. The risk (see above) is that you’ll add a spammy tone to emails and lower opening rates.
- Check compatibility
By now emojis are visible on all major email clients, but we recommend always running a test first to check compatibility.
- Perform A/B testing
As for testing, there is a fundamental tool for experimenting which emoji and, in general, which subject line works best for your emails: A/B tests let you compare two different versions of a message sent to different samples of recipients to see which email gets the highest open rate.