If you think emojis are the exclusive domain of teenaged girls and chronic spammers, think again. Emojis are becoming part of the mainstream language of social media. These silent emotional cues affect individual, group, national and brand relationships and are the subject of growing brand experimentation.
Six billion emoticons and emojis are in-play each day driving emotional connections on many levels. Swyft Media reported that 75 percent of Americans use them sending an average of 96 per day. There is evidence that smiling or frowning faces in all their variations trigger reactions in our limbic brains and fire synapses similar to when we recognize a familiar face. In some cases, emojis prompt humans to mimic similar faces or gestures, a primitive empathetic behavior hard wired into our brains. An Instagram study found that faces were six of the top ten emojis in use on their platform.
A new report from LeanPlum, titled Unlocking Engagement and Growth with Emojis,” analyzed 300 million emails and push notifications. The study concluded that the 2823 existing emojis have an affirmative impact on opens, engagement and retention. Part of the answer lies in expanded use. Emoji use increased 163 percent between 2015 and 2016. The average number of emojis per message doubled year-over-year from 1.2 to 2.3. Thirty percent of the 300 million messages studied contained at least one emoji.
The commercial impact of expanded use is tantalizing. Open rates for email containing emojis was 16 percent, 66 percent higher than the 9.6 open rate for plain emails. The impact on push messaging was even greater with open rates using emojis up 254 percent over plain messages.
Apps using emojis in mobile messaging experienced 26 percent fewer uninstalls. Evidently,
emojis preview content and cue expected reactions to their recipients.
The most used emojis – a bag of money, a wrapped golden gift box, a flame, a smiley face with heart eyes, a registered trademark, a red heart or the shining sun – communicate surprise, wealth, excitement, light and generally something worth paying attention to. In the same vein, the least used emojis -- SOS, thumbs down, a sad slit eyed smiley face, a hospital or a downward sloping chart -- signal a bummer of an experience.
To get some perspective on the range and number of emojis, GE has created an Emojis Table of Experiments based on the design of the Table of Elements. Genius maintains an annotated list defining the meaning of most emojis. And Hubspot has a guide to the more obscure emojis.
Logically, the reaction to and impact of emojis is probably dependent on a number of psycho-demographic variables. Age, gender, geography, social class, education and digital facility are obvious suspects. Similarly, emojis integrate into the culture of users and the voice of the social, mobile or digital media they are deployed in. For example, many countries have food emojis that are unique to their populations. Emojis, like vocabulary, need to match and synchronize in a cultural and linguistic context as if they were a part of speech.
A number of brands have reported successful consumer engagement using emojis or have created unique emojis to represent issues, industries or brands. PETA, CNN, Burger King and Bud Light have incorporated emojis into commercial messaging.
As we deepen our understanding of the online and digital experience, design and communication elements once on the fringe, may play a larger and more impactful role than we originally thought. As a generation of digital natives emerges, expectations and reactions will shift. And while emojis strike many of us as childish, cartoonish or goofy, the evidence suggests that they are worth a serious look from brands interested in improving engagement, retention and loyalty.
Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.