👨‍👩‍👧‍👦 ❤️ 😀❗
Translation: People love emojis!

But you probably didn’t even need a translation. Like it or not, emojis have become an irreplaceable part of our lives and turned us into expert cypher decoders. They’re fun, expressive and eloquent - a true proof of how an image can be worth a thousand words. And what’s more important, they’re universally understood. We’re so used to seeing these yellow grinning faces that our brains don’t even need to think to turn them into words. So, it’s only natural that marketers couldn't help but try and take advantage of it.

“The use of emojis in mobile and email marketing messages has increased by 775% year-over-year.”
[Jess Nelson of Email Marketing Daily]

A couple of years ago, when the idea of replacing words with funky little images just appeared in the minds of avant-garde marketers, it was truly groundbreaking. An emoji could go a long way and used to be an awesome attention-grabber. In fact, something as minor as a laughing face emoji or a fire emoji was capable of differentiating an email from the others in the recipient’s inbox. It truly was the defining moment of email marketing in 2014.

Not so much anymore. Today, the topic of using emojis in email marketing is nothing but controversial. While some marketers still think that emojis are super hot and are the only way to make your brand come across as a more relatable one, the others are not so fond of it. They believe that emojis are overused and outdated, therefore, tacky and uncreative.

Both these viewpoints have some bits of valid reasoning behind them, but if you ask me, neither of them is true. As always, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. You need to consider both sides to come to the right conclusion about whether emojis are a hit or a miss. Therefore, the correct research question for this article to explore sounds something like this:

To what extent is using emojis in professional emails a cringeworthy practice in 2021?

As a person partial to dropping emojis here and there to spice things up (sometimes, in excessive amounts), I can’t give a fair judgement straightaway. So it looks like we’re going on a journey of weighting all the arguments for and against emojis in modern email marketing to settle the question once and for all!

Buckle up, you’re in for a wild ride!

The pros of using emojis In email marketing

There must be a valid reason for almost every marketer in existence to have raved about emojis being the email marketing messiah at some point of their professional life. In fact, considering the massive number of devoted fans emojis have accumulated over years, there must be at least a couple of very good pros to them.

The main argument for using emojis in email marketing is that they have a huge positive effect on KPIs such as open rate, click rate and response rate. Here are some pretty convincing stats to back it up:

  • The open rate of emails with emojis in the subject line is 56% higher compared to the plain subject lines. [Experian]
  • 44% of users are more likely to purchase products advertised using emojis. [Adobe Emoji Trend Report]
  • Using emojis in the subject line can lead to an increase in unique openings by 29%. [Swiftpage]
  • Using emojis in the subject line can lead to an increase of unique click rate by 28%. [Swiftpage]

If you’re still not convinced about the benefits of using emojis, let me give you a real-life example. It’s easier to believe it when you see it, right?

Just like everyone else these days, I’m subscribed to a fair amount of email lists and regularly receive email marketing campaigns in my inbox. The problem is, they pile up! I physically don’t have enough time to open every single promotional email I receive. Unless they stand out among the rest, they’ll probably get left unread. Guilty as charged! But I’m sure I’m not the only one who does that so, please, allow it.

On a good day, my personal Gmail inbox looks something like this:

Do I even have to ask which subject lines your eyes wandered off to first? 99 times out of 100 it’s the ones that contain emojis within them!

Point proven, no comments needed. Emojis are most definitely a great way to capture the attention of your audience and get your email noticed.

Visibility = opens?

However, recent studies have shown that using emojis in subject lines only affects the open rate occasionally. They work best during the holiday season when people are most susceptible to funkier messages.

This is apparent in the results of the study conducted by ReturnPath. They’ve compared main email marketing metrics of festive emails that used emojis to regular emails without a smiley in the subject line.

Source: ReturnPath

The top-3 seasonal emojis performed roughly 3-4% better than average in terms of open rate. Yet, they’ve also received 2-4 times the average number of complaints. This is a bit of a sticky one still…

On the other hand, Valentine’s Day campaign’s results weren’t so controversial and have proven to be overall good in terms of open rate:

Source: ReturnPath

The only unbiased conclusion that can be drawn from this data is that emojis don’t provide consistent results when it comes to boosting open rates.

It’s okay, though! An increase in open rates isn’t the only reason why marketers might vouch for them. Some of the other perks of using emojis in email marketing include:

  • Emojis help to increase brand awareness. This stems directly from the fact that emojis increase your emails’ visibility in the recipients’ inboxes. Even if the email itself ends up being left unopened, your recipients still get to notice your name.
“Sending an email communication featuring your brand name, and a subject line[…] can still influence a purchase decision.”
[AlchemyWorx]
  • Emojis save a lot of space. As more and more people are checking their inbox from a mobile device instead of going online from a desktop, it’s important that marketers adjust their emails accordingly. The problem is that mobile devices only display the first 50 characters in the email subject line. Emojis are a great way to overcome this obstacle as they let you tell your email recipients more while saying less.
  • Emojis act as modern-day digital ‘body language’. In real life, only 30% of our communication is verbal, the rest is based entirely on body language, tone of voice, eye gaze and gestures. This is why online communication can often be so confusing - lack of non-verbal cues makes it difficult to interpret the message correctly. Unless you’re big on video marketing or have a gif for everything you say, you can’t exactly make your texts move, so you have to settle for the next closest thing - emojis. Using them can create a tone for your entire campaign, and give people a sort of guidance for understanding your message better.
  • Emojis can become a part of your brand image. If you choose a particular brand-specific set of emojis and stick to using them consistently, you can create a strong association between those and your brand.

The Cons of Using Emojis In Email Marketing

All the benefits of using emojis in emails make them sound like a dream, don’t they? Well, if emoji email marketing really was that foolproof, fewer people would have such burning hate toward the concept.

Let’s dot the "I's" and cross the "T's" and have a look at the other side of the argument - the reasons why you would not want to make emojis a part of your email marketing strategy.

Flashy doesn’t always mean good. One of the main arguments against using emojis in email marketing is that they’re deemed to be tacky and unprofessional, which can have detrimental effects on your brand image. While they definitely do grab attention, it doesn’t necessarily mean this attention is positive.

Some even go as far as comparing emojis to slur in subject lines. If you use ‘f*ck’ to attract the attention of your audience you surely will get noticed. The question is will it really be the good type of recognition? Unless being ‘edgy’ isn’t a big part of your brand that your audience loves you for, swearing won’t do you any good.

Nielsen Group has conducted a survey to determine how people perceive emojis in emails. The results were then formed into the word cloud below:

Source: Nielsen

As you can see, using emojis in subject lines has a number of negative connotations. A lot of people associate emojis with lack of creativity, dullness and bore.
This is directly related to other disadvantages of emoji email marketing:

  • It’s time-consuming. If you think that you can add any smiley face to your emails and call it a day, it’s not that easy. Emoji marketing isn’t a ‘set and forget’ type of thing. It requires a lot of research and close attention to current trends. If you don’t know what’s in and what’s out, you won’t score any relevance points but will rather come across as a ‘boomer trying to fit in’.
  • Emojis can decrease the visibility of your emails. There are two reasons why this could be the case. First of all, it’s not 2014 anymore. Back in the day, only 2% of marketers would include emojis in their email marketing campaigns. Today, the percentage is closer to a solid 90%. With the trend being so popular, it might be easier to stand out from the crowd if you don’t include a smiley face in your subject line. Secondly, if you add too many emojis, you risk your emails ending up in the spam folder.
  • It can be detrimental to your brand image. If you fail to use the appropriate emojis, you risk your emails having the wrong tone and getting interpreted not the way you want them to. Usually, it results in a small mishap but can occasionally lead to a big scandal, too!

How to Use Emojis In Email Marketing Effectively

Considering both the pros and cons of using emojis in email marketing, it’s now obvious that they aren’t evil at their core. You just need to know how to use them correctly if you don’t want your campaign to flop.

NetHunt has compiled a list of tips to make sure you’re aren’t being cringy with your emojis.

1. Place your emojis strategically

If you’re looking to improve your open rate with the use of emojis, the first thing you need to do is spice up your subject line. Just make sure you’re being wise with how you do it.

Here are some of the most creative practices you can employ:

  • Use non-common emojis that make you stand out. If everyone in your mailing list subscriber’s inbox uses the same symbols as you do, you won’t be any different. So, if you’re interested in ensuring your emails’ visibility, opt for less commonly used emojis.
    Here’s a list of the most popular ones to look out for:
Source: Phrasee
  • Put emphasis on the key message of your subject line. Frame the most important idea with a couple of emojis to reinforce its importance.
  • Do you have an urgent message that you want to be opened ASAP? Use emojis of a certain colour to emphasise the urgency of your message.

🔥 NetHunt Pro Tip: To avoid your emojis getting cut off in the preview, place them at the beginning of the subject line.

Despite marketers mostly talking about subject lines when discussing the use of emojis in email marketing, it doesn’t mean you’re limited to just those. There are lots of other different ways in which you can introduce emojis to your email marketing strategy.

For example, you could try spicing up your emails by including a couple of emojis in the body. You can get some inspiration from brands like Missguided and Designmodo. Both of them have harnessed the power of emojis to make their campaigns more casual and appealing. Missguided softened the tone of their otherwise pushy re-engagement email with the use of a couple of friendly smiley faces:

While Designmodo managed to add some serious festive vibes to their birthday campaign with just one little emoji!

Alternatively, you could go for a sweet neat emoji in the footer of your email just like Edmunds did:

2. Know your audience

It’s mandatory for you to know who you’re sending out your campaigns to. Not only that allows you to better personalise your emails, but it’s also very useful for adjusting the intensity of your emoji email marketing.

For instance, if you’re targeting mostly male subscribers, you might want to cut down on emojis in emails or even avoid using them altogether. According to a study conducted by Braze, men tend to find emojis more inappropriate than women.

Source: Braze

There’s an age gap, too! Remember that older people might not have the same perception of regular emojis as your Gen Z email marketer, so you’re risking to be left with something like this:

Another big thing to consider when incorporating emojis into your emails is who exactly you target geographically. While emojis are globally understood, different cultures may have different interpretations of them:

  • 🙂 Slightly Smiling Face Emoji. In China, this little smiley guy isn’t a friendly emoji at all. The least enthusiastic of the range of positive emojis available, the use of this emoji implies distrust, disbelief, or even that someone is humouring you.
  • 😇 Smiling Face with Halo. In the western world, you would normally interpret this emoji as an angel, a sign of a good deed. In Asia, however, it’s commonly used as a threat because of its deathly connotation.
  • 🐷 Pig Face. Some animal emojis can be perceived as bullying.

Do your research before you use any of them because even the most innocent emojis can be not what you think they are.

🔥 NetHunt Pro Tip: Unless you’re an adult business, avoid using 🍆, 🍑 and 💦, especially together! They’re almost never used to represent what they really are, but are rather a widespread sexual innuendo.

However, it doesn’t mean that you can’t send out different emails to different groups. In fact, we recommend you segment your email list subscribers and tailor your emojis to appeal to each group separately.

3. Account for different devices and different ESPs to avoid misinterpretation

It’s not just the age gap or cultural differences that can do you dirty. Another thing you need to consider when adding emojis into your email campaigns is whether they’ll be displayed as intended on the other end.

Often, the exact same emojis look very different (and even convey a different emotion) on different devices and in different email clients. You need to be wary of the fact that regardless of the device you send your email from, the recipient will see it the way their device displays it.

Source: Zerobounce

Even worse, the emoji you choose to use might not render at all! If you’re a fan of newer symbols, you need to remember that not all systems support those:

Source: EmailOnAcid

Make sure you use one of the following two services to see how your emojis will render across different platforms:

Similarly, not all ESPs support display of emojis in the subject line:

Source: Campaign Monitor

4. Ensure the emojis you use go well with your brand voice

Think about whether emojis work with the industry your business operates in, who is your target audience and what do they value the most about your business.

If you run a business in Finance, FinTech, Medicine, Big Pharma, Luxury Goods or something related, you might want to skip on the emoji marketing trend. Your customers value your seriousness and exclusivity - adding a smiley face might be a little too obnoxious:

5. Don’t go overboard with emojis

It’s easy to get carried away and have a little too much fun with the smiley faces. However, you need to remember that everything is good in moderation. Look at this example:

Source: ZeroBounce

The email is clearly too tacky. It’s too bright, to the point where your eyes hurt. Emojis here are tasteless, distracting and don’t add anything to the point of the email.

Emojis in email marketing should just add a little something extra and not be the whole message. Remember, they’re a supplement, not a substitute for words.

🔥 NetHunt Pro Tip: Don’t replace words with emojis but rather add the emoji beside. That way, if it doesn’t get rendered, the message will still remain legible.

6. Keep your emojis consistent with the message you want to deliver

Before you act on adding emojis to your emails, stop for a second and ask yourself: ‘Am I adding this emoji just for the sake of adding one?’

If the answer is yes, then don’t! The most unprofessional thing you can do is add a random emoji that doesn’t make any sense just to hop on the trend. If you do decide to participate, you might as well make sure it’s a valuable contribution you make with your smileys.

The best way to incorporate emojis into your emails is to make sure they’re related to the message and add something to it. A great example of this is ModCloth’s campaign dedicated to National Cat Day. They’ve used a cat pun in the subject line, added a little cat emoji to tie it in together and then followed with a custom cat-themed emoji in the body of the email, too!


7. Test! Test! Test!

At last but definitely not least, don’t just assume that something that works for others will appeal to your subscribers, too! Even if it’s a competitor that you share your target audience with, you never know what’s going to happen next.

The best way to safely incorporate emojis into your email marketing strategy is to A/B test different variations and see what gets the best response.

The Verdict

Are emojis cringy? To an extent. Can they still be used in email marketing? To an extent.

While emojis aren’t terrible and can definitely make your email campaigns more exciting, you need to make sure you don’t just rely on smiley faces to save an otherwise dull email.

In 2021, emojis are rather an accessory, not a strategy of its own. And you need to treat it as such - only use it if you know you can style it well!

For some emoji-related inspiration, go to our Pinterest!

😜

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