??? Marketing meets Emoji: 7 Best Practices ???
Although they’ve existed since at least 1999, it took until 2015 for emoji to go mainstream. That was the year the Oxford Dictionaries selected ? (“face with tears of joy”) as “Word” of the Year. It was also the year that Apple broadened its emoji library with racially diverse icons of people, hand gestures, and faces.
Also in 2015:
- Domino’s allowed customers to order pizza by tweeting emoji
- Kim Kardashian launched her uber-popular Kimoji app, which grossed $1 million per minute at its peak
- Chevrolet released a press release written entirely in emoji
And emoji continue to dominate headlines these days, whether it’s the new set of 72 included in iOS 10, the UK judge who used a smiley face in an official ruling, or the restaurants adopting all-pictorial menus. Clearly, the world has become obsessed with tiny, (mostly) wordless iconography, and marketers have caught on. Emoji can create new connections between companies and consumers, and branded apps like Kimoji can become wildly lucrative on their own.
But not everyone loves the current state of emoji. To many observers, brands’ attempts to stay #OnTrend with the #MillennialDemographic come off cringeworthy af ?. To help marketers avoid similar blunders, we’ve come up with a 7-point list of best practices for communicating with emoji:
1. Get Familiar with the Facts ???
?? Emoji originated in Japan roughly 17 years ago. Though superficially similar to emoticons—“:-)” for instance—emoji (sometimes pluralized as “emojis”) are discrete symbols rather than combinations of text, and are meant to connote not only feelings but a world of activities, places, food and drink, cultural markers, and so on. In fact, the word “emoji,” a compound formed from the Japanese e (絵, “picture”) and moji (文字, “character”) has nothing to do with the word “emotion.”
? There are many different emoji “keyboards,” but there’s only one official set built into Unicode, a system that standardizes symbols across platforms and devices. In order to add a new Unicode Standard character, you have to submit a proposal to the Unicode Consortium, the nonprofit organization responsible for managing and approving emoji. Getting an idea through isn’t as impossible as it may sound—brands such as Taco Bell have successfully petitioned the Unicode Consortium to include new symbols, and grassroots campaigns have achieved similar results. You can find a list of updates and current emoji candidates at Emojipedia.
2. Pay Attention to Meaning ????
? Emoji can have lots of different implications aside from their obvious meaning. The eggplant emoji (?) is one infamous example, but there are dozens more commonly used to signify complex feelings and opinions. Many are innocuous: ? (“hot”/”fire”, meaning “amazing”), ? (playful embarrassment), ? (sometimes used to refer to a bug in software development), ?☕️ (“but that’s none of my business”). Search for the emoji you intend to use before you use them to avoid sending the wrong message to your audience.
3. Don’t Overanalyze It ????
?? It’s a woman crossing her arms, but what does it really mean? Much like explaining a joke, to overanalyze an emoji is to miss the point. Usually, the point is obvious—and if it isn’t, well, that’s probably the point. Don’t waste time and energy analyzing everything you see, and avoid giving your audience a message to “decode”; emoji are meant to enhance communication rather than obstruct it.
?? Some emoji are totally ambiguous. And that’s okay. Sometimes, the best way to communicate how you feel is with an Easter Island head ?or a Space Invader ?. Or, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, sometimes a whale playing a saxophone is a whale playing a saxophone is a whale playing a saxophone ??. Know when to let your emoji speak for themselves.
4. Keep Technological Limitations in Mind???
?? Complicating the sometimes-elusive meaning of emoji is the fact that although there’s only one standard set, the appearance of emoji varies by device and operating system. Google’s smiley faces, for example, are decidedly mushier than Apple’s. Compare it to the contrasts between typefaces: a phrase printed in Impact looks entirely different than a phrase printed in Comic Sans. Consider how the emoji you intend to use could differ by platform—something that looks like a grin could appear as a sneer to some viewers.
? And then there are the times when emoji don’t show up. Once the Unicode Consortium approves a new emoji, developers have to code that emoji into their platforms and release an update. Some devices and operating systems take a longer time to update than others, and some older ones don’t support emoji at all. In either case, the emoji in question will display as an empty white box (□). If you’re marketing with emoji, be careful to test your message on various devices first. Know when to embed emoji directly into text and when to use images instead.
5. Use Your Words ????????????????????⁉️
?? Emoji are not replacing language. I repeat: emoji are not replacing language. A system of pictographs may seem like a modern version of hieroglyphics, or the beginning of a language like Mandarin Chinese, but the key distinction is that language has a widely agreed-upon meaning while emoji do not. And until they do, individual interpretations will continue to cause errors in communication.
?????????????????? Plus, meaning varies across cultures. Even seemingly clear symbols like “person with folded hands” (?) can have multiple meanings: begging, prayer, or a high five.
⁉️ All of which is why a PR stunt like Chevy’s all-emoji press release just doesn’t work. Emoji can’t carry the expressive weight of language on their own. The company may have meant, “It’s the best new thing since sliced bread for stylish and socially connected people,” but readers interpreted the eleven-character string as “Yes, new bread gets all dolled up to see a twin-Playboy bunny burlesque, text all the boys and girls from your phone.”
6. Consider the Role of Your Brand ???®️??
??? Think before you emoji. Are these colorful little symbols adding to your message or getting in its way? Does your use of emoji come from an authentic place, or is it bandwagon-hopping? Consider the shape and content of the emoji as well: What feeling are you attempting to get across? Do these pictorial representations of ideas match up with your brand and tone?
®️ Decide what kind of emoji you want to use. The Unicode emoji palette is still somewhat limited: humans make millions of facial expressions, and there’s certainly more than one type of beer. But while a branded emoji keyboard gives you more control, it’s restricted by the people who choose to download it.
? Pay attention to tone. Emoji are not a catch-all for everything cool, funny, and trendy. They can have an edge, and they can contain real, human information. Savvy marketers understand how to read emoji to understand how an audience is non-verbally responding to a message. For instance, Facebook’s expanded reaction options—which include “sad,” “angry,” “surprised,” and “laughing” emoji—provide a lot of data about how consumers feel when viewing an ad:
Clicking ❤️ is easier than typing “I love this mattress.” But again, emoji are always open to interpretation. Does ? mean “this ad depresses me,” or “I wish I could afford this,” or something else entirely?
? Stay ahead of the curve. Emoji are probably not a forever thing. They will likely fall out of style, as faster, even clearer, or more fun forms of communication emerge. Already, the addition of stickers has transformed Facebook, Snapchat, and iMessage, giving users more options to express themselves—and allowing brands to create their own new expressive tool sets.
7. Dive In ???????
??????? Emoji are everywhere, and seemingly not done yet. And since it seems we haven’t yet hit peak emoji, enjoy them for what they bring to the everyday. They’re fueling creativity, promoting diversity, and helping people of all ages communicate better. So, whether you’re developing a branded Sticker Pack for the new iMessage, proposing a new icon to the Unicode Consortium, or simply spicing up your subject lines with some smiley faces, #thinkinpictures and remember to have a little fun. Woot.