Emojis to Win the Inbox

At last count, there are 2,666 emojis, and billions of them are sent every day — including 5 billion on Facebook Messenger alone! These modern day hieroglyphs pepper text messages, tweets, photo captions, status updates, and even a series of operas and ballets at London’s Royal Opera House. The meteoric rise of emojis has been so extreme that they were actually featured in their own animated movie earlier this summer. Yes, we love emojis, and it doesn’t look like they’ll be going away anytime soon.

Should email marketers embrace emojis the same way that pop culture has?

The bigger question, perhaps, isn’t whether email marketers should use emojis, but whether they will be effective. We’ve all seen emojis pop up in our inbox, featured cleverly in an email subject line. However, just because one brand has taken the leap doesn’t mean we should all follow. Does having an emoji in the subject line achieve the goal of engaging subscribers and compelling them to open?

Yes, they do … at least sometimes.

Interestingly, there are some differences between what resonates in social media and email. The “tears of joy” emoji has ruled social posts for some time, but not email.  A recent emoji study by Return Path noted that email subscribers respond most favorably to an entirely different emoji: poop. One in three people will engage with a subject line that features the poop emoji. At that rate, the poop emoji performed 18 percent better than the next best performing emoji, and a whopping 57 percent better than the average subject line.

While it may be a stretch to incorporate the poop emoji into your next subject line, new data points to certain seasonal emojis which may help to capture subscriber attention better than the average promotional email, which has a 21 percent read rate:

  • February: lipstick kiss (24 percent read rate)
  • March: Ireland flag (27 percent read rate)
  • April: white bunny (24 percent read rate)
  • July: hamburger (25 percent read rate)
  • October: spider (23 percent read rate)
  • December: family (28 percent read rate).

Keep in mind, however, that not every emoji provides a boost to email read rates. For every successful “lipstick kiss,” there’s an unsuccessful emoji counterpart:

  • January: clinking champagne glasses (9 percent read rate)
  • March: beer mug (17 percent read rate)
  • April: globe (15 percent read rate)
  • June: hammer (16 percent read rate)
  • October: skull (14 percent read rate)
  • November: corn (18 percent read rate).

As you think about your upcoming email campaigns, you might consider adding a fresh approach by incorporating an emoji. However, before you hit “send,” heed these words of caution:

  • Test first. Every audience is different. Test emojis with small groups of subscribers to measure how your audience will respond before sending out to your full list.
  • Consider your brand. Emojis simply aren’t appropriate for every brand. Think carefully about your brand identity and voice, as well as your customers’ expectations.
  • Don’t overdo it. It’s easy to get carried away with the use of emojis. Hold back just a bit, and add emojis like you would a fashion accessory or special ingredient — sparingly!
  • Have fun! Unleash your creativity in ways that makes sense for your brand and sample a variety of emojis. After all, there are more than 2,500 to choose from!

Emojis can be a great way to sprinkle some new life into your email subject lines. Embrace them wisely, test and measure like you would any new email feature, and optimize the approach based on the results you achieve.

Bonnie Malone leads the consulting, client training, and knowledge and editorial organization of Return Path, an email data solutions provider.

Bonnie is passionate about excellent customer experience. With a background in marketing, merchandise buying and retail management, she helps companies stay relevant amid the changing digital landscape. Bonnie leads the knowledge and consulting teams at Return Path, the global leader in email deliverability. She is an active Email Experience Council committee member, featured speaker for events, and writes monthly for the Return Path blog and Total Retail.