As brands continue to evolve their communication strategies, they have increasingly attempted to insert themselves into existing consumer conversations with actual communication tools like emojis. In fact, in the last year, more than a dozen brands have incorporated emojis into their marketing efforts, which they say help them relate to their audiences in more of a fun, no pressure way.
The volume of emoji marketing is increasing, which experts say is merely the next step in the growth and development of a new digital marketing tool.
Here’s a look at how emoji marketing is evolving, why brands are embracing them, what brands need to consider, and what dangers and ROI emojis present.
The Evolution of Emoji Marketing
Michael Brenner, head of strategy at content marketing platform Newscred, said quite simply that more marketers are using emojis because more consumers are using emojis.
“I think it is a natural evolution for any content type. As soon as any communication vehicle becomes popular, brands will start testing whether it can be used to drive engagement for their own target audience,” Brenner said. “Are they being successful? I think it may be too soon to tell, but the growth in examples we are seeing certainly points to emojis as a viable way for brands to test whether they can reach their consumers.”
James Fox, CEO of marketing agency Red Peak, too, said emojis are tied to a natural evolution in the way consumers communicate.
“Throughout time, smart brands have always tuned in to cultural shifts and communication patterns in order to reach their audience in a relevant way. From long-form copy in print ads to banner ads online, now to image-based communications, and everything in between, brands are constantly shifting to stay culturally relevant,” Fox said.
What’s more, he said the trend is toward authenticity, which means “it’s only natural that brands would try to communicate in a way that mimics how real people communicate. If you want to be relevant, you simply cannot leave emojis out of that equation today.”
Fox notes the logistics of actual branded emojis, such as those from Ikea and Mentos, are “still not as smooth as they could be,” but, he said, “I think it’s only a matter of time before it becomes mainstream.”
In other words, Fox said emojis are a powerful form of promotion because they empower self-expression and allow brands to “enter consumer-to-consumer conversations in an utterly unobtrusive, organic way.”
Further, Fox said that once the logistics of branded emojis are a little smoother, “it will be a no-brainer for any brands attempting to reach younger audiences in their own language.”
Why Brands Like Emojis
Brenner agrees that emojis are part of a broader shift in the way brands are attempting to connect with consumers without interrupting them in their daily lives. And, in order to do that, brands are seeking to create content consumers want to engage with, like emojis.
“It’s easy to create articles and blog posts, but what I think brands are realizing is that especially younger consumers are way more attracted to shorter form visual content they can share with friends,” he added.
In addition, Kevin Tumlinson, host of the Wordslinger Podcast, said emojis also help brands add an emotional layer to their marketing efforts and help brands humanize themselves.
“[Emojis are] ubiquitous, and easily recognized. They transcend language and cultural barriers – a smile is a smile no matter where you are in the world. So if a brand wants to evoke an emotion in their audience, emojis are a fast and efficient way to do it,” Tumlinson said. “It also puts a face to the business, which is invaluable. Humans relate to characters, not logos. We want to know there’s someone on the other side of the screen who might actually care about what we think and who we are.”
What Brands Should Consider
However, in order to successfully incorporate emojis, brands must also offer some kind of value.
According to Brenner, the Fourth of July tweet from Bud Light was “like sort of too much about Budweiser and not so much about fans.”
However, he said PETA, with its Cruelty Beyond Words video, was “trying to tap into the emotion of their target audience and it wasn’t really all about them, it was more about the cause.”
In other words, Brenner said brands shouldn’t make themselves the point of the emoji story and points to Taco Bell’s petition for a taco emoji as a good example. Taco Bell is not the only brand that sells tacos, so its quest for a taco emoji demonstrates that the brand understands it’s more about the broader love of tacos than another opportunity for promotion, he noted.
What Dangers Emojis Present
While there is opportunity for brands with emojis, there is also danger.
According to Tumlinson, incorporating emojis “can come off as kind of ‘cutesy,’” which may not necessarily be a good fit for every brand’s messaging.
“This isn’t the kind of thing you should just try for the heck of it,” he said. “Work out how it fits with your overall brand and define why you want to do it before you start.”
In addition, Tumlinson notes there’s a chance an emoji could become dated or even come to represent something marketers wouldn’t want associated with their brands.
“It’s best to use a custom emoji built by a professional designer who knows your brand, and to implement it in such a way that it can be removed without causing a lot of headaches,” Tumlinson said.
Ben Goldman, co-founder of content marketing agency Agency 2625, also points to the potential for consumers to use brand emojis as a joke instead of as a tool, as well as the risk of the emoji itself becoming unintentionally offensive.
Fox agrees there is potential for miscommunication.
“I’d say there are the usual risks of making sure you know what you’re saying – that you’re using emojis to mean the same things that your audience does,” he said.
What’s the ROI?
And, what’s more, there’s not even a guarantee that brands will realize an ROI. But, experts say, the potential rewards outweigh this risk in many cases.
“If it’s done right, and used as part of the ongoing conversation you should be having with your audience, it can do a lot to build good relationships and to create better brand recognition,” Tumlinson said. “Just as in language, an icon such as an emoji can become shorthand for your brand. Do it right, make it original, and make it part of a value-add in your conversation, and it can actually increase your brand reach.
“The key is to back it up with actual human interaction,” he added. “Emojis are meant to convey emotion, and only people can show that. So be people, not just brands.”
Fox agrees emojis can help build loyalty, noting an emoji campaign from Oreo in China last year resulted in 99 million user-generated emojis created in 11 weeks.
“Each of those emojis represents an interaction with the brand that the consumer might not otherwise have,” he said.
Why brands like emojis, what brands should consider, and what dangers and ROI emojis present.