Emoji Marketing: What Brands Need to Know

Why brands like emo­jis, what brands should con­sid­er, and what dan­gers and ROI emo­jis present.

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 2 comments

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.

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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