Analyzing the Impact of Emojis: Research on Emojis in Email Marketing

Emoji Research: How Emojis Are Transforming Email Marketing

Digital communication lacks the subtleties of facial expressions and voice intonation, so it might sometimes seem too abstract. That's where emojis come in — tiny symbols that infuse our messages with life and emotion and bridge the inherent emotional gap. They are an integral part of informal communication, emojis are even OK in the workplace now. So if emojis are such an established part of our lives and are even used in more formal communication, how effective are they in marketing, specifically, in email marketing?In this research, we explore the evolution, impact, and occasional controversy surrounding emojis in email marketing, aiming to uncover the delicate balance between perception and effectiveness.We analyzed multiple business reports of market-leading companies, marketing research, and scientific publications, and added our own data to understand if emojis can enhance email marketing or do the opposite instead.

Research methodology

In this research, to get to comprehensive conclusions, our initial step was to collect data and analyze emoji usage in email newsletters sent via Selzy. We analyzed 27,607 real email campaigns of various business sectors including tourism, e-commerce and EdTech.

We also delved into market research, business reports, studies from other enterprises, and scientific articles. Choosing sources from the last two years was crucial, given the evolution in emoji usage in marketing, so our primary goal was to rely on the most current and credible publications.

Key data points

  • Companies include emojis in 40.1% of their email campaigns.
  • 60% of subject lines with emojis perform better than those without.
  • 37.2% of email campaigns place emojis at the beginning of subject lines, with 19.5% using them at the end, and 10.6% in the middle.
  • 32.4% of email campaigns use more than 2 emoji in subject lines, while Mailchimp research suggests using 1 emoji per subject line.
  • Lower open rates (16,9%) and open click rates (2,7%) were found in emails with emojis compared to emails without them (17,9% and 3,1%), due to lack of proper email list hygiene.
  • In each studied industry, alongside universally attention-grabbing emojis (e.g. 🔥, ⚡, 💥), there are field-specific ones. For instance, the education sector uses a 🎓, while tourism opt for 🌴 and ✈️.

Emergence and global adoption of emojis in digital communication

Before exploring our research discoveries about the use of emojis in email marketing, it's important to recognize the role emojis play in shaping global digital communication.

  • The start of emoji usage in 1999 on Japanese mobile phones was a transformative moment in digital communication, initially confined to Japan. (Unicode) Before that, people had used emoticons (for example, “:)” or “:-)”) and kaomoji (¯\_(ツ)_/¯)
  • The later integration into Unicode (the global standard for multilingual support on devices) in 2010 not only led to emoji unification and internationalization, but made them popular globally. (Wired)
  • The following 2011 emoji went viral after Apple’s worldwide emoji keyboard launch.
  • From that point onward, the integration of emojis into digital language, and thus into cultures around the world, has become unstoppable. Emojis have become an established element of pop culture: movies, music videos, and social media. But things got even more interesting when emojis started to be used in educational methods, mental health apps and much more.

Emojis have evolved beyond regional novelties and become integral to global digital culture. Their integration into diverse aspects of communication, from entertainment to education, shows how significant they can be. It became essential to recognize the power of emojis in conveying emotions and enhancing communication, both in personal and professional settings.

The influence of emojis in marketing communications

Emojis play a pivotal role in marketing, influencing consumer emotions and purchase behavior. Research supports their positive impact on engagement, customer satisfaction, and even post-purchase communication.

  • Smiley emojis in ads evoke positive feelings and buying interest. (ScienceDirect)
  • Using emojis in ads works better for products that bring joy (hedonic) rather than practical (utilitarian) ones. (ScienceDirect)
  • Human face emojis used by service employees create a perception of warmth but may vary service satisfaction based on relationship norms. (ResearchGate)
  • Face emojis showing positive emotions can unconsciously influence emotions. (Springer)
  • Emoji use in post-purchase communication reduces customer anxiety and boosts satisfaction and likability.
  • Emoji positively influence customers' intentions to repurchase and recommend (eWOM) behavior which increases brand awareness.
  • Comparing emoji and no-emoji tweets, the emoji version consistently outperformed with a 25.4% higher engagement rate and a 22.2% lower cost per engagement on Twitter. (Wordstream)

While emojis hold plenty of opportunities for marketing, it’s important to use them strategically. Recognizing their nuanced impact can enhance marketing effectiveness across various platforms.

The power of emojis in email marketing

Analyzing the impact of emojis on marketing reveals a major transformation within the email marketing landscape. Emojis have significant power in email marketing, from standing out in crowded inboxes to influencing user emotions when used strategically based on brand values and audience.

According to Selzy analysis, 40.1% of all emails sent by companies contain emojis.

The power of emojis in email marketing

Need for optimizing email content updates

Our research findings show many advantages associated with the strategic integration of emojis in email marketing campaigns.

1. Set emails apart from the rest

Users are about 3 times more likely to choose email subject lines with emojis (33%) compared to no-emoji ones (9%). When users are sorting through an inbox, emojis make emails stand out, capturing the users' attention. (NN Group)

2. Express emotions

Emotions drive potential customers to take action, and emojis are excellent at doing that. A smiling face or celebratory image can at least brighten someone's day or make them curious to know more about a brand.

  • The majority of U.S. emoji users (88%) express a heightened sense of empathy when someone incorporates emojis in their communications. (Adobe)
  • 75% of U.S. emoji users feel a stronger sense of connection to people who use emojis. (Adobe)
  • 68% of U.S. emoji users appreciate the use of emojis at the workplace, with 69% associating them with increased likability and 59% with enhanced credibility. (Adobe)
  • In 2018, a study revealed that messages with suitable emojis were perceived as easier to understand and more believable than those without or with contextually inappropriate emojis. (ResearchGate)

3. Positively influence open rates and CTR

Emojis may positively influence email open rates and click-through rates (CTR) by enhancing visual appeal, conveying emotions, and creating a more engaging and relatable communication style. Understanding the influence of emojis on email open rates and CTR may be helpful for ensuring messages effectively reach and engage the intended audience.

  • Regardless of the usual level of interaction in a particular channel, emojis can enhance engagement. Specifically, the use of emojis in emails increases the likelihood of customers opening the email. Emojis also contribute to an increase in the number of times email gets opened and CTR. (Emerald Insight)
  • In the Phrasee experiment, 60% of subject lines with emojis performed better than the same subject lines without emojis. (Phrasee) Their data also shows that there is a greater possibility to increase subject line performance with emojis than to decrease it.

Emojis in subject lines are more likely to increase their effectiveness than decrease it

  • SEJ’s research revealed that having emojis in email subject lines results in a higher click-through rate, with 73% of campaigns achieving a superior CTR of 64.71%. (Search Engine Journal) Keep in mind though that this is SEJ’s results for their niche and audience (SEOs, marketers, and entrepreneurs) and not a universal rule, unfortunately.
  • Data suggests that the most popular emojis are not necessarily the highest-performing ones. In other words, just because certain emojis are widely liked or frequently used doesn't mean they are the most successful in achieving specific goals or outcomes. (Phrasee)

5-year trend of the most effective
and the most popular emoji

4. Boost customer engagement and build loyalty

Emojis attract attention and prompt interactive behaviors from customers. (Emerald Insight)

They influence how our brains process language, emotions, and memories, triggering a more complex brain activation pattern during reading and memory retrieval compared to using words alone. (PLOS) This means that you can go deeper into users’ consciousness using emojis.

5. Communicate brand personality

Emojis are fun and engaging and can help your brand appear more lively and welcoming. Combining emojis with text gives you a spark and enhances your tone of voice.

In 2022, HubSpot published a post about the best subject lines. By examining attention-grabbing subject lines and exploring the content on the associated websites, it becomes clear that these subject lines are closely aligned with and representative of the overall branding of the company.

Emojis reinforce brand positioning

Embracing emojis in email marketing requires a delicate balance. Only by understanding their psychological impact and leveraging them strategically can you improve engagement and brand perception.

Navigating challenges in emoji usage for effective email marketing

While emojis add a dynamic layer to emails, their interpretation can be subjective, leading to potential pitfalls. Overuse, cultural misinterpretation, and improper context can impact how users perceive email content.

1. Low-quality email lists

The strategic use of emojis starts with determining who the recipient is and what has to be communicated to them. There are several aspects to this: defining the audience, maintaining the email list, and delivering a specific idea and message to the audience.

Selzy email analysis indicated lower open rate (16.9%) and open click rate (2.7%) in emails with emojis compared to ones without (17.9% and 3.1%).

After some investigation, we found that the reason was the quality of email lists — some of them were not properly kept up to date and were in need of a thorough cleaning.

Performance in emoji 
and non-emoji emails, primary analysis excluding side variables

Email list hygiene leads to smarter use of resources, as it ensures that only those who are interested in receiving emails actually get them. Nowadays, email list hygiene has become a part of audience segmentation and keeping your customer lists up to date. A strategic approach to email list hygiene and segmentation comes with multiple benefits beyond cost-cutting: personalization, stronger customer connections, and more effective marketing campaigns.

There is evidence that audience segmentation increases email performance. For instance, segmented campaigns may see a 14.31% increase in opens and a 100.95% rise in clicks compared to non-segmented ones (MailChimp), while 80% of customers show an increased likelihood to make a purchase after a personalized experience, with 55% of marketers aiming to enhance their personalization capabilities this year. (Litmus)

2. Excessive use of emojis

The choice of more than 3,000 emojis, when harmonized with text, can enhance user recall, evoke positive emotions, and influence brand loyalty.

The negative sentiment towards emojis in marketing emails may stem from their perceived excessive use solely for attention-grabbing purposes. Users may feel manipulated when emojis are used excessively, viewing it as a gimmick or a cheap attempt to stand out. (NN Group)

According to MailChimp research, you should use no more than 1 emoji at a time in a subject line, while our own data reveals that 32.4% of email campaigns sent via Selzy had more than 2 emojis in their subject lines.

To harness the storytelling power of emojis, brands should adopt a thoughtful and evolving strategy. Avoiding repetitive use and exploring diverse combinations allows emojis to become potent tools for conveying nuanced narratives.

3. Non-strategic emoji usage

There is evidence that for some niches and audiences emojis in subject lines can lower open rates and increase complaints. (SEJ) However, in the same research by SEJ, it was found that 58% of email campaigns positioning emojis at the end of the subject lines improved open rates. (SEJ)

This data caught our attention, since while analyzing the emails we found out that only 19.5% of them contained an emoji at the end of the subject line.

Emoji use in email subject lines, 11.077 campaigns

In addition to these results, Phrasee in their extensive scientific experiment made 2 major takeaways:

  1. Emojis amplify subject lines’ messages, making a bad one worse and a good one better. Testing and refining email subject line language is crucial for engagement boost.Emojis enhance the impact of subject lines
  2. Whether or not emojis are being used, it is crucial to start off with a good subject line.

3. Email purpose and context neglect

Emojis in subject lines make people 2.8 times more likely to say they would open an email because of its visual qualities, and not its meaning. (NN Group)

So, when sharing non-entertaining news, it's essential to carefully consider whether to use emojis as it may lead to people not paying attention to the message itself. If you decide to use them, consider their type, quantity, and strategic placement for effective communication.

Reasons for selecting 
emails from an inbox

In a 2021 study published in Human Behavior and Emerging Technologies journal participants' views on brands using emoji varied based on the context. They found it more appropriate for brands to use emojis when promoting but less suitable when addressing issues like defective product callbacks. (ResearchGate)

Appropriateness of emoji 
use by brands across different contexts

Our research shows that successfully integrating emojis into email marketing involves navigating challenges. Adopting best practices, avoiding overuse, and understanding target audience nuances contribute to effective and impactful communication.

Strategic integration of emojis in email marketing communication

1. Aligning with your brand (positioning, product type, business model)

Choosing emojis for brand positioning

  • Using emojis in ads works better for products that bring joy (hedonic) rather than practical (utilitarian) ones. (ScienceDirect)
  • Luxury brand managers should be cautious in adopting emojis in chatbot communication as it may risk lowering the brand status and sophistication. (ResearchGate)
  • Global research on measuring brand personality created a scale:
    • Agreeableness: cheerful, sincere, and friendly brand. Emojis like 😁, 😊, and 🤗 effectively convey these characteristics.
    • Conscientiousness/Openness: brands emphasizing reliability, confidence, and success align with emojis such as ✌️, 🤝, and 💯.
    • Extroversion: brands like this are perceived as cool and playful and are associated with emojis like 😂, 😍, 😘.
    • Neuroticism: negative emotions, leading to sadness, anger, and fury. Negative emojis 😭, 😤 and 😡 form a Neuroticism subscale. (Springer)
  • Analyzing our data on the use of emoji in the tourism, education and e-commerce industries, 🔥 was the most used emoji among all industries. However, in tourism, it was the second most popular emoji after ✈️. (Selzy)
  • At Selzy research, each industry, in addition to the main attention-grabbing and meaningful emoji, has emojis specific to the field, for example, a 🎓 in education or a 🌴 and an ✈️ in tourism. (Selzy)

Emoji use across industries: E-commerce

Emoji use across industries: Education

Emoji use across industries: Tourism

Emojis in B2B: Tailor them to your business model

B2B companies have also incorporated emojis into their marketing strategies, particularly on platforms like LinkedIn, to enhance their online presence and engage their audience.

Research on building B2B brand personality showed that companies create a strong and consistent brand personality by emphasizing brand competence in actual products (the quality and features) and by creating a warm image around the additional or augmented aspects of the brand (customer service or overall experience). This helps the brand feel complete and reliable. (Emerald)

Giants like Microsoft and Amazon Web Services utilize emojis in their client conversations, injecting a human touch and fostering a more relatable connection. Embracing this trend, B2B startups in the tech sector frequently leverage emojis on social media to showcase their innovative and forward-thinking identity, adding a dynamic element to their content and distinguishing themselves in competitive markets. (Brand24)

Essentially, B2B companies opt to add a touch of informality to their social media presence for better audience engagement. It makes sense since social media typically leans towards the more enjoyable side, and informality resonates with it.

In the realm of email communication, incorporating emojis in B2B contexts is generally considered safe, particularly when the messages are more focused on pleasure or enjoyment (event invitations, product updates, feedback requests, discounts and promotions) rather than strictly utilitarian purposes. Using appropriate emoji to the message and brand can also be helpful. 📈 is mostly used by B2B companies or professionals, when more playful 🚀 is mostly used in B2C.

Know your audience (age, culture)

Emoji use by age

  • Younger generations use emojis more often and perceive them as more useful, interesting, easy to use, good, and adequate than older ones. (ResearchGate)
  • Exploratory research indicated that younger individuals, specifically those aged 14-19, use emojis the most (43%), and there is a noticeable decline in emoji use as age increases.(ResearchGate)
  • They also found distinct preferences in emoji usage across different age groups. The youngest age group (14-19) most frequently used hearts emoji, followed by faces and gestures. While 30-39 year-olds use gestures the most, followed by objects and faces. Hearts are the least commonly used emojis in this age group. (ResearchGate)
  • All generations can agree that emojis are fun, research found the perception of emojis as "fun" remains consistent across different age groups. (ResearchGate)

Emoji use according to age and gender, %

Emoji use according to age group, %

Emoji in different cultures and regions

  • According to Slack's research, workers from India, China, and the U.S. are more likely to view messages without emojis as lacking (85%, 74%, and 71% respectively, compared to the global average of 58%). This trend is expected to rise with the increasing prevalence of digital-native generations. (Slack)
  • After studying the data, we can conclude that it is necessary to consider geographical factors. If we look at global statistics, 🔥 is the most popular emoji, but if we examine regions individually, the situation can be different. For example, in the United States, it’s 😱, and in India it’s 👍.

Benchmarking the most commonly used emojis
in the world, US and India: Global

Benchmarking the most commonly used emojis
in the world, US and India: USA

Benchmarking the most commonly used emoji 
in the world, US and India: India

  • Slack also found out that emojis get misinterpreted in different countries:

    💸 The interpretation of this emoji's meaning is still up for debate: 28% of respondents perceive it as a "loss", while 31% see it as an "influx". This perception varies by country, with Japan leaning towards associating it with a loss (59%) compared to 7% who view it as an influx.

    🍑 Despite being historically flirty in some regions, the 🍑 emoji was literally understood by 71% of Korean respondents, with only 9% recognizing its NSFW ("not safe for work") connotation. Similarly, 56% of Chinese participants believe that 🍆 signifies the actual fruit.

    🙂 While globally recognized for expressing "feeling happy" (38%) and "general positivity" (39%), this emoji also serves to convey "deep exasperation and/or distrust" for 14% of users. Respondents from America and Singapore predominantly interpreted it as "deep exasperation" (20% and 19% respectively), whereas Canada, Korea, and Japan had the lowest percentages (8%, 6%, and 5% respectively).

3. Test the waters first

To be fair, this point should come first because no one knows for sure what suits your audience, your positioning, and your brand. Only experiment and research can answer your questions.

Test on a small sample

Start with testing subject lines on small samples as it's cheaper than an experiment and provides qualitative data to understand the audience and their behavioral patterns better. Remote unmoderated testing platforms are a great way to start as you only need to set up a test in the right manner asking questions and giving tasks to a respondent. Most of these platforms have screen and voice recordings. Nonetheless, the main purpose of qualitative methods (e.g. first-click test, 5-second test, and unmoderated UX testing) is to explore the audience's way of thinking by asking open-ended questions, seeing how they are performing and commenting on them.

Top 5 remote testing tools:

  1. UserTesting – one of the most trusted but pricey platforms. It has everything and more, all different kinds of tests, features, templates, and a global user panel.
  2. Lyssna (ex Usabilityhub) – easy to use, you can launch a test within minutes.
  3. Loop11 – offers diverse testing options, an intuitive interface, and compatibility with various devices but lacks global coverage.
  4. UXArmy – a user research platform that relies on video recording, it facilitates user interviews and assessments of concepts, usability, and information architecture.
  5. Optimal Workshop – specializes in information architecture tests, offers diverse usability tests, and provides extensive language support.

A/B test subject lines

A/B testing is complex and requires a lot of resources, but it is still effective. A/B testing different subject lines helps identify what resonates best with your audience. Brands that use an extensive testing checklist report an ROI of 40:1. (HubSpot)

Predicting what makes a "good" subject line is subjective, varying across audiences and influenced by numerous linguistic factors. A subject line considered successful one week may lose effectiveness the next. Continuous testing remains the key to sustained success.

Recognizing the alignment between emojis and brand characteristics, as well as adapting their use in B2B contexts, provides a nuanced approach to enhancing brand identity and engaging diverse audiences.

Evolution and current status

In the dynamic evolution of emojis and its inevitable integration into our communication and culture, there is a notable shift towards inclusivity challenges and cultural stereotypes.

The journey began around 2012 with the #emojiethnicityupdate movement on Twitter, highlighting the need for diverse representations.

Twitter emoji inclusivity movement

By 2014, the Great Emoji Diversification had begun and Unicode addressed gaps in depicting traditional cuisines, diverse families, and more, acknowledging the importance of cultural inclusivity. (Wired)

Despite initial oversights, Unicode's annual emoji approvals demonstrate a commitment to expanding emoji diversity.

Adobe in their reports demonstrates that 75% of UK and 71% of U.S. emoji users agree that inclusive emoji can help spark positive conversations about cultural and societal issues. (Adobe)(Adobe) Which means emoji language stimulates society to be more aware of our differences.

As emojis shape digital communication, their impact extends even to legal proceedings, showcasing their significance in contemporary life. (Slate)


Emojis in email marketing are not just symbols; they are emotional connectors, shaping perceptions and enhancing engagement. To find the delicate balance, businesses need to understand cultural nuances, and audience preferences, and adhere to best practices and testing.

There are many considerations to take into account when navigating the use of emojis. Emojis represent a new addition to our rapidly evolving digital communication landscape. As this language continues to change and evolve, it is imperative to explore and experiment 😉

Article by
Olga Savelo
A seasoned researcher with 6+ years of experience. From neuroeconomics to user experience, and market research, it's all been done. For the past year, I’ve embraced the digital nomad lifestyle, conducting research while traveling to new cities and immersing myself in diverse cultures. In my free time, you'll find me dancing, hanging out with friends, and discovering new places.
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