How to Use Symbols and Emojis in Email and Win

How to Use Symbols and Emojis in Email and Win
17 June, 2024 • ... • 796 views
Julia Zakharova
by Julia Zakharova

Emojis have become so firmly ingrained in our digital lives that we can hardly imagine communication without a smiley face or another symbol. However, this raises questions about their use in email marketing. If emojis in email help express thoughts and feelings, then perhaps they can improve communication with customers and business partners? Yes and no! 👀

Let’s puzzle out in which situations emojis can help to cement ties and, vice versa, turn into an awkward misunderstanding. Our updated guide answers all your questions and offers best practices for a quick start.

Why use emojis in an email

Since emojis have turned into a unique part of language and communication, their usage in email marketing comes naturally. According to Selzy’s research, 60% of subject lines with emojis perform better than those without. They make subject lines more attention-grabbing and add something a little extra to an email body. Besides, it is a good way to articulate your tone of voice and get closer to your audience. 

But before you start crafting email templates with en emoji 😉 after 😍 every 😱 word 🙄, we recommend you take into account your line of business, subscribers’ gender and age, and many other factors that we will discuss in this guide.

An email campaign with minimalistic emoji illustrations in between email copy
An example of an engaging marketing campaign with emojis. Source: MailBakery

As you see in the example above, it is not even necessary to add Unicode emojis. You may create custom ones that correlate with your design and that your subscribers can clearly see. This campaign is also a nice way to reactivate dormant users — it sounds personal, witty, and cool.

Things to consider before incorporating emojis into an email template

Your audience

As you might have guessed, younger people may have a different view of emojis compared to older audiences. For example, the Perspectus Global survey of 2,000 young people aged between 16-29 revealed that 24% consider the thumbs-up emoji 👍 to be used by ‘ancient’ people. Moreover, the ❤️, 👌, and 😭 were reportedly laughed at by youngsters. It applies to email marketing: you should take into account the age of your target audience when planning a campaign. For example, the GenZers community uses emojis in their online communication 57% of the time, so your campaign featuring one will probably strike a chord with them.

Another important thing to consider is the type of interaction: B2C or B2B. When you speak directly to your end customers in B2C emails, you may sound more playful and have more freedom over using emojis. B2B emails, on the other hand, require a more formal tone, so you may get into an awkward situation if you flood your business proposals with icons. Get the data and apply this knowledge when using emojis.

But if you know all the answers about your audience, like a jewelry brand ANNELE, you may communicate with your customers through emojis, as in the example below. This campaign is fun and interactive and asks customers to guess a piece based on emoji.

An email with custom emoji combinations at the top and jewelry pieces that were coded with those emojis at the bottom
Source: Milled

You can get the full picture of your audience as well as campaign dynamics, click maps, and other reports and metrics in any ESP with email analytics tools, including Selzy email analytics

Perception

Perception of emotions depicted in emojis may differ depending on gender, age, culture, and emotional connection between the sender and the audience. In this sense, emojis can be regarded as the global lingua franca, however, it is not that simple. 

We have access to the same emojis on our keyboards, but certain symbols may have different or even opposite meanings in different cultures. According to the BBC, the thumbs-up emoji 👍 means approval in Western countries and a vulgar or offensive gesture in Greece and in the Middle East. The same story with the angel sign (👼 or 😇): the West considers it as a symbol of innocence, while in China it means a threat of death.

The most misunderstood emoji in the US is a cowboy hat face, the second one is cherries, and the third is an upside-down face
Source: Adobe

Misunderstandings may cause irritation, and this may result in unsubscription and impact deliverability. That’s why you should use uncommon emojis with caution and always check the meaning of them in the culture of the place you are targeting. 

Besides, as the Nielsen Norman Group’s report says, adding an emoji to a subject line makes it more attractive only due to its visual characteristics (not meaning): It attracts the subscribers’ attention and makes them open the email for its visual qualities rather than for its meaning. 

Relevance

According to a study, emojis help people avoid misunderstanding and express emotions, so they add relevant context to the message. 

A Nielsen Norman Group’s report shows that emojis in the email’s subject lines are seen as less valuable than no-emoji ones. So, if you launch a campaign with a kind of serious message or topic or send a transactional email, it is better to avoid emojis, because it may impact its trustworthiness.  

Once again, it is important to know your audience and choose the basic and simple emojis or provide more context to avoid misunderstanding. 

Prevalence

Emojis may help your email stand out from the crowd, especially when used in the subject line. However, you are not the only one who wants to be unique. Take it into account and think twice about the relevance of the symbols you are using. If your email gets into an inbox filled with similar subject lines with emojis, it won’t be successful. 

Besides, the abundance of emojis may badly influence deliverability and increase the chances of getting into spam folders. If you take a look at your spam folder, you will see how many subject lines with emojis there are, because spammers desperately seek your attention.

A collection of emails with emojis in the subject lines in an inbox
When there are many emails with emojis, none of them stands out. Source: Automonkey

A/B testing

Even if you believe you know your audience well, A/B testing will help you deepen your knowledge. Send a variant of your email campaign with emojis to a part of your mailing list and a different variation without emojis to another part of subscribers. After putting this into practice a few times, you will see how the inclusion of emojis influences open and click rates, as well as deliverability. If you haven’t had a chance to conduct A/B testing, make sure that it is easier than you think with our A/B testing tool

Rendering

Check how your chosen emojis look on different devices, because the way they are displayed may depend on the email client, operating system, and social media platform. Also, keep your software and analytics resources updated. You may want to check the devices your audience uses with the help of email analytics or Google Analytics.

An infographic showing the rendering of a cookie emoji on Apple, Google, and Samsung devices
One emoji can look very different across different devices. Source: Emojipedia

One thing is that they look different on different devices and another is when they do not display at all. Needless to say, it affects the user experience and deliverability.

An email subject line with an emoji that failed to render and looks like an empty box with a question mark
Source: Constant Contact Knowledge Base

Symbols to be wary of in your emails

Bear in mind that even if you know your audience, some users may misinterpret the emoji you send. Controversial situations won’t be good for your marketing performance and may affect sales. But above all, you should be well aware that some emojis can be perceived negatively when the context itself is offensive.

Fruits and vegetables

Some images may be regarded as harassment attempts. Of course, it happens if they are used in that particular context, however, social media platforms Facebook and Instagram banned ‘sexual’ use of eggplant 🍆 and peach 🍑 emojis. At the same time, if a company sells peaches, it is more than logical to use this emoji in marketing communication. 

Animal symbols

Cute animal emojis may be misinterpreted in an offensive way, For example, 🐴 can be used as an insult to people with long faces or those who laugh out loud. 🐘 or 🐳 can be viewed as an insult to overweight people, while ​​🦍 may refer to a primitive or uncivilized person, according to the guides provided by Bullfrag. Now live with this knowledge 😬 

Once again, if you mention animals in the direct sense, like congratulating on International Whale Day, you certainly may use this 🐳 emoji. 

Weapon images

Emojis of weapons can be seen as a threat and spread hatred. Possibly, this is why platforms replaced the gun emoji with a water gun 🔫.

How to use emojis for email subject lines

The subject line is one of the most important parts of a marketing email. Obviously, if you attract the user’s attention within the inbox, you win 🎉, sales rocket 🚀 and everyone is happy 😍. Earlier statistics showed that 5-7 years ago emojis really affected open rates positively, as we said at the beginning of our article. 

But take a look at the other side of the story: the fact that your subject line stands out with emojis and catches users’ eye does not mean that they click and open the email. GetResponse’s research indicates that subject lines without emojis had a slightly higher open rate, with 28.89% and 22.17%, respectively. Subject lines without emojis also had a higher click-through rate of 2.49% compared to 1.29% for subject lines with emojis. So, the unwanted attention may upset subscribers and decrease metrics and campaigns’ effectiveness. 

Conclusion: emojis are an attention-grabbing tool and should be applied wisely in any email marketing campaign. The tips below will be of much help.

Replace some words or numbers

A good way to incorporate emojis into the subject line is to substitute some words to save space and win attention. And it will definitely be at the right place both in terms of sense and design.

A Banana Republic subject line “We “heart emoji” Wednesday. Save 40%”
In this subject line, the heart emoji stands for the word “love” and saves space. Source: Econsultancy

Focus the reader’s attention on a particular part of the text

As we said earlier, each emoji should relate to the content. In the example below, the emoji of a clock emphasizes that the offer is limited in time. There is a sense of urgency, but it doesn’t look aggressive — no exclamation marks ❗️ or shocked faces 😱. Choosing the right emoji to convey the message requires practice, but it will eventually lead to better contact with your audience. 

A subject line from The Home Depot “Don’t miss out “clock emoji” Great gifts under $10”
Source: Instapage.com

Add holiday atmosphere

Emojis can bring the holiday spirit into a subject line. Each holiday has its specific set of emojis associated with it. For example, you can use these emojis for Independence Day: 🗽, 🇺🇸, 🎆, 🎉.

And here are real subject lines for Father’s Day campaigns from three brands. Each uses a distinct emoji to convey the message and add a holiday touch:

Three Father’s Day subject lines with a flexed biceps, man, and gift emojis
Source: Milled

Where to place emoji in the email body

There is no particular rule on how to use emojis in the email copy, and you should simply consider their appropriateness, your company’s tone of voice and make sure you address the right community and maintain warm contact.

Replace some words and minimize the reading time

If you decide to place an emoji in your email body, make it logical and not just thoughtlessly stuff the text to make it brighter. Remember that emojis should enrich your message and save your customers’ time. Otherwise, flooded with symbols, emails will hardly have good deliverability. 

Using a ❤️ emoji is the safest option, like in this example:

An email with the tagline “to mom, with “heart emoji”
Source: Milled

Convey or emphasize a certain emotion

Emojis should serve to highlight a certain emotion, especially when it comes to communication with your customers. Grammarly uses emojis to explain the nuances of tone of voice which makes the message clearer and distinguishes different emotions:

An email showing the two tones detected in a user’s texts: confident with a handshake emoji and joyful with a smiling face emoji
Source: Really Good Emails

Adding email emojis with Selzy

Selzy’s email builder allows you to insert pictograms of faces, objects, and symbols in the email template. You can copy emojis from any website and add them to your email’s body or subject line. 

We recommend you use the emojis from Unicode.org or Unicode-table.com as these websites also show how emojis render across different platforms. 

You can also add emojis to the subject line before sending a campaign by choosing the one you like from Selzy’s options:

An email subject line editor in Selzy with a collection of emojis to choose from

Check the full guide on how to add emojis in Selzy.

Conclusion

Some people call emojis the 21st-century hieroglyphs and compare them to rock art left to us by our ancestors. A few hundred years later, people will also study our correspondence watching the birth of a new language of social communication. Anyway, emojis have become an integral part of all forms of digital communication including email marketing. 

If you want to benefit from the use of signs indicating emotions and objects, follow the advice:

  • Analyze your audience in terms of gender, age, and the tone of voice you convey.
  • Do not add emojis just to show off, they should be logical and suitable. Otherwise, customers will only be irritated.
  • Check emojis on different platforms and devices and keep your programs updated.
  • Double-check the possible misunderstanding and hidden meaning of certain symbols. If you have any doubts, it is better to avoid them at all.

This article was originally published in October 2021 and was updated in October 2024 to make it more relevant and comprehensive.

17 June, 2024
Article by
Julia Zakharova
Editor, digital & printed media contributor
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