by Anna Wybieralska Oct 24, 2019

Emoticons in email can be a hit or miss. Let's expand on the usage of emojis and if they are really right for your business.

Emojis have come a long way. Originating from 1997 in Japan, they quickly gained popularity worldwide in only 10 years. With the starting number of 90, they expanded to over 3,000, and now it’s hard to imagine life without them. Although, they are a necessity in modern communication they still can be quite a problematic topic in the marketing world. Should you use them? Shouldn’t you?

Today we will expand on the usage of emojis, and if they are really right for your business.

Why even use emojis?

We live in a fast-paced world where time is of the essence. Based on 2008 research, only around 28% of words are being read on a specific webpage. It’s not a lot, and with that in mind, communication had to take a similar blow. As we don’t have time to communicate between work, family and running errands, it became easier to send emoticons to your friends instead of writing full sentences.

It got to the point that sending a text without emojis might be considered rude or awkward since they give a sort of context to the message. On a similar note, the tone of our messages highly depends on emoticon usage. Either a smiley face or a crying face can change the outcome of the same sentence which can guide us on how to reply to it. Therefore, using emojis made us better at conveying emotions, and empathy. That said, how can we apply all this knowledge to email marketing, and find out for sure, is the emoji part of our brand?

Pros and cons of emojis in email marketing

Pros: Emojis boost engagement

It’s not unheard of that emojis can get you more clicks simply by making your subject line stand out among others. But have you ever wondered why that is? A study done in 2013 proves that emojis are the equivalent to the human face, which makes us pay more attention to them. To put it simply, people are most likely to open an email with emojis in the subject line because they are wired to respond better to faces than anything else. Of course, you can’t rely solely on emojis - you still need to write an engaging subject line that will attract your audience.

Cons: The ever-changing trend of emojis

When you are launching your marketing campaign, and you want to use emojis, first you need to do some extensive research. Based on the increasing number of emoticons, their popularity is changing constantly. Therefore, you can’t just put a smiley face or heart in your subject line, and call it a day. Unicode created an emoji frequency chart where you can see which ones are the most popular, and which ones you should be avoiding.

Pros: Body language of the digital age

Throughout history, people have been using verbal cues only as a supporting aspect of communication. In our daily life, we rely over 70% on nonverbal indications like body language, eye gaze, gestures, and more. With a simple change in tone of voice, we can give a completely different meaning to the same sentence. In the same way, we can apply non-verbal cues in our digital life to improve conveying emotions, and empathy to our recipients.

Using emojis in the subject line or in the email body can create a tone for your whole campaign, and give people a sort of guide for understanding your message. Furthermore, emoticons can also translate across the world, which is a plus, and a minus. Your emails will be understood globally, even if a person is not a native speaker, but you do need to be aware of various innuendos those emojis transmit. Keith Broni talks about the different meanings of the same emoji in other countries. This can assist you with working through this issue.

Cons: Emojis make you look unprofessional

Even though there is a study confirming that emoticons are commonly used by people over 30, rather than Gen Z or Millennials, there is no guarantee that adding a heart to your email will be good for your business. In some cases, the casual tone might even hurt your image instead of helping it. A 2017 study on effects on smiling emoticons shows that emojis may not have a positive impact in a professional setting. Though the research was done face-to-face it is very much applicable to email communication. A further issue of emoticons is that they set the tone for your company. Once used, they will be remembered by your customers and judged accordingly.

Pros: Emojis save space

Currently, if you create an email campaign you need to take into consideration that over 60% of them will be opened on mobile versions. With a limit to only 40 characters, emojis can make your subject line, saving you space, and making your email more visible on mobile devices. Due to rendering issues though, it's best to add emojis as a visual aid, without replacing any word with them. You want to "love your customers💗" and not " 🅪 your customers".

Cons: Emojis lose appeal

Using emojis can make your brand boring. Using them too much or too often can make your customers uninterested, and instead of clicking on your email, they may ignore it. Furthermore, too many emojis in the subject line can cause your email to land in spam. So how to find that sweet spot? Unfortunately, there is no scientific research as far as I know, which makes use of emojis very difficult. Using them sparingly can be a solution, but either way, it’s trial, and error that can have a negative impact on your campaign.

Pros: Build your brand’s image

Although using emojis with more official types of brands can be, as I explained before misunderstood, that doesn’t mean that they can only cause damage. With a more casual company, using emoticons can raise your brand awareness, and differentiate you from other similar brands. It's best to remain consistent with using emojis or better yet - create your own that will truly make you stand out from the crowd. Researching your audience is, of course, a must in order to create successful brand-specific emojis.

Cons: Inequality in views

Putting emojis in the subject line or email body can convey specific emotions if used correctly, however, you can’t ensure that. There are many email clients, like Gmail, iOS Mail, and more that can show emojis differently than those that you’ve added. They have distinctive designs, and because of this, they can be received differently.

There is also the question of Outlook. Based on Adestra research from 2019, 7,6% of clients use Outlook, which places it in 6th place of the top 10 email clients, around 15% uses Outlook 2003 where emojis (and a few more options)  are not supported. This means that if you put an emoticon in your email but it will show up as a blank square. Although it does not seem like a big number, it can make a significant dent in perceiving your email. It’s best to do extensive research through your customer database to make sure that emojis will be visible, and cohesive. You can also use Emojipedia to check how each emoji will look on different devices. 


A few years ago, using emojis in your email marketing campaigns was a novelty act. Today it is an essential part of communication, and a way to start a dialogue with the younger generation. Using emojis can have various impacts on your company, and it’s important to know the risks as well as benefits. But most importantly, it needs to be done smartly. For example, you’ll have better results using emojis if you’re a clothing brand that caters towards young adults, than a global wind turbine company that contacts with big enterprises to provide energy.

Don’t follow blindly every trend that will pop up but check for yourself what will work for your brand and audience.  As emojis are now part of our daily life, it’s worth looking into this subject a bit more to not miss any opportunity. Hopefully, this post will give you more clarity on emoticon usage for your own benefit.

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Anna Wybieralska

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