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To emoji or not to emoji?

In 1999, the Japanese telecommunications company NTT DOCOMO released a set of 176 pictures for use in pager and mobile phone messages. Designed by Shigetaka Kurita, these pixelated smiley faces, hearts and common symbols for things like food and weather were dubbed “emojis”, a combination of the Japanese words for “picture” (e), “write” (mo) and “character” (ji). Needless to say, these expressive icons took off! There are more than 3,660 emojis today and they’ve become an indispensable tool of online communication.

While we wouldn’t think twice about using emojis in our personal text messages, the question of whether they’re appropriate for marketing and professional communications is a bit of a minefield. It’s important to be aware of what emojis can and can’t do for your business, and the situations where these popular icons work best.


Did you know that more than 10 billion emojis are sent every day? They’re used by 92% of the online population, making them a truly universal language.

A major part of their appeal is that they’re extremely efficient. They say a picture paints a thousand words, and that’s certainly true of emojis. According to a study done by neuroscientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the human brain can process an image in as little as 13 milliseconds. Using an emoji instead of a word or phrase takes barely any time to type and even less time to “read”.

Emojis are also a succinct way of adding emotional nuance to a conversation. Adobe’s “Future of Creativity” Study found that 91% of emoji users in the United States believe that they can express themselves more easily with the characters, while 88% report feeling more empathetic towards someone whose post contains emojis. It’s not always easy to get the tone of online messages, especially if they’re brief. Adding a winking smiley or clapping hands can inject warmth and build a sense of rapport between you and your audience.

Stick to your brand

It’s always good to engage your audience by expressing personality and flair, but this is where your brand identity comes in. Just because emojis are ubiquitous doesn’t mean they’ll benefit your professional reputation. If your line of work involves difficult or grave situations where you need to demonstrate seriousness and dependability, then emojis are not for you. A crisis communications agency is not going to use a bunch of shocked face and thumbs down emojis when presenting a game plan to their client. Similarly, it would be crass for a life insurance brochure to be peppered with skull or headstone emojis. These are extreme examples, but the point is that context is everything.

On the other hand, there are situations where the visual interest and social significance of emojis can serve your brand. 60% of those surveyed for Adobe’s Emoji Trend Report claim to be more inclined to open an email or push notification if it includes an emoji. Fashion and beauty are two industries that rely heavily on digital marketing, with business-to-consumer relations that tend to be fun and friendly rather than formal and solemn. So if you’re a clothing retailer with a younger customer base, then on-brand emojis can make your communications stand out, whether in the subject lines of your marketing emails or in the captions of your Instagram posts. A cute, expertly placed emoji can grab attention and show consumers that you speak their language. This results in more impactful and memorable messaging, which translates to more sales.

Tips for using emojis

There’s no doubt that emojis can increase engagement if it’s appropriate for your brand, but it’s still possible to have too much of a good thing. Keep these things in mind next time you’re tempted to use an emoji in a professional context.

• Don’t overdo it. Too many emojis create visual clutter!
• Remember your audience. Language trends are constantly changing, and this applies to emojis. For instance, if you’re speaking to Gen Z, avoid the laugh-cry emoji! It’s just not cool anymore.
• Only use emojis for positive messages. They’re good for keeping the tone light-hearted, not breaking bad news.
• Keep it simple. Emojis can carry multiple meanings, so be cautious about any ambiguity unless it’s on-brand for you to employ cheeky double entendres.
• If you’re a senior executive at a firm where emojis aren’t right for business communications, you may still consider using them on work-related social media accounts. The key is not to stray too far from a professional tone so you don’t come across as inauthentic, and stick to emojis that illustrate your points clearly. For instance, the upward-trending chart makes sense if you’re posting about strong business performance, but maybe stay away from the eggplant emoji.