The email subject line is one of the modern marketer’s most skillfully crafted art forms.
In under 10 words and about 50 characters, it’s your job to convince your target audience that out of all of the emails they’ve received today, yours is worth opening. That’s why more and more brands are experimenting with different ways to catch your attention, whether that means cheesy puns, ultra informal tones or, the ✨ star ✨ of our show today, emojis.
We’ve all heard that a picture is worth 1000 words, so that must mean good things for emojis, right? Well, not exactly. Like all things marketing, injecting emojis in your email subject line is equal parts art and science.
Why Use Emojis in Email Subject Lines
Quick — pull out your phone for a second here. What are some of your most used emojis? Personally, 😬 permanently holds a spot in my own top three, but we’ll unpack our emoji personalities another day.
When it comes down to it, marketers use these fun symbols for many of the same reasons internet users send over 5 billion emojis every single day. They’re quick, easy and inject a bit of playfulness into the conversation where words can’t. Just take this snippet of conversation as an example:
There’s something about using a literal squid emoji to describe myself dancing that just gets lost in translation when I say “dancing like a squid.” The meaning is entirely clear, as is the fact that I’m poking fun at myself.
However, the reason emojis have become such a staple in your inbox isn’t just because they’re fun to use for consumers and marketers alike. There are several powerful benefits to playing with emojis in your email marketing campaigns, including:
- Clearer voice: Trying to get a tongue-in-cheek joke across but struggling to convey your tone? An emoji helps to provide extra context in a space where there’s no body language to work off of.
- Save space: Real estate is especially precious when it comes to your email subject lines. With so few characters to work with, emojis can help you get around some of these limitations without having to sacrifice your messaging.
- Brand awareness: Today’s customers receive more emails than ever before, making it that much more critical for your message to stand out among the crowd. Plus, if customers aren’t opening your emails every time, eventually they’ll begin to notice your brand and the emojis you use most often.
Done right, emojis can seriously influence the success of your campaigns. Done wrong? Well, we’ll get into that too.
What Happens When You Add Emojis in Marketing Emails?
There’s a widely held belief that using emojis in your email subject lines can be an effective and attention-generating method to increase your email open rates and get more people engaging with your campaigns. The truth is, that’s not always the case.
One study from the Neilson Group showed that emoticons and emojis actually increase negative sentiment toward an email, conjuring up words such as “dull” and “boring.” How could that be?
Well, it’s important to note some of the major limitations surrounding the study. First, the only emails tested were from retail businesses, meaning that not all of the participants had actually subscribed to them in the first place. Additionally, the type and number of emojis used weren’t controlled variables.
In a more controlled test environment, the Search Engine Journal (SEJ) found some pretty different results. Emails that contained emojis versus those that didn’t had a fairly comparable open rate. However, when readers did open the emails, there was a higher click-through rate for 11 out of the 15 campaigns that contained emojis in the subject line.
So what’s the big takeaway? Do emojis actually help marketers get the message across?
When using emojis to market your brand, remember that the icons should complement and elevate your copy; they should never completely replace it.
Let’s back up for a second. We could get super technical and say that the first evidence of emojis came thousands of years ago in the form of ancient pictorial-based languages. However, the playful images we associate emojis with really didn’t come around until the late 1990s. Even then, they only started to gain in popularity once they were added to the iPhone in 2008 — 10 years later!
What we’re getting at here is that just like the existence of emojis, the research surrounding them and their impact on recipients is still relatively new. So while some data may lead to the conclusion that emojis are the death of open rates, other results demonstrate success is entirely dependent on the context of the message. At the end of the day, it all comes down to how well you know your readers.
Not sure how your audience will respond? Run a few tests and analyze the results to determine if your audience prefers or dislikes when you use emojis in your email subject lines. See what we’re saying? 👀
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Our Favorite Examples
Maybe emojis won’t work that well if you’re a financial advisor or reporting on a major news update. However, there’s definitely a time and place for some good old-fashioned fun. Let’s dig through some of the stand out subject lines from the past year — sometimes, never cleaning out your inbox pays off.
1. HelloFresh: Think Outside the Box
If you’ve taken advantage of any HelloFresh sale in the past, you know this meal-kit company is anything but shy when it comes to getting your attention. Usually, this means flashy sales, all caps and tons of gift box emojis 🎁. During its Black Friday sale, the company knew it needed to step things up to stand out on one of the busiest e-commerce days of the year.
This Space Invaders-inspired symbol is rarely used for texting, or really at all outside of video games, making it that much more of a unique choice. As shoppers were using the CTRL+F function to search through their email and find the best deals, Hello Fresh took full advantage of the holiday to try something a little different.
2. N!CK’S: Keep It Simple
If one thing is for sure, it’s that this Swedish-inspired dessert company very intentionally selected English cognates when it named its ice cream line. However, they leave no questions to be asked by incorporating chocolate bar emojis in their subject line.
While customers of N!CK’s ice cream may not think they know any Swedish, it’s easy enough to translate the word “choklad” when it’s right beside its literal counterpart. Plus, the usage of three emojis here is especially relevant as it’s the brand’s triple chocolate product.
This is also a good time to point out that you should try to keep your emojis as relevant to your brand as possible. While there are exceptions to this rule such as our extraterrestrial friends from HelloFresh, your customers shouldn’t be spending time trying to figure out how an emoji relates to your message.
3. Target: Add Some Context
While emojis should never completely replace your copy in its entirety, they can be used to provide some additional context in a fun way.
At first glance, it may not be immediately obvious which products Target is promoting in this message. But, with the emojis selected paired with “gear up,” it becomes clear to readers that they’re about to open a flyer containing activewear and exercise equipment.
4. Gymshark: Don’t Feel the Need To Reinvent the Wheel
Emojis are a fun way to incorporate some added creativity into your messaging. However, that doesn’t mean you have to craft the most innovative subject line every time.
This workout apparel company sticks with a popular emoji to convey a simple message: They’re running a flash sale. For fast-moving promotions or anything that’s time sensitive, feel free to use more “obvious” imagery like sirens, megaphones or clocks.
5. Walmart: Making Your List and Checking It Twice
We’ll get into why you should usually deploy emojis at the end of your message, but like any good rule, there are always some exceptions.
Walmart invokes the image of a holiday gift list to make a simple emoji that is much more meaningful within the context of the shopping season as well as its audience’s current needs. As you craft your own email campaign, try to think about them from a big picture perspective.
Don’t feel as though you’re limited to using emojis how these five retailers did it. Although each of these examples are of B2C companies, depending on your audience and the context of your message, B2B teams can still have fun with emojis in a way that’s professional.
Emojis will never fully take the place of valuable content.
Do It Yourself: How To Get It Right
There’s no exact science behind emojis. From the specific icons used to where they’re placed, we just saw a ton of different examples. As you craft your own campaigns, you should feel free to experiment with different emojis and take inspiration from your own inbox.
However, with that being said, there are some best practices to consider to ensure your message hits the mark:
Less Is More
Our most important advice is to try not to go overboard with emojis in your subject lines. Keep the influx of smiley faces and heart eyes to your personal messages. Otherwise, you may risk irritating your subscribers and coming off unprofessional — plus, you could be putting all of your hard work to waste. Too many emojis could trigger the spam filter and affect your deliverability, with service providers sending your message straight to the trash.
In 2015, Chevy attempted an all-emoji press release about a new car that came across just about as well as your parents using slang when you were a kid. It was forced, uncomfortable and downright indecipherable. When using emojis to market your brand just remember that the icons should complement and elevate your copy; they should never completely replace it.
Use For Emphasis
As we pointed out, only one of the examples we covered today placed emojis at the beginning of their message. While there are some exceptions, you should think of emojis as another form of punctuation. Adding them in prior to the actual message of your subject line can feel awkward and distract the reader from the topic at hand.
Also, always remember that your subject line is just a foot in the door. It’ll be equally important to actually provide useful and relevant information in the email itself. Emojis will never fully take the place of valuable content.
Segment Your Audience
Before committing to emojis, test, test and test again. While some of your readers might enjoy the fun visuals, others may be turned off and send your message straight to the trash.
Outside of personal preference, older email servers don’t actually display emojis, so you’ll also want to consider the channels your messages are coming through. Nothing quite conveys “I’m a modern and fun brand!” like “New ◻︎ Product ◻︎ Drop ◻︎.” The bad news is this won’t always be in your control, as different types of smartphones each have their own emoji keyboard. The best way to avoid getting lost in translation is to try to stick to icons that have been around for a while and are likely to exist across all platforms.
Stick to icons that have been around for a while and are likely to exist across all platforms.
The Final Takeaway: Stay True To Your Brand
Emojis can be a visually striking way to spice up your subject line, but don’t feel like they need to be the focus of every email you send. Stay aligned with the overall tone of your brand and play with emojis in a way that will speak to your audience and their perceptions of you. And, when in doubt, lean on the side of caution. Test each new emoji before sending it out into the world and straight to your customers’ inboxes.
When executed correctly, these special characters might just be the key to unlocking stronger click-through rates and higher engagement on your campaigns. How would we sum all of that up in three words or less? Well, we can do you one better: 📩 📈 💵.