Using images to communicate is not a new phenomenon. After all, images actually pre-date the written word – just think of cave people who painted murals on their walls to tell stories of their battles and culture. The fact is, images can convey so much more than words; a single image can communicate a tone and emotion that is personal to the recipient.
For marketers, images and iconography have always been a fundamental component of the company’s brand, but this has been heightended in the era of visual social media mediums, such as Pinterest and Instagram. The last decade has also seen the rise of a very specific type of image, one that has taken the globe by storm – so much so that more than 700 million of them are used on Facebook alone, each day. I’m talking, of course, about the humble emoji.
It’s only been a mere seven years since emoji hit the mainstream when Apple released iOS 6, and iPhone owners discovered the emoji keyboard. Fast forward to today and you’d be hard-pressed to communicate without them – no wonder Oxford Dictionaries named U+1F602 Face With Tears of Joy as its 2015 Word of the Year!
They are also proving very popular in business messaging platforms – over 26 million custom emojis have been created in Slack since the feature was introduced. For the 13 million daily active users of Microsoft's Teams platform, emoji use is basically universal.
Emoji may have started as something people used in their personal lives, but these little pictorial icons have certainly made the successful journey from the consumer to business world. Most business emails have an emoji sign-off and I for one often reply with an emoticon, especially when I am on the move.
It’s clear that emoji are no longer the preserves of the instant-messaging youth and as every good marketer knows, if your customers are changing their behaviour you need to listen and adapt. Emoji usage is also extending out of the workplace – businesses can also use them to engage with customers, during any customer communications.
They can also be used in feedback as a quick checking the pulse ‘button.’ In a survey of 1,000 consumers that we conducted with Censuswide, the vast majority of respondents that they would be highly receptive to using emoji to give their thoughts on the brand experience. The emoji of choice to let a brand know they are doing well is the ‘thumbs up’ (49.1%), followed by a star (12.7%), a smiley face (10.9%) an ’ok hand’ (4.6%) and a heart (3.7%).
So, far from being a formality fail, emojis enable customer engagement. Emails with an emoji in the subject line have better click-throughs, social media posts that have images have more responses. Words alone don’t cut it anymore as they don’t reflect the language changes of customers.
That’s not to say you should go from zero to heavily emoji laden comms; there are some clear rules of thumb to get the best out of these modern day hieroglyphics. For example, start by using them in real-time – whether it be by chat, social media or on feedback buttons – by catching customers in the moment you can boost engagement.
Common sense is also important. Avoid anything cryptic and make sure you and staff are sure of the meaning of the emoji they are using. Also, keep it smart – emojis can complement a message, but they can’t replace it entirely.
Ultimately the key is to make sure you are matching the right symbols and pictures that support your content and tone. These emotional icons really do have the power to break down barriers; by engaging with your target market in the way they communicate you can truly humanise your brand and show your customers you aren’t afraid to speak to them on a more personal level.
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