7 ways to use emojis for marketing

Emojis -- you see them everywhere. Every social network supports them as do messaging apps. And it's not just about happy, sad, angry, (insert expression) faces any longer. In June of this year, the Unicode Consortium accepted 72 new emojis, including an avocado and clinking glasses.

What's more, did you know you can use them in a business context, for marketing? (Yes, it's a thing.)

In case that statement elicits a "Huh?" from you, allow me to take your hand and lead you merrily down the primrose path of emoji marketing. I will discuss the reasons to use them, outline seven ways to do so, and share some things to think about when creating campaigns.

Reasons to use emojis in marketing

There are several good reasons to use emojis in marketing, particularly if your goal is to curry favor from millennials. Here are three to consider:

1. Emojis are hugely popular.

Ninety-two percent of the population uses them in emails and social media, according to a report from Emogi, a mobile-messaging platform. That same report said that 4.8 trillion mobile messages would be sent this year using emoji.

A survey conducted by Appboy examined the "rise and rise" of emoji marketing and found that the number of active campaigns using emojis increased by 557% in the last 12 months.

2. Emojis are here to stay.

Pokemon Go may be a fad (and, if you recall, businesses tapped into its use for marketing purposes) but emojis aren’t going anywhere -- they have integrated themselves too tightly into digital culture, especially among teens and young adults. The term has even made its way into the Merriam-Webster dictionary, if that's any indication.

3. Major brands have incorporated emoji use in marketing.

When brands such as Domino's Pizza start using emoji to let customers order pizza through Twitter, Pepsi issues its own emojis in an effort to connect with a younger audience, Bud Light sends tweets consisting entirely of emojis, and Taco Bell launches a social media marketing campaign to celebrate the release of its taco emoji, you know something is up.

(Not for nothing, Domino's campaign earned the company the Cannes Titanium Grand Prix for the top "game changing" breakthrough idea of the year.)

Of course, all of these examples come from big food and beverage brands. But, depending on the product or service you sell, perhaps emojis are worth factoring into a marketing campaign, even if you don't target millennials. (Middle-aged executives at B2B companies, probably don‘t qualify, however.)

How to get started

Now that I've hopefully convinced you that the use of emojis is a viable marketing tactic, let me outline seven ways to take advantage of their value:

1. Make tweets more concise.

You do tweet, don't you? If so, you are well aware of how stifling 140 characters can be in getting your message across. Emojis can help your message be more concise, giving you breathing room, as in this example from General Electric or this one from White Castle.

2. Target millennials.

I've mentioned several times in this post that emojis and millennials (add teens to the mix, too) go together like peanut butter and jelly. While you don't want to be patronizing, incorporate emojis into your messaging to them, via social network posts, email messages, instant messaging, and even press releases!

3. Express emotion.

Emojis, also referred to as emoticons, evolved for the sole purpose of conveying emotion. Given that marketing involves creating messages that stimulate an emotional response, it seems natural to use emojis to foster such action. If you're lucky, perhaps it will help forge a more personal bond between you and the customer as well.

4. Show off your brand's personality.

In case your brand comes across as a bit "stuffy," consider using emojis to inject a little fun in your messaging and lighten the mood.

5. Use emojis with Instagram and Facebook.

Emojis are now fully embedded into Instagram, so their use is as natural as a hashtag. And while we're at it, let's throw Facebook into the mix. Use emojis in posts, like this one from Zappos.

6. Make practical use of emojis.

Cheapflights developed a way for customers to book flights using emojis via its website. That's not far a field from what Domino's did with ordering pizza. Both were fun and practical uses of emojis. Could your brand do the same?

7. Create contests.

One last suggestion: Create a contest using emojis. For instance, you could ask people to suggest a branded emoji, guess the meaning of an obscure or esoteric emoji, or decode a message consisting strictly of emojis, similar to what Chevrolet did with its press release announcing the Chevy Cruze. Sit down with your team and brainstorm (maybe there's an emoji for that) some creative, funky ideas.

A few points to consider

While I want to encourage emoji use, there are some things to consider:

Make sure it's right for your audience: Not every audience is ideal for emojis so be certain you're targeting those that are.

Explore the full range of emotion: While we want all our messaging to be upbeat and positive, don't be afraid to use the "negative" emotions periodically, when appropriate. Humans aren't happy all the time, after all. Design some of your messaging to connect with a range of feelings -- sadness, anger, concern, pride, patriotism, and so forth. It’s a way to humanize your brand.

Be aware of emoji fatigue: Even though emojis are extremely popular, their overuse can lead to fatigue. A little emoji marketing can go a long way, so be judicial with its use.

My goal with this post is to get you thinking about why and how to use emojis for marketing. It may not be right for every brand, but you never know until you try. After all, isn't trial and error, test and refine what marketing is all about?

Conduct a small pilot campaign with a segment of your audience that you feel would be receptive -- something fun and easy to do -- and check the response. You may be surprised at what you discover.

Paul Chaney is a staff writer for Small Business Trends where he covers industry news, services, and trends affecting small businesses. Formerly, he was editor of Web Marketing Today and a contributing editor for Practical Ecommerce.

Correction: An emoji marketing survey mentioned in this post was misattributed. It was conducted by Appboy.