How to Use Emojis and Symbols in Email Marketing

Sometimes, words are not enough to entice subscribers and convey emotions. This is your guide to how, when, and why to use emojis in email subject lines. Plus, top emoji suggestions for different situations.

Robbie Fitzwater
Updated on

Do you know that according to a Microsoft study, the average human attention span is less than 8 seconds? 

Given this decreased attention span of humans, it becomes hard for marketers to capture their attention and even harder to maintain with the help of plain text solely. Not to mention that the subject lines have become more competitive than ever.

So how can you stand out from the pack? How can you entice subscribers to open your emails? That’s where emojis are going to help you a lot! Emojis do not only give subscribers more contextual clarity, but they also help in driving your desired behavior.

However, you need to factor in a couple of essential things before using emojis in email subject lines.  

So in order to give you a detailed insight into the usage of emojis in email subject lines, we have put together this comprehensive guide. Read on!

Topics Covered in this blog:

  1. Why do Marketers Use Emojis in Email Subject Lines? 
  2. Pros and Cons of Using Emojis in Email Subject Lines
  3. What Emojis Should You Avoid Using?
  4. Examples of Good and Bad Use of Emojis in Subject Line
  5. When and Where Should you Avoid Using Emojis in Email Subject Lines?
  6. Do Emojis in Email Subject Lines Trigger Spam?
  7. What do you Need to Consider While Including Emojis? 
  8. Our Top Five Emojis

Why do Marketers Use Emojis in Email Subject Lines? 

The one thing that every email marketer wants is to have increased open and click-through rates. But if their emails do not spark curiosity in people to click, every effort will go in vain. 

So emojis in email subject lines will drive the behavior you want to create and help you stand out from the crowd. 

Moreover, when you’re fighting for attention in a crowded inbox, emojis are not only going to be a pattern interrupt. But they will possibly be a way of breaking through the noise, adding some colors, vibrancy, and emotion to that email subject line.

Gone are the days when emojis were only for teens. The world has changed a lot over the last two decades, and emojis have become common among the masses. That’s why you might have seen your dad using poop emoji every now and then. 

In fact, a few years ago, Webster’s English Dictionary declared the crying smiley face emojis as their word of the year.

It’s no wonder then that over the past few years, we’ve seen a steady increase in email marketers adding emojis to their subject lines. 

Now we know how important emojis for email marketing are. So it’s time to dive a little deeper and understand the pros and cons of using emoticons for email marketing. What are the top emojis for email subject lines? How and where to use them? 

Pros and Cons of Using Emojis in Email Subject Lines

First, let’s look for the reasons you should use email emoji symbols in your subject lines.

Increased Open Rates

The biggest advantage emojis bring to the table is increased email open rates. According to a report by Experian, more than 55% of brands that use emojis in email subject lines have a higher open rate than brands that do not. 

There is no doubt that emojis have the power to grab attention right away. When users open their inbox, they find tons of emails from several different brands. Now it usually gets boring for them as they find nothing new and just plain text all the time. 

So if you’re not using emojis in your subject lines, chances are you are also getting ignored, and now you know why. Change your approach by adding relevant emojis in email subject lines and witness the increased open rates. 

Emojis Save Space in Your Subject Line

Ideally, you should use around 30 characters for your email subject lines keeping mobile experience in mind too. However, conveying an emotion or even asking a question in a subject line can take a lot more space than that. This is where emoticons come in handy. 

They can not only save up a great amount of space, but they can also convey an emotion in a better way.  

For instance, if you’re spelling out a particular country in your subject line, it’s going to capture a lot of space and may restrict you from writing more words. So what you can do is use a flag emoji for that country and save a couple of characters. 

Emojis Can Convey Emotions Instantly and in a Better Way

Words can’t always convey emotion in the best way possible, but emojis can.

The word emoticon or emoji is itself derived from the English word “Emotion.” As we move into more text-based communications through mobile devices, emojis are becoming more and more commonplace in helping us convey how we’re feeling, what we want, what we’d like, and what we don’t.

We can also say that emojis aid companies in building a connection between their business and their audience.

Stand Out in a Crowded Inbox

I always say that attention is something hard to earn and even harder to maintain. And in an inbox full of marketing emails, capturing it becomes even more challenging. 

But email emoji symbols can be your weapon and help you stand out from the rest. This pattern interrupt may psychologically make people attracted towards an email, especially in a sea of plain text subject lines.

As there are tons of advantages of using emojis in email subject lines, there are some disadvantages too, which you should be aware of. Let’s take a look.  

Bad Choice of Emojis May Convey the Wrong Tone 

If you use emojis inappropriately in your subject lines, they may convey the wrong tone. And if your email subject line does not hit the inbox of your prospect with the right tone, you are not going to achieve your desired outcome from email marketing. 

Therefore, you first need to figure out if the emojis you are going to use fit your tone or not. If you run a serious brand, let’s say a brand that handles financial data, emojis might not please your customer and might come out as unprofessional. And instead of opening your email, they might ignore it. 

So, in short, you need to find out whether smiley faces or fun symbols fit your brand before using emojis in email subject lines. If you are unsure about using emojis, you can carry out A/B email tests for your emails. You can learn more about A/B testing emails here

Emojis Acceptance May Vary Among Your Audience Demographics

If you are targeting millennials, emojis may hit the mark because emojis have become part of their daily life. That’s not to say that older customers won’t embrace them, but if you market to an older population, chances are that they may not find emojis that engaging.

So make sure to test your email subject lines with emojis on a smaller segment before targeting a large subscriber base.

Also, if you want more info on segments, we walk through everything you need to know about eCommerce email segmentation strategies here!

Potential Rendering Issues

You might have noticed that some emojis appear different when used across different devices and platforms. This is referred to as an emojis rendering issue. 

Every different email service provider and email client will not render those emojis just the same way. Therefore, an iPhone might not view an emoji the exact same as an Android phone. Similarly, some emojis may look different on Facebook than on Twitter.

It’s going to look different across a lot of different platforms. The average emoji takes about 18 months to develop from beginning to end. And the approval process is crazy because an emoji has to go through all these different layers to actually get approved.

So it has to work on Facebook, Twitter, Outlook, Microsoft, and on Apple.

And understanding that these may not render exactly the same everywhere can help you make a decision on what emoji to use and what not to.

How To Make Sure Your Emojis in Emails Subject Lines Work?

If you are new to using emojis in email marketing, you might have questions like: 

How do I know emojis are working for me? How do I find out if emojis are driving the behavior I want to create?

The answer to these questions is simple, test, test and test. If you think a certain emoji or symbol might work for you, try to use it in your subject line and test that email on a smaller segment of your audience. The results will tell you whether your emoji is of some use or not. 

One simple way of testing out your emojis is by trying them in your email automation. If you have automation that is being sent consistently, you can add an emoji to one and not the other to gauge the difference.

If you get a distinct result, as an increase in open rates, you will know that your emoji worked. 

If it’s not the case, you can cut it and possibly try something else. But this is where you can really start to test and use this as a sandbox to understand what’s working and what’s not. 

You can do all the A/B testing of your emails you want to do. Check out our detailed blog post on AB testing email campaigns here

What Emojis Should You Avoid Using?

Don’t use Emojis That do not Make Any Sense

You should always avoid using emojis that don’t make any sense. And when I say sense, it means contextual sense. 

You will not achieve your outcome if the emojis you are using in your email subject lines are not aligned with the content, you have inside your email. The purpose of emoji is to add some value to the email, not to take something away from it. 

Don’t use Emojis That Have Multiple Meanings

Before using an emoji in your email context, make sure it does not have multiple meanings or can not be used in multiple social contexts. You can search it and see how it’s being used in society and culture.

For example, Twitter is a great place to find out how an emoji is being used by people in a society. 

Avoid Using New and Niche Emojis

New and initial emojis take time to establish and get approved by different platforms. Not every platform and every operating system are going to accept all those new emojis right out of the gate. And new emojis sometimes also render differently on different platforms, as mentioned earlier. 

For these reasons, you should avoid using new emojis and instead give them some time to marinate and go through all the different systems.

Only Use the Yellow Skin Tone Unless You Want Something Different

You should not use different skin tone emojis other than yellow ones unless it’s necessary for your brand or you’re trying to convey a specific intent. 

For example, when I used to manage social for a large university, I used a generic skin tone as default because we had to represent a lot of different people. There, we had to represent a broad group and we wanted to be inclusive of our audience. 

So unless something specific is a part of your brand or your brand story, you should default towards a generic skin tone. 

Examples of Good and Bad Use of Emojis in Subject Line

Good Usage of Emojis is Not Leaning on Them Heavily 

It’s true that emojis perform great when it comes to conveying feelings. However, leaning heavily on them is not the right approach. You should create excitement by adding a little bit of them in your subject lines. 

One of the best analogies regarding emojis that I’ve heard in a while is that they are kind of like hot sauce. If you add a little bit of it, it adds flavor, complexity, and excitement to your subject lines. But If you use too many emojis, it just overpowers everything and kind of alienates everything.

Contextual Timing and Relevance

Another thing that you need to understand for using emojis is the right contextual timing. It is the timing when the usage of emojis seems most appropriate. 

For instance, around Valentine’s day, you may see a lot more hearts ❤️ and a lot more roses🌹from relevant brands that you usually see. Similarly, if it’s summer, you may see a lot more suns ☀️, and beaches  🏖 , or bases with sunglasses  😎 .

Do you see the point here? I mean, the emoji of sun, face with sunglasses, or a beach with the umbrella, all of these emojis will not be relevant in the winter. So you need to make sure that you are sending the right emoji to your target audience at the right time. 

Moreover, good use of emojis also heavily depends upon their relevance with the content inside the email. 

For example, if you are an eCommerce brand and your sale is ending in a day or two, you can use clock emojis to create urgency. 

⏰⏱⏲⌚️⏳⌛️🕰

Similarly, if you are emailing about something exciting or celebrative, you can add emojis like these:

☺️😁😀🤪🤗😜😆🥳😛😝😺🤩

Emojis that you can use around holidays are:

🎉🎊🎁🎄🎃🎅🤶🕯

Likewise, if you have a surprise offer for your users, you can leverage emojis such as:

😬😳🤯😱😯😲🙀😨🙊

Businesses and brands that have a mascot or something similar they’ll use the same emojis over and over and over.

Also, they can include those emojis in a lot of things because that’s part of their brand and it kind of conveys their brand message.

🐅 I remember when I was the director of social for Clemson, we frequently used the tiger emoji because their mascot was a tiger, which is why it made perfect sense. 

Emojis Should Drive the Behavior You Want 

Emojis should drive towards the behavior or outcome you want to see. For example, if you are saying “Check this out” in your email, you can make it more impactful and drive the behavior more efficiently by adding a finger emoji like this:

“👉Check this out.”

Similarly, if you want somebody to dive in and watch a video, or show the sneak preview, you can add this ▶️ emoji to convey it more effectively. 

Here are some more examples of driving behavior with the right emoji:

●      ⭕ Attention: your Dropbox has stopped syncing – Dropbox

●      LOOKS RARE 👀 – Groceries Apparel

●      🥁 *drumroll please* 🥁 – Olipop

●      Have you tried this berry bestseller? 🔥 – magic spoon

When and Where Should You Avoid Using Emojis in Email Subject Lines?

We have already talked a lot about how and what emojis to use in email subject lines. But when and where should we avoid using them? 

If your brand is around a specific group, holding sensitive data or sensitive information, you may want to lean away from using too many emojis. For example, if you are a medical care provider company and want to email your patients their test results, the usage of emojis will not fit well in this context. 

Similarly, usage of emojis will not be of much help if you are emailing your subscribers about their decreased credit scores. 

So, in short, if you’re in a little bit more buttoned-up and straight-laced industry, emojis may not be as valuable or as helpful.

If you are unsure about using emojis in email subject lines, take a step back and analyze your audience and brand image. Then, try and test emojis on a small segment of your audience and make your decision accordingly. 

Do Emojis in Email Subject Lines Trigger Spam?

If you depend heavily on emojis and they are not driving the right behavior, then yes, they may trigger spam.

On the contrary, if emojis you are using are driving engagement, and conveying emotions, then they are going to be as valuable by an email service provider or an email client. 

So make sure to use the right emojis at the right time and avoid leaning on them solely. 

What do you Need to Consider While Including Emojis? 

Target Audience

Before including emojis, the first and foremost thing you should keep in mind is your target audience. 

Is your target audience based on teenagers? Are you a B2B brand or a B2C? Are you marketing specifically to older people? 

Getting answers to these questions will help you figure out what type of emojis you should include or not include at all. 

Different Devices Display Emojis Differently

Emojis may appear different on different devices and operating systems, as we discussed earlier.

Therefore, you need to make sure what device most of your audience base uses. If the majority of your audience opens on a mobile device, you need to think of leveraging emojis in terms of mobile devices. 

Relevancy and Moderation

The relevancy and moderation of emojis will be important all the time. Using the right amount of emojis at the right time delivers the right messages effectively and becomes a game-changer. 

However, on the other hand, you may lose the attention if you lack in any of the above-mentioned departments. 

Here Are Our Top Five Emojis!

Email subject lines are the first things that get the eyeballs. And adding emojis to them makes them more impactful and can turn out to be super helpful in terms of increased open rates. 

But overusing them or without the proper context, they might end up in your subscriber’s spam folder. So make sure to always use them in moderation and with relevancy. 

That was all for today. I hope this has been a helpful read for you. Have any questions? Feel free to drop them in the comment box below. 

Our Top Five Emojis:

Robbie – Founder of MKTG Rhythm   🤦‍♂️✅🙃😍📈🏴‍☠️

Edvina- MKTG Strategist 😎🔥🤔🤦🏼‍♀️ 💃

Jesse – Designer 🙌🏼😂❤️👍🏼👀

Carese – Content Strategist 😂🤔🤦🏾‍♂️🫢🤨

Share your favorite emoji in the comment box ⬇️

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