Getting emojis right in your emails.

Since becoming popular in the 2010's, emojis are a common part of how we digitally communicate. Oxford Dictionaries even made the 😂 emoji their Word of the Year in 2015. They help us show we are crying with laughter, giving a thumbs up, or that we want aubergine for dinner (steady now...)

It's only recently that they've begun to appear in marketing emails, and they are great to include. They add an element of fun and a playful tone to an email, without needing any design or coding knowledge. They can improve open rates by 29% if used in the subject line! But using them well is key as emojis can be misinterpreted, clash with context and brand tones, and render differently depending on what you are viewing them on.

We've put together the ultimate guide for emojis in email, so you can feel confident using them and see the benefits.

Oh, and we realise that the correct plural usage of 'emoji' is 'emoji', but in common usage it seems to be 'emojis', so for ease of understanding we are using the latter 😄.

What exactly are emojis?

Emojis are little graphics based on Unicode characters - which is a code for rendering text, numbers, and symbols in a widely standard way. These graphics can represent anything from face-based emotions, to buildings to food. Basically anything you can represent in picture form!

Where are emojis supported?

They are supported by the vast majority of digital devices and platforms. However they look slightly different depending on what they are viewed on. This is because many platforms and systems translate the Unicode into their own visual 'style'. For example, they differ between devices using Windows, Android, or macOS operating systems, or if the manufacturer or app has a certain style, such as Samsung (in their apps) or Gmail.

This handy chart highlights how the design styles of emojis can vary:

Chart showing some different design styles for emojis

Matt Parsloe

Content Marketer, Taxi for Email

You can use sites like emojipedia.org to check how emojis renders across most common devices and platforms. It's a great thing to do before including them in your email!

How do email clients and editors support emojis?

Many email clients are created and supported by different platforms, so there are differences in how they show emojis. The general rule of thumb is that emojis in emails render in the style of the operating system of the device you are viewing them on - regardless of different browsers or apps. Though there are exceptions. We've outlined how they appear in the 4 most popular email clients below.

Gmail

The Unicode characters are translated into emojis by Google rather than the operating system by making them into images. This is unlike other email clients and can conflict with the global image css - meaning they can sometimes fail to properly render (if you want to know more, we go into a little bit more detail later on). They also use a separate visual style to other Google platforms - see the chart above.

Yahoo

Yahoo only supports a subset of emojis, and these can be old and pixelated. In practice, they usually take on the style of the operating system they are being viewed on, so you shouldn't see the Yahoo emoji subset.

Outlook

Emojis are fully supported by Outlook. If viewed on a web browser or mobile app, the emojis are styled by the operating system of that device. If viewed using the Windows email app, they are shown in the Windows style.

Apple Mail

Emojis are supported by iOS mail, and always use the iOS style, regardless of browser app.

What about email editors

If you are using a WYSIWIG editor, emojis are supported - you can even copy and paste them in! You can also code them into your HTML if you are building emails this way, though there is a chance your ESP will not recognise them.

Hattie Howard

Customer Marketing Lead, Taxi for Email

It's a great idea to test your emoji-based emails by previewing them in different email clients, or using a tool like Litmus. Including an 'emoji-check' as part of your QA process is a great way to ensure this happens.

Do emojis drive better results

They can support the copy in your email to great effect if used well. This can translate into good results too:

  • Using emojis in your email copy can increase the click-through rate by up to 28%
  • 78% of people say that using emojis make you more likeable, which is great for your brand
  • 64% of people say they open an email because of its subject line, so including emojis here can really help yours be noticed.

But there is a flip side. Over 33% of senior managers believe them to be unprofessional in a work/commercial environment, which is why using them in context is important. Knowing your audience is a key aspect of getting the most out of emojis in email.

How to use emojis well in email

There is no set way of using emojis in your emails, but it's good to consider a few points:

Think about where in your email and copy they can be most effective

It's important to note that emojis aren't a substitute for words and phrases. They are much better at accentuating and illustrating something you have said, and also excel at catching the attention of the reader, drawing them to that particular point. Think about:

  • Using them at the end of sentences to highlight, and draw attention to, key points.
  • Putting them in your subject lines and headers to catch the reader's eye once opened, and in a crowded inbox too.
  • Using them strategically and not too often. Because they are so eye catching, overuse can look messy, overwhelming, and ultimately put the reader off. Less is more in this case.

Do emojis fit with your copy and brand tone

This can make or break using them. For example, if your brand leans on a more serious image - like Aston Martin, Unicef, or KPMG - the playful and bright emojis would look out of place. However, if you use a more informal tone, like Patch, Greggs or Paddy Power, emojis can really heighten the sense of lightheartedness and fun that their tone projects.

Also, does the emoji you are using correctly represent what you are saying in the associated text? Since they are essentially little images, emojis can be subject to interpretation depending on the context and also what they are being viewed on. Make sure what you use fits what you are saying.

Plan for accessibility

Emojis have short scripts behind them, describing what they are displaying (e.g 😂 = Face with Tears of Joy). Ensuring this script fits your copy's context enables screen readers to work properly for those that need them, as they will read the script 'behind' the emoji.

Other great tips

  • Try involving them in personalisation! For example, if you can segment your audience geographically, try personalising their emails with their country's flag.
  • Make sure you test, test and test again to make sure they work as intended for all of your subscribers.
  • Don't use an emoji because you think you have to, or just want to. It'll come across as out of place or not relevant, throwing the reader and risking their disinterest.
  • Emojis have an impact but this lessens the more you use them in a single email. Avoid repetition, either the same ones one after the other eg. 😂😂😂, or using a lot of them in the same chunk of text.

What to watch out for when using emojis in emails

Without employing some care and attention, emojis can risk misinterpretation, rendering problems, and could encounter cultural issues. Here are some key areas to watch out for:

Gmail converts emojis into image files

This can cause a number of problems when displaying emojis in Gmail:

  • If you have images turned 'off' in Gmail then you won't see them.
  • Due to the 'display:block' tag that's added to all images in HTML, Gmail may separate the emoji out onto it's own line, causing your email not to display as intended.

Kieran Cavanagh

Technical Success, Taxi for Email

To fix the 'display:block' problem, you can add the 'display:block' tag on the actual images individually in your Email Design System. This means that when the emoji gets converted, this won't be added and your emojis appear as you want.

Unfortunately, there isn't a lot as an email marketer you can do if your subscriber has images turned 'off' in their Gmail client. However, by following the ideas in the How to use emojis well in email section above, you should be able to lessen its impact.

Emojis can be interpreted in different ways 

Being aware of any current social trends and cultural sensitivities helps to use emojis correctly, as the following highlights:

  • Some cultures can interpret the symbolism of some emojis differently. For example, 🙏 (folded hands) may mean praying or please/thank you to many Western and Japanese people, but in China it means 'love making'. Which may throw some audiences! If you have an international audience, it's very important to be fully aware of any cultural interpretations. 
  • Certain emojis can be easily misinterpreted from their intended (and still existing) scripts. For example, 😱  is usually used as a shocked face, but it's script is 'Face Screaming in Fear'. If you are using a screen reader, this might not make a lot of sense. And some have different meanings altogether in current trends. The 🐐emoji may be an animal, but recently it is more commonly used for its acronym GOAT - Greatest Of All Time.
  • Many 'human' emojis contain different skin tones. Consider how inclusive you are being when stepping aside from the standard yellow.

Older devices and systems may not display them

Unfortunately there is very little you can do here. If your recipient is using an older operating system, they may get the dreaded box (☐) instead. Not interrupting sentences with emojis, and having them highlight points rather than make them, will help as you aren't reliant on them to convey your message. 

Examples of emails that use emojis well

Deliveroo - Illustrating a list

Deliveroo are a great example of a company who's tone lends itself well to emojis (particularly food-based ones!). And they use them in a great way too. 

In this example:

  • Emojis illustrate the key points of the message (almost acting as bullet points).
  • They are used enough to be noticed, but not enough to take over
  • The emojis are relevant to the context (e.g the pizza slice for a sentence about food)

Patch plants - different emojis for different contexts

Patch plants haven't used emojis in a list-type format, but still use them to highlight key sections. And they relate to the contexts of those sections. Also, including one in a CTA mixes up the placements and really helps is stand out.


Emojis help subject lines to stand out in the inbox

The two examples above are from how emails from the Cheshire Cheese Company and Monzo look in an inbox, in both Outlook and Gmail. We can see that, by using emojis in subject lines and even in the company name, they stand out with the added splash of colour and imagery. In a crowded inbox, standing out is crucial. 

And they both relate well to the subject line's context. In the case of the Cheshire Cheese Company, they are a proudly British company and use the Union Jack emoji to highlight this company value next to their name, as well as in their subject line which encourages the subscriber to 'buy British'. 

Emojis (and more) in Taxi for Email.

Hopefully now you'll be confident in using emojis and raring to do so! Taxi for Email also fully supports emojis, and also happens to make it easy for email teams to create better email more efficiently 😊.

If you want to know more about how Taxi can help your email marketing team, give us a shout! Or why not come and say hi to us on Twitter.

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