When to Use Emojis in Your Subject Line (with Examples)

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is an emoji worth to an email marketer trying to write a short but impactful subject line? A lot!

Before email platforms introduced emoji support, the little picture icons were already being put to work by marketers on all the popular social media platforms.

The Positive Impact of Emojis on Marketing Efforts

The use of emojis in social media posts increases:

  • Twitter engagement rates by 25.4% overall
  • Facebook like rates by 57%
  • Facebook comment and share rates by 33% respectively
  • Instagram interaction rates by 47.7%

With results like that it’s no wonder that marketers decided it would be a good idea to test the use of emojis in email marketing content.

Which Emojis to Use in Your Email Content

Which emojis should you be using in your subject lines? Apple published a report of the top 10 most used emojis across both iOS and macOS:

Graph of top 10 most popular emojis

Do these results surprise you? I feel like I see all of these emojis on a daily basis from both my friends and brands I follow. What did surprise me was HubSpot’s analysis on the top 10 emojis that encourage users to click-through on an ad or an email:

  1. 🐙
  2. 🐴
  3. 👖
  4. 🍒
  5. 🚂
  6. 🏳
  7. 🌉
  8. 🆓
  9. 👇
  10. 🎟

What you’ll notice is none of these emojis are included in the top 10 most popular emojis list. The HubSpot team suspects that these emojis stand out and therefore generate clicks because they are so unusual to see. The team also feels that they lead to high click-through rates because they spark curiosity. I mean, why is anyone using the octopus emoji? I’d click to find out!

When deciding which emojis to use for your emails, consider choosing relevant options from these two lists as a start.

When Should You Use an Emoji?

Based on the incredible lift in engagement brands see when using emojis in social media you might think that you should be using emojis in all of your subject lines. Some brands will definitely see a lift in open rates, but other brands may not.

According to a study by Econsultancy 60% of the time, an emoji will improve your open rate, but 40% of the time it will hurt your open rate.

Why?

According to the Econsultancy team, the use of an emoji will make a good subject line even better, but that it will make a bad subject line worse.

What does that really mean?

If you’re writing subject lines that come across as spammy, the use of an emoji alone is not going to lift your open rates.

Here is an example of some pretty spammy looking subject lines:

screenshot of subject lines with an emoji

According to the team at Econsultancy, these subject lines cannot be saved by the simple use of an emoji because the emoji is not contextually relevant. Why is there a lock emoji on an email that says “you’re in” and why would you tell a customer that ACTION (is) REQUIRED when you’re just notifying them about a sale that they may or may not be interested in?

Now, if you use a complimentary emoji in a subject line that is not spammy you’re in business!

Here’s a great example from Domino’s Pizza:

The recipient sees a subject line with a very clear offer, and the pizza emoji is contextually relevant to the offer.

You can also see that the colors in the emoji really helps draw the recipient’s eye to the offer in a crowded inbox where all the messages can begin to blend together.

screenshot of subject lines showing how one with an emoji stands out

You would think since emojis really help a brand stand out in the inbox lots of smart maketers (writing decent subject lines) would be using them, but it’s really not yet the norm.

Looking at my own inbox out of the 17 emails shown on my screen right now only 3 of them are using emojis.

screenshot of inbox with subject lines

This is great because it represents a real opportunity for your emails to stand out in the inbox!

Great Examples of Emojis in Subject Lines

Emojis can be used to communicate a lot of different messages for your brand.

1. Call Attention to the Type of Product You’re Promoting

When beauty brand, Pacifica, wanted to promote their nighttime eye gel, they used the moon and star emoji in a subject line to quickly communicate that this email was about an overnight product.

Pacifica subject line with moon and star emojis

The subject line very smoothly leads right into the creative design of the email body that also includes stars and promotes a “beauty sleep” gel. This email feels very cohesive and doesn’t in any way try to trick the recipient into opening the email in a spammy way.

2. Evoke an Emotion in the Recipient

Using emotional marketing is an age-old tactic that, when executed correctly, can actively encourage your audience to buy from you.

Some brands are expertly using emojis to help evoke emotion, like Domino’s pizza. In this email subject line they mention a deal for a “delicious combo” with the Face Savoring Food emoji to evoke the emotion of being hungry!

Once the recipient starts thinking about being hungry, they show a picture of pizza to help satisfy that feeling of hunger. It’s a beautiful combination that encourages the recipient to order a pizza right away!

The Savoring Food emoji isn’t the only one that evokes emotion. Almost any of the face emojis can convey a feeling. The Grinning Face conveys happiness, the Face with Tears conveys laughter, the Heart Eyes conveys feelings of love, and the Screaming Face conveys shock, and depending on the context, could be positive or negative. We can be shocked that a sale is so good, or we can be shocked that a product is so bad.

3. Convey a Sense of Urgency

Many brands use email to promote discounts and other special offers that are only available for a limited time.

Marketers can easily convey a sense of urgency by combining a phrase like “final hours” and “sale ends soon” with an emoji that alerts the recipient to this time-sensitive offer.

Some brands do this with the Siren emoji like in this Kate Spade example below:

However, you could also use the Alarm Clock or the Stop Watch to convey the message that time is running out.

4. Leverage Popular Holidays to Drive Up Sales

If sales are low in any given month and you want to quickly drive up sales, consider running an email promotion that’s tied into a holiday.

When you’re promoting a sale that falls on or near a popular holiday you can be sure that plenty of other brands are also using the holiday to try and drive up sales. To compete for attention in the inbox use an appropriate emoji to stand out like Asos does here for St. Patrick’s Day:

While running sales during the popular holidays like New Years, Christmas, 4th of July, and Memorial Day is great, there are plenty of other lesser known holidays that you can use to create a sale at almost any given time.

For example, did you know January 4th is Trivia Day? You could come up with a fun trivia question and answer to send in an email along with a promo code!

You can find an emoji to work with any holiday just by browsing through Emojipedia.

5. Connect Over Shared Interests

Another way to leverage emojis to increase your email open rates is by using a symbol that has meaning due to a shared interest with your audience.

For example, basketball fans would be likely to click a subject line with a basketball in it, and dog owners would be likely to click a subject line with a dog emoji. Shared interests don’t need to be quite so on-the-nose though.

Lush is a beauty brand that is dedicated to using vegan, all-natural ingredients in the majority of its products.

In the subject line example above you can see they used the green plant emoji to connect with their audience over the shared interest of vegan, all-natural ingredients.

What emoji conveys a shared interest with your audience? Consider using it in your next email blast!

Getting Started with Using Emojis in Email

When it comes to using emojis in your subject lines, remember that these little characters are there to support your results but they are not a magical cure.

If your subject lines are good an emoji can make them great. If your subject lines are bad they will still be bad even with an emoji. The winning formula for your brand is to write a punchy, clear, relevant subject line that includes an emoji to help it stand out visually in a crowded inbox.

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