How Emojis Have Made Their Way into Business :-)

By Elana Lyn Gross, Contributor

Emojis have become ubiquitous. We use them to convey our emotions, reactions, or to infuse some lightheartedness into our digital conversations. But, where did they come from? And in 2017, what is their role in the business world?

A Brief History

The word “emoji” is derived from a combination of the Japanese word “e,” which means picture, and “moji,” meaning character.

The first generation of emojis was released by the Japanese national carrier, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone, NTT DOCOMO, in 1999. This initial set of 176 emoji was designed by Shigetaka Kurita, now heralded as the founder of emoji, in 1991.

The original set of emoji designed by Shigetaka Kurita via NTT DOCOMO.

While in 1991 emojis themselves were new, the concept of using pictures to convey emotions in digital communication had already begun to take off.

Inside an online bulletin at Carnegie Mellon University, one research professor from the Language Technologies Institute and Computer Science Department used a simple digital denotation to indicate his satirical messages were humorous and not ill-intentioned. The colon, dash, and parenthesis formed what we now know as a digital smiley face, and with that, the first emoticons were born.

Scott E. Fahlman with his original emoticon, via Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Today, these smiley faces and original emojis have morphed into a new wave of digital communication. According to MoMA Architecture & Design Collection Specialist Paul Galloway, the cartoon-like emojis we know and love became mainstream when Apple added emoji functionality to its iOS messaging app in 2011.

Since then, emojis have evolved to include a variety of skin tones and females who do more than cut hair, paint nails, or dance. Emojis have even officially made their way into the English language – in 2015, the Oxford Living Dictionaries Word of the Year was a pictograph.

Emojis in Business?

Perhaps the most interesting shift in the transformation of emojis is the way businesses from around the world have adopted them as part of their marketing and engagement strategies.

Some companies, like Mentos, GE, Coca-Cola, and Comedy Central, have spent the last few years creating custom emojis, emoticons, and stickers to build brand awareness and increase sales. The reason, of course, is consumer demand, as seen with Fox’s text message campaign to promote the film, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.”

The production company worked with Swyft Media to develop custom digital stickers with stylized images of the movie’s (peculiar) characters. While Fox set out to generate 300,000 downloads, the campaign achieved over 200% of this original goal, generating the equivalent of 2.64 years of engagement and more than 100 million impressions.

“When we offer mobile app users the imagery of their favorite brands, they don’t see it as advertising,” Evan Wray, the co-founder of Swyft Media, a leading agency for custom emoji campaigns, told Adweek. “They see it as self-expression.”

This type of engagement through mobile messaging has also translated into practical use. Domino’s Pizza’s Domino’s Anywhere initiative allowed people to order pizza by sending a pizza emoji in a text message. Other businesses, like Kip have embraced similar emoji text message campaigns and Facebook messages to make ordering signature products faster and more fun.

These campaigns work to engage a younger demographic, according to millennial expert, Jules Schroeder. In fact, 36 percent of millennials say visual expressions like emojis and GIFS communicate their thoughts and feelings better than words alone.

The ROI of Emojis

Ad technology companies like Emogi and Snaps are at the forefront of using emoji marketing to prove measurable ROI. When IKEA wanted to be top of mind as people discussed shopping for college, they worked with Emogi to create and send custom IKEA stickers to consumers who expressed interest for the brand, talked about going back to school, or used positive emojis.

The campaign was a success: People actively engaged with IKEA’s custom stickers more than 25,000 times and included the custom stickers in college conversations more often than traditional school-related emojis.

Messaging marketing platform Snaps, also helps brands manage and measure their emoji and sticker ad campaigns by tracking how emoji usage increases campaign shares and views. “We can show it drives scale and real ROI and that the media buy has been effective,” Christian Brucculeri, CEO of Snaps told Digiday, “A low six-figure investment can deliver millions in media value.”

With the growing sophistication of emojis on our phones and in our vernacular, businesses are finding it easier to prove emoji ROI. (Perhaps, some day there will be an emoji for this, too.)