Marissa Aydlett, SVP marketing at Braze, considers what the conflicting results of two different studies into the effectiveness of emojis in marketing can tell us about how we approach innovation.
Mobile marketing tactics have come a long way since 2015, when the “tears of joy” emoji was named the word of the year. There are now all sorts of ways marketers can send messages with visual eye candy: image carousels, GIFs, and videos can be embedded in push and email in ways we could only dream of in the early text-only days. And we definitely have a special place in our hearts for emojis, both as marketers and as people who value fun and efficient texting with family and friends.
While we noted with interest Apple’s introduction of new emojis timed to coincide with this year’s World Emoji Day, we at Braze (formerly Appboy) were more focused on how consumer behaviour is shifting with regard to emoji use by marketers. And we weren’t alone: Leanplum released a report that analyzed a year’s worth of emoji data gleaned from their own customers’ campaigns.
Interestingly, our analysis of data from our own customer campaigns differed...dramatically. We noted that email open rates drop significantly when emojis are used in subject lines, which is the opposite of what the other report revealed. As they say in the commercials, “Your results may vary.”
What should marketers take away from this seemingly conflicting data? This is a fast-evolving piece of a multi-faceted communication puzzle that bears close watching. Most importantly, no outside research that aggregates data across businesses and industries can replace proprietary multivariate testing results over time. The particulars of any company’s products and services, customer base, marketing mix, and communication partners and practice will all influence how and why customers respond - or don’t - to marketing campaigns.
Truly, the devil is in the detail here. Mobile channels enable marketers to move from one-to-many, batch-and-blast efforts against broad audience segments loosely defined by demographics, to a much nimbler, one-to-few or even one-to-one style of communication that, at its best, comes closer to a human conversation. With modern stream processing, marketers are no longer limited to snapshot views of past customer behaviour, so there’s really no excuse for crafting strategies based on information that is days or weeks old.
Consumers are adapting quickly to new capabilities that give them greater control over the messages they receive. It’s on us as marketers to keep up, and to use data and technology to speak to our customers where they are today, demonstrating that we understand what’s important to them in the here and now.
I’ve argued in the past that demographics alone aren’t enough for effective messaging, now that we have the tools to make sure what we say to our customers is relevant to them right now. When we have what it takes to deliver a brilliant experience to foster a long-term relationship and advocacy for a brand, it doesn’t make sense to settle for a generic call to action.
While no one can predict the future, what’s certain is that mobile channels will continue to evolve, providing ever more innovative ways for people to communicate with each other, and for marketers to communicate with them. So what’s a smart marketer to do? Test and learn, test and learn...and then test again. Empower your teams with the tools that can help them get super creative with messaging, and then get super granular as they track results.
Clear obstacles to cross-team collaboration, so your people can share learnings and dig deeper, especially when findings are unexpected, or even contradictory. Encourage everyone to ask “why?” of one another, and to hear that question as inspirational and motivational, rather than as a cue to shift into defensive mode. As leaders, we need to foster a virtuous circle of inquiry, discovery, and creativity in which our people get fired up, not daunted, by solving new puzzles every day.
As for me, I’ve already gone back to our analytics folks with some tough questions. Why do we think our results on the impact of emojis in email subject lines are so different from those of our competitor? How can we build on the foundation we set with our initial emoji study of 2016 and expand our inquiry into the new ways that customers can engage within messages without clicking through to site or app? Are we doing all we can to shift signal from noise in our own data to identify what customers are doing differently today that should begin to shape our product tomorrow?
We don’t have all the answers (yet), but the questions are what get me going every morning.
Marissa Aydlett is SVP Marketing at Braze (formerly Appboy).