Retailers and the emoji revolution


Retail Week recently published this article by me about how retailers targeting generation Y should take note of the emoji revolution. They’ve been kind enough to let us reproduce it in full below.

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Emoji is the UK’s fastest growing language and retailers must take heed of the latest means of communication being used by their young customers.

Pizza fans and socially-awkward teenagers will have been excited by the news that they can now order pizza, just by tweeting an emoji of one. Welcome to the future people of 2015; forget the hover-boards.

It’s quite convenient for Dominos that there is a pizza emoji on the standard smartphone keyboard. Brands started using emoji on Instagram a couple of years or so ago. It was mainly independent and small fashion brands that added them to the comment section of their images.

Head to Primark now, though, and you’ll see you can dress yourself in head-to-toe in emoji pyjamas – they’ve caught on.

What does this mean for brands? With the natural fast pace of social media it is tricky to identify what is a new behaviour and what is a fad. It also creates a potential pitfall for retailers that may want to jump onto the emoji bandwagon and look as though they’re down with the kids.

Bridging the communication gap
To see if emoji have any lasting power you have to understand what it is they offer users. Since modern life requires us all to converse a large percentage of our life via text it seems apparent that emoji are an attempt to bridge a communication gap. Text alone can be easily misinterpreted; a smiley face at the end of a sentence however offers some context.

Then what else is it that Dominos are offering their users with the pizza emoji? This campaign isn’t just about communication. Dominos also see the benefit of convenience; does this audience still call to order pizza? They also understand that their younger customer users on social media like to make statements and ordering pizza with an emoji is one of these.

Another way brands have become apart of the emoji generation is by creating their own. The television show RuPaul’s Drag Race recently built their own keyboard of emojis, branded uniquely for their fans. A clever move, because what are their fans likely to be doing when watching the show? Talking about it online.


Finally, if you think emoji are just for fashion and pizza, a look on Twitter during the recent general election would have shown that a mention of a political party would automatically give you a suitable emoji. Though it is worth noting that this innovation was from Twitter, rather than the government itself.

It would be easy to assume that it is the just the younger generation that have adopted this new emoji usage but no, personally I sometimes communicate whole conversations with my mum in just emoji.

Which shows that emoji can also be intimate – the closer you are to someone the more inclined you are to offer more than just words.

Rules of etiquette
So does this make brands seem overfamiliar if they send us smiley faces when we tweet out an angry customer service query? I might accept one in an apology from Asos but from my bank, it might come across as insincere. Like everything else, emoji should also be held to the rules of etiquette.

The context of emoji usage will define whether or not they going to have a lasting impression on a brand’s lexicon. Here at We Are Social, emoji are already being written into editorial guidelines. Not just for a brand to use them to communicate with their customers but also to understand how their customers are communicating back.

There will however be those people that really aren’t interested in communicating this way, I have a friend who is a writer and word enthusiast and I don’t think a smiley has ever crossed our Facebook chat box.

Snobbery? Perhaps, but if a brand starts using emoji in their daily communications with an emoji-phobic audience, it might isolate a large section of their customers.

Right now, brands that appeal to a younger audience are the ones who should be keeping up with the evolution of language, communicating using emojis. But this audience are the drivers of change. The word ‘selfie’ made it into the Oxford dictionary after all…