The Evolution of Emojis: A New Creative Way to Engage With Your Customers

By Federico Schiano di Pepe

Emojis have existed for many years, and quite a few people have tried to award themselves the distinction of the "emoji inventor." But in fact, emojis were created in Japan. They were used for the first time back in the late '90s by Shigetaka Kurita. And after that, the Japanese telecommunications company NTT DoCoMo employed them. They have grown exponentially since then.

Over the past few years, I have founded several startups and I am still an advisor for some internet companies. During this period, I have come to understand how important it is to stay in touch with clients, to communicate effectively and to find adequate methods in order to deliver our message in a friendlier, more personal manner. For this purpose, we started using emojis in our newsletter, on social media, in our blog articles and via chat messages between prospects and customer service representatives. We also started using various tools that use emoji to collect user feedback. We have even tried to design our own branded emoji.

The new emojis are mostly based on the latest version of characters approved by the Unicode Consortium, the nonprofit organization that deals with maintaining a common standard for characters. The consortium decides which emoji will become the standard for those who create the operating systems. Tech companies have the power to customize them by introducing specific new, differentiating details regarding style, as Apple recently did. Unicode maintains the final word on which modifications enter the official world of approved emoji.

This huge growth is mainly due to the wide-ranging spread and use of emojis in communication apps or text messages, like Facebook and WhatsApp or Slack and Twitter. In fact, if you observe an exchange of lines via chat between teenagers, you will notice a high percentage of emoticons that (in many cases) replace the written words. For example, WeChat, the popular Chinese platform for chat messages, has seen a significant percentage of its users are now using emoji to communicate instead of text. You might think that only millennials use emojis when they’re chatting. But this phenomenon is also popular within other age groups.

Like most other visual information, the emoji, besides being extremely cute, stimulates us both emotionally and intellectually. Emojis create impactful and memorable experiences. As the author of Knowledge Acquisition of Text and Prose and researcher Joel R. Levin says: "Pictures interact with text to produce levels of comprehension and memory that can exceed what is produced by text alone."

Why Are They So Effective?

Emojis' characteristics have resulted in their growth. They have, in fact, an advantage over words in various respects. First, they add an authentic emotional layer to communication itself. Additionally, the emoji, by transcending different languages, represents emotions that people from around the world can quickly write, read and understand. Amazingly, the emojis are not only cute smileys to use in chats with our friends. Instead, they have become an optimal, evolved communication tool that has intelligently adapted to our global environment.

Digital communication has changed. It has become much shorter, going from text to characters and now to symbols. If we can consider emojis a form of language, it is the language with the most rapid growth in history. It is the most widely spoken online and the most powerful language used to spur emotions. Emojis have also led to the creation of an encyclopedia: Emojipedia, a veritable encyclopedia for emojis that is surprisingly deep in content created by Jeremy Burge, who also declared July 17th World Emoji Day in 2014.

How Does It Impact Business?

Companies always pay attention to communication processes and try to keep up with new, available interaction forms with their customers. Taking note of this trend, in the area of retail and e-commerce, companies have developed their communication strategies and thus, began creating their own branded emoji. At this time, the Unicode Consortium does not recognize business-based emojis officially. Taco Bell has set up an online petition on Change.org in order to give the taco the same rights as the pizza and burgers that have their own emoji, raising its profile in consumers' minds as an equal meal option. Another interesting example is Domino's, who created Domino's AnyWare, a service where you can simply send a pizza emoji text message via Twitter or Facebook to order your dinner.

More and more startups are using emoji communication as their business objectives are emerging. Take, for example, Bitmoji, acquired by Snapchat, which allows users to create custom emoji, or Emojione, to sell its emoji to other companies as a licensed object. Having access to a huge emoji database (like thousands of different styles and characters) may be a great advantage if you want to start, for example, a printed t-shirt or cup business.

Emojics is a startup that has created a widget designed to help receive feedback from users, similar to the one that Facebook is currently using. An instrument like this can be useful especially for small- to medium-sized companies that do business online. It’s a clever way to discover user preferences in order to better the end-user experience. In a speedy world where people have less and less time and companies have a permanently increasing need to know their customers’ opinions, it's clever to use emojis for gathering feedback.

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Federico Schiano di Pepe is Founder of CoContest Inc. the first crowdsourcing marketplace for architecture and interior design online.

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