Don’t be fooled into thinking that the simplicity of emojis means they aren’t incredibly powerful tools. Just as previous generations of teens became reliant on text abbreviations and eventually pushed them into the mainstream, the same is true of today’s teens and emojis. They serve as a quick way for young people to convey what they’re doing and how they’re feeling without having to tap out a single word.
For today’s teens, conversations that take place entirely in pictures aren’t unusual and feel more efficient than other forms of communication. Just like LOL and IMHO, images of smiley faces, thumbs up, and a dancing girl are now firmly planted in the lexicon of youth—and everyone they talk to. Young consumers are even using emojis in business reviews on Yelp, and the site now allows emoji searches, as does Microsoft’s Bing. Far from going away, teens are begging for more emojis to further their pictorial communication habits.
Unicode, the consortium responsible for maintaining the catalog of emojis, adds new pictograms every year based both on perceived need as well as public outcry. Audience suggestions for the next release (set for mid-2015) include “much-needed” images such as a taco and a champagne bottle with a popping cork. But even these sanctioned additions don’t fulfill young people’s needs for more nuanced visual messaging.
More emojis are popping up in apps and online, including a collection specifically designed for introverts (introjis) featuring a stressed face hiding under a pillow and lesbian emojis complete with rainbow wedding cake. Likewise, open-minded teens are eager to have access to more racially diverse emojis that represent a range of skin tones. This is of added importance because the pictorial characters easily circumvent language barriers, making them a global communication tool.
The need for brands — and anyone who wants to communicate with teens — to embrace emojis is undeniable. They first have to understand emojis and their meanings so they can keep tabs on and participate in the cultural conversation. However, the opportunity for brand involvement goes far beyond adding a few symbols to their marketing efforts.
According to our research, 51% of teens wish brands would come up with new and creative emojis and digital stickers for them to use. It’s a logical extension as teens’ favorite brands are not only a click away, but are also key in connecting them with others as well as integral in their sharing and communicating with friends. Few brands have taken full advantage of this shift in mindset and habit. Taco Bell created a Change.org petition to further the chances of a taco making it into the Unicode update, but imagine if it offered a Doritos Locos taco emoji for its fans.
Brands are just beginning to latch on to the idea of launching their own emoji collections. While they may seem to have limited use among the general public, they can be indispensable to brand fans who long to communicate their desire to kick back amid their classic Ikea furniture or just add a little branded flare to their messaging with the help of Karl Lagerfeld or SNL.
Brands can leverage their identifiable assets, ranging from their logo to iconic packaging, to help young people get their meaning across. As with any case in which a brand hands over control to consumers, there is a little risk that one’s emoji will take on a different meaning, but that is outweighed by the reward of earning teens’ admiration for helping them further their conversations, which can in turn help grow the brand among this critical consumer segment.