PICTURE THIS: Can Using Unicode Symbols in Email Increase Engagement?
The subject line is an important variable in the success of
email marketing campaigns, but most email marketers
aren’t aware of just how creative they can get.
In the last couple of years, savvy email senders have experimented
with using special characters known as Unicode
symbols (e.g. ☼ ♣ ♦ ♫) as a way to stand out in
crowded inboxes and differentiate their brands from their
competition (and their own previous emails). After all,
pictures tell a thousand words, right?
Today, anyone with an email account can see this
trend’s adoption is gaining speed, but are symbols for
“The experiments with Unicode symbols included in
subject lines gets quite a large group of email marketers
busy these days,” said GetResponse Education Expert,
Mack Gorski. “Along with popularity comes a concern
whether using those symbols is safe and effective. The answer
is quite simple. You never know until you try, or in
regards to the email, until you test it.”
Plenty of enterprises are testing this tactic. Return Path
recently published a comparison of Expedia UK and
British Airways’ use of the airplane symbol in emails that
were sent just a few days apart. According to Return Path,
the “read rate,” the degree at which subscribers read an
email was approximately a quarter lower than their corresponding
90-day averages. There were no deliverability
issues, however, and of course this does not take into account
many factors that impact a campaign’s metrics (list,
time sent, type of offer, etc.), but Return Path noted that
the decline in engagement was similar for both brands.
Perhaps proving that the results of symbols in email
subject lines is a mixed bag, Return Path also issued three
examples of companies that
used symbols in subject lines effectively and
showed positive results (one even as high as 17 percent
increase in click-through rates).
Interestingly, while British Airways and Expedia UK
saw negative results from using the airplane symbol, Experian
CheetahMail found that the greatest unique open
rate lifts they’ve seen were in subject lines including umbrellas
(50 percent) and airplanes (10.7 percent)
In the same report, Experian CheetahMail saw mixedto-
positive results from their study. For example, subject
lines with symbols had a higher unique open rate in 56 of
the brands analyzed. Notably, the black heart, which is
the most popular symbol, provided only a modest open
Confused as to whether symbols in email subject lines
work or not? Don't be, like in all things digital, it really comes
down to testing.
“If you won’t experiment with the content of your messages,
form of your subject or any other parts of the emails
that you deliver to your audience, you’ll be stuck with oneway
communication,” said Gorski. “In time, your emails
will become out dated against the current trends and your
subscribers may get bored seeing the same type of communication
in their inboxes repeatedly.”
It truly remains to be seen if adding symbols in subject
lines enhance the user experience and furnish positive results
for those willing to experiment, but the more companies
that adopt this approach, the bigger risk it has of
returning negative results.
“Consumers will ultimately decide whether symbols
in subject lines help them understand and prioritize messages,
but if they're voting with their feet today by engaging
with those messages, it's probably an indication that
they'll continue to, at least as long as the symbols add to
their experience,” said Return Path Sr. Director of Email
Research, Tom Sather. “As with most trends though, if
overused, it will lose its effectiveness.”
ALSO READ: Will My Symbols Work?
Before you commit to testing
symbols in an email subject
line, check to see which email
clients support them. Learn more.