From email subject lines to custom keyboards, we’ve seen brands use emojis in a variety of different ways.

With 92% of all internet users said to use them in everyday communication, it’s not hard to see why brands are trying to get in on the act.

However, despite recent a suggestion that we’ve reached ‘peak emoji’ – with 59% of millennials also saying that brands try too hard when using emojis in ad campaigns – it doesn’t look like the trend is about to disappear any time soon.

Kayak, the online travel search engine, has recently announced a new feature that allows users to search for a specific travel destination by emoji. While the concept itself is nothing new – we’ve already seen the likes of Google and Yelp launch emoji search – Kayak is one of the first travel brands to get on board.

So, how does it work exactly? And are other brands experimenting with emoji in this way? Here’s a bit more on Kayak’s activity as well as whether it’ll catch on with online consumers. 

Using emoji for a better UX

Instead of incorporating emojis into brand communication, companies are now starting to think about how emojis can be used to aid or enhance the user experience.

The idea that most people now recognise and understand emojis (even when there are no accompanying words) arguably means that it has become a language in its own right.

Let’s say, for example, if a person uses an American flag and a statue of liberty emoji in an Instagram post – it’s pretty obvious where they’re going on holiday, even if they don’t specify using text.

This is the thinking behind Kayak’s new search tool, which so far involves 10 emojis each relating to a specific location. The three-leaf clover signifies Dublin, while a red light stands for Amsterdam. Kayak is allowing users to vote for what emojis should be used for other destinations, too.

Will it catch on?

It’s clear that consumers are open and willing to engage with emojis – a recent study by Leanplum suggests that emojis in push notifications increase open rates by up to 85%. However, search is an entirely different ball game.

The real question for Kayak is – will users bother to use emojis when searching or even be aware that the feature exists? While a lot of people naturally use emojis in conversation, there’s certainly a difference between talking to your friends and a brand – and even more of a leap to researching travel. 

In this case, Kayak’s example could merely be classed as clever bit of PR – something to merely generate interest and awareness. 

We’ve seen many brands do a similar thing. Domino’s launched a feature to allow users to order via the pizza emoji. Meanwhile, WWF launched the #endageredemoji campaign, using emojis to highlight animals that are endangered all over the world, as well as raising money via retweets. 

Kayak says that its new search tool is not just the brand getting on board the emoji bandwagon – neither is it a marketing ploy or a ‘trendy’ PR campaign. Rather, it is about utility. Recognising that emojis are now such an ingrained part of everyday culture, the aim is to simplify the user experience by allowing users to communicate with the brand just like they would their friend.

Issues with user intent

One of the biggest problems brands face with emoji search is determining user intent. After all, emojis can be highly subjective or simply too general.

As a rather broad example, someone might search Google using the apple emoji, but it will still be unclear what exactly they are searching for. The answer could range from recipes to supermarkets – even the ‘Big Apple’ i.e. New York City. 

In this instance, instead of simplifying the experience it actually means that users will spend more time scrolling or looking for the answer that’s relevant to them.

So, perhaps emoji search will be better suited within a specific category or industry, like travel. Kayak is cleverly getting around the problem of user intent by choosing to let consumers determine what emojis are used for what city. 

Other brands, like Yelp – which lets users search for local businesses and restaurants – also capitalise on the fact that people will always be searching for a place (not subjective results like information or meaning). If a user searches for the hamburger emoji on Yelp, it is quite clear what they’re looking for.  In this case, I can definitely see how emoji search might appeal to those who already naturally use emojis.

Emoji search on social

Lastly, while emoji search might have its limitations for brands, perhaps social media platforms could be a better fit. 

Earlier this year, it was revealed that Twitter had added the ability for users to search using emojis. And though the feature is likely to be underemployed by users, it seems to present far more opportunities for brands themselves. 

This is because the feature returns all tweets that include the emoji you search for, essentially allowing brands to target people on this basis.

So, if we turn the tables, and Kayak wanted to target Twitter users including the Statue of Liberty emoji or the Irish flag – it means they could easily find and engage with them.

In conclusion…

Kayak’s new emoji search is certainly a fun feature, and one that is bound to give its content and social strategy a boost (the tool can also be used via the brand’s Facebook Messenger bot). The added gamification element of people voting to determine different emojis is also likely to generate involvement – especially considering the famous ‘poop’ emoji has yet to be assigned.

In terms of whether the feature will be heavily used in future is much less certain.

Maybe it depends on how the technology itself evolves. As it stands, most search engines can only recognise a few emojis at a time, but as the ‘language’ itself continues to evolve, perhaps too will the ability to interpret it.

Will we see travellers researching and booking entire holidays via emoji in future? Probably not. For now, at least, it makes the process of looking for flights a little more fun.

Related reading:

Nikki Gilliland

Published 13 July, 2017 by Nikki Gilliland @ Econsultancy

Nikki is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (3)

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, CINO at Fresh Relevance

Re: "Kayak is allowing users to vote for what emojis should be used for other destinations, too". Clever idea but have these guys not heard what Internet trolls do with polls? Just off the top of my head, which destination gets the poop

2 months ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, CINO at Fresh Relevance

^ Econsultancy's comment system cuts-off your message when it encounters an emoji, so it's not ideal for comments on this post!

My comment ended with a suggestion that it would be better to use the shamrock (4-leaved clover) for Dublin, not the 3-leaved version. Is it too late to change this?
https://emojipedia.org/four-leaf-clover/

2 months ago

Johnni Grant

Johnni Grant, developer at Fit Tonic

I think emojis a bit old thing, Now a new era of stickers begins!
"Recently, however, brands and companies – such as H&M, Amazon, Disney, Giphy, and even NBC – have been slowly moving from emoji keyboards to branded messenger stickers. But why stickers? " piece of article-research about stickers power here https://yalantis.com/blog/stickers-a-mobile-messaging-lingua-franca-or-a-powerful-marketing-tool/

2 months ago

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