Use your emojination: measuring emotional response through visual language


As implicit methods have risen so has a new universal language: emoji. They are now widely used by consumers across the world as well as in marketing: emoji usage in marketing messages grew by 775% into 2016* with around 300 of the top 500 brands tweeting an emoji on Twitter. There are over 2500 emoji characters which is more than any other western alphabet, presenting a wide range of opportunities to convey complex emotional states while being simple and intuitive to use.

Emotions are hard to define and difficult to measure – especially with categories that engender mixed feelings. For example, consuming energy drinks could make you feel happy and guilty at the same time, and going to IKEA can be exciting but you may also anticipate the regret of spending more than you intended. Yet understanding these contradictory emotions can sometimes be the clue to changing consumer behaviour.


While some early attempts at using emoji in market research have emerged, so far they are not being used widely. We have combined emoji with implicit methods to help reveal motivations, needs and associations across qualitative and quantitative methods, adding a twist to classic projective techniques.


Introducing emoji in combination with implicit methods has many benefits:


  • Emoji can communicate a broad and complex set of feelings that may have different words in different languages

  • Emoji does not ask the consumer to analyse their emotional state, which could result in over-rationalisation - no need for words and rationalisation as pictures are much more intuitive and emojis have strong inbuilt associations

  • Unlike other methods that use internally created images to measure emotion, emoji is a visual lexicon already familiar to consumers which adds to a sense of ease and fluency, helping them project their feelings more effectively

  • It’s more engaging and exciting for consumers with ever shorter attention spans and declining panel engagement, and brings research in line with how people communicate with each other


We’ve done qualitative and quantitative research in multiple markets with thousands of consumers and validated the most popular emojis against the emotions they express – in one example helping a drinks brand understand what people really feel after drinking their product and how to maximise these feelings in messaging.


Using emoji gives us a new, versatile method to add to the industry’s toolkit of indirect, nonconscious measurement and helps brands understand and react to their customers’ emotional responses.


* Study of 9,359 marketing campaigns conducted by mobile marketing company Braze (formerly Appboy Inc)

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