15th August 2017

Emoji Search. Will it Catch On?

Emoji Search. Will it Catch On?

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Emojis are everywhere. In our texts, our WhatsApp messages, online video content and even in email subjects. It wasn’t long before brands began adopting the images and using them to bolster their identities. Brands have used emojis in their campaigns extensively. To celebrate 50 years of Saturday Night Live, the iconic US comedy show, SNL launched an app complete with custom made emojis that represented fan’s favourite moments in the show’s history. Then there are other brands, such as Goldman Sachs who have used emojis simply as a way of appealing to millennials. They have sent out tweets aimed at the younger generation and used multiple emojis to communicate their messages.

Despite peak emoji rumoured to be over according to many a young hip-cat consumer, there seems to be no evidence of brands slowing their use of the colourful communicators. Bored with simply using them to communicate a message, brands are now looking at using emojis to improve UX. They are doing this through search, by allowing users to look for items online by use of a mere emoji. Domino’s pizza launched a feature to allow users to order via the pizza emoji.  The idea with emoji search is to simplify the user’s experience, allowing users to search with emojis rather than words.
So will Emoji Search take off?

One of the biggest issues brands are going to face with emoji search, is accuracy. Delivering accurate search results can only come through understanding exactly what it is that users are trying to communicate via their use of emoji and because emoji use is so subjective and often hard to interpret, delivering accurate search results will be hard. Each emoji can have multiple meanings. The Shamrock, for example, is both the international symbol for Ireland and for luck. A user could be searching for lucky charms or a holiday to Dublin with the same action. Rather than scale things back the user will have to spend more time scrolling through search results than they would have done had they just typed a detailed search with words.
Subjective searches relating to information or meaning are not conducive to emoji search, which will be its major drawback.

A solution to this rigmarole is having emoji search feature only in certain industries. Travel sites using emoji search would have no problem distinguishing what their visitors were searching if they simply typed in a shamrock.  Indeed, travel is an ideal industry for emoji search. The apple would mean New York, air, and a cityscape would mean Chicago aka the Windy City and all the flags of the world would lend themselves brilliantly. The restaurant industry is another ideal place for emoji search. Typing into the search bar of food related directories things like burgers or pizzas will naturally return the types of restaurants the customer is looking for.

In conclusion, emoji search is fun and engaging and will appeal to social savvy consumers. It generates engagement and involvement from the user. The main drawback is, of course, the subjectivity of emojis. Search results will not be accurate and specific if users simply search with generic emojis. Therefor, only within the confines of specific industries will brands be able to deliver for their user’s accurate search results. One thing which could broaden the emoji appeal is if the technology itself evolves. If search engines start to interpret better what the emojis mean and if more definite meanings for the emojis become established, the search process could become much more simple and successful.

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