Why Brands Should Care About Messaging Apps

And The Future of Custom Emojis

Robleh Jama
Feb 18, 2016 · 8 min read

Mobile is eating the world. We’ve all seen the stats. We’re spending more time on our thumbs than touch typing on keyboards. Yet we’re also changing the way we use mobile — with every company trying to claim their stake in the gold rush that was mobile (before it became so saturated), people are getting sick of apps.

via Business Insider

App fatigue is settling in. Brands will now have to come up with more creative ways of interacting with users on mobile. Here’s our hypothesis: as mobile messaging overtakes social networking, emojis and bots will be two crucial mediums used to engage with consumers on mobile. This piece unpacks the first part of that hypothesis — custom keyboards and emojis, and how brands can make use of them.

Altogether, the four largest messaging apps have over 3 billion monthly active users (MAU), where social networking apps have just over 2.5b MAU. As Techcrunch highlights, “This trend is also directly tied to the rise of messaging apps, like Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, LINE, and Kik, where users want to be able to customize their texts to friends.”

Clearly, messaging is growing. But on a usage level, it’s hard for people to chat based on text alone. That’s where emojis come in. While emojis used to be popular amongst teens (and obviously still are), everyone is starting to use them. According to Meltwater, 75.9% of 25–29 year-olds identify themselves as “frequent users”.

Emoji usage based on age range via Meltwater

The reason is simple: We react to emojis on a more visceral level than text alone. As Dr. Owen Churches published in Social Neuroscience, a group of 20 respondents reacted to emoticons and emoji like how they would to a human face.

Emojis, stickers, and GIFs are a fun, easy, way for us to express ourselves and understand each other more clearly. They’re more human than words. And that’s exactly the reason why they’re so effective for spreading brand awareness when they’re done well.

Brands now have a chance to contribute to the conversation with custom emojis and keyboard apps. But in order to do so, they will need to provide relevant, useful, fun, funny, entertaining content via emojis, stickers, and GIFs (which we’ll collectively just refer to as emojis in this piece for simplicity). Here’s why they work well, and how a brand could participate:

Why Custom Keyboards and Emojis Are Catalysts to Word of Mouth

People use emojis to share emotion, subtext and add tone to their messages. If your brand invests in creating custom emojis, you have an opportunity to get into messaging and become a part of the deep 1-to-1 conversations people are having. In order for someone to use your emojis in mobile messaging apps, they need to download and install your keyboard first. (There are some other alternatives which we’ll discuss in another piece, but this is the most versatile way to do it.)

NBA sticker packs available on Line

Someone could use a sticker from your brand to express themselves. If the other person or people in the conversation don’t know what it is, they ask. The person who used the sticker then explains the context of the sticker, and your brand.

Or, in another case, everyone knows your brand. They laugh about a funny emoji you created that adds to their conversation. They understand it because they know you, and engage with your brand.

Emojis provide a direct way to track this type of brand engagement. You could use these engagement metrics to measure the ROI of your custom keyboards and emojis:

  • Emoji/Sticker usage: Track the number of specific stickers that are used — tapped — so you can figure out which ones are being used, which are the most popular, and which aren’t resonating with users.
  • Keyboard downloads: Track the number of downloads and installs to get an idea of how many people are using it.

Custom keyboards and emojis present your brand with an opportunity to literally be part of the conversation. But not every keyboard is going to win — some might miss the mark, especially in the early days while everyone scrambles to figure out emojis. Here’s how you can make sure your keyboard resonates with users:

How to Create Great Custom Emoji

Emojis will succeed or fail depending on context.

My team and I learned this firsthand as we built Next Keyboard, the most funded app on Kickstarter. We’ve also built our own emoji keyboard, and are helping companies design their custom emojis and develop keyboards.

Let’s consider a hypothetical scenario: Tide. Tide, as a laundry detergent product would not make for good emojis. Their products aren’t inherently interesting, entertaining, or remarkable. But that doesn’t mean their brand can’t experiment with emojis to engage with people.

Emojis give Tide the opportunity to get imaginative and expand beyond their laundry detergent angle. Depending on their brand initiatives and values, they could tap into a different niche of people. What if Tide created a custom emoji set for homemakers or mommy bloggers? Their custom emojis would be driven by values, ideas, challenges, and relatable feelings that these groups could use in a conversation.

Similarly, let’s consider the cell phone provider Koodo. It sounds kind of boring at first, but they have a fun and popular wrestler mascot, who’s even getting his own show. Their emojis could be completely based on that character doing funny day-to-day stuff (e.g., laundry, cooking, cleaning, eating, etc.). And since Koodo has an app they can add a keyboard extension to it, making it easier to distribute the emojis to their existing audience.

Koodo commercial with wrestler mascot

The key is to consider what people like to talk about, and to provide them with the tools to express it more clearly than they would through words. You are designing a visual language and through custom emojis and keyboards, brands can organically find their way into conversation and culture.

Minion stickers

Typically, character-driven keyboards are pretty straightforward when your brand has characters (likely an entertainment brand) or really interesting, entertaining, or cute mascots. For example, Minions make for a great custom emoji keyboard. This is why keyboards fit so well into entertainment brands. Their only challenge is to add context through copywriting on their emoji or stickers (e.g., a minion saying, “Woohoo!” to celebrate something).

It’s easy to think of keyboards even for TV shows, like Rick & Morty. These give fans an opportunity to use catch phrases, slogans, or other emotions (such as annoyance, laughing, impatience etc.).

Ikea sticker keyboard

When IKEA built their keyboard, they partially tapped into their Swedish heritage. For example, one of their stickers features their famous Swedish meatballs. No matter the brand, culture and symbols are great for people to bond over.

This doesn’t necessarily have to encompass an entire nation’s history or anything that grandiose. You can also tap into a subculture. For example, if Nike wanted to create a keyboard for hardcore fans (i.e., sneakerheads), they could insert famous sneaker releases or even create interesting custom emoji featuring sneaker art.

Loyalty-driven keyboards

Official Philadelphia emoji keyboard

A lot of people define who they are based on their loyalties. They’re proud to represent for their cities and sports teams. Brands who have a large base of loyal followers can tap into this personality trait by helping people express their pride.

For example, a sports team like the Raptors could make a character-driven set of emojis that also convey loyalty (e.g., a raptor dunking to show celebration, etc.).

Similarly, a city like Toronto could have a set of emojis that are driven by local landmarks, political figures, animals, or other things that tie Torontonians together. (In a way, it’s similar to Snapchat’s stickers! Actually, Philadelphia already built an emoji keyboard.)

Be A Part of the Conversation

Brands have never had this kind of access into conversations before. This unsaturated opportunity is out there. The first brands to invest in custom emojis and think about it as a visual language will win the attention of their consumers — a resource that is rarer than ever.

Custom emojis and keyboards aren’t the only way messaging is evolving. Later on, we’re going to dive into how bots are changing the way brands interact with consumers.

In the meantime, check out Chris Messina’s collection on Product Hunt to have a look at a ton of other messaging-based services. You should also check out Chris’s Medium article “2016 wil lbe the year of conversational commerce”.

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Tiny Hearts studio

Tiny Hearts is an award winning product studio.

Tiny Hearts studio

Tiny Hearts is an award winning product studio. We make our own apps and work with clients. Our apps include @WakeAlarm (#1 utilities) Quick Fit (featured in Apple ad) and our @NextKeyboard (#2 overall).These are our thoughts from the Heart.

Robleh Jama

Written by

Product @Shopify. Previously founder @tinyheartsapps — an award-winning mobile product studio acquired in 2016 by Shopify.

Tiny Hearts studio

Tiny Hearts is an award winning product studio. We make our own apps and work with clients. Our apps include @WakeAlarm (#1 utilities) Quick Fit (featured in Apple ad) and our @NextKeyboard (#2 overall).These are our thoughts from the Heart.

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