If your inbox looks anything like mine, you probably saw quite a few email subject lines that looked like this around Valentine's Day:
Symbolically speaking, the hearts within the first two emails fit within the context of the subject line, and one could argue are enhanced ever so slightly by the heart symbols. The third subject line, while personalized with my name, falls more into the marketing gimmick category, since if it wasn't for the upcoming holiday there would be no other reason to throw a heart symbol into that subject line. In fact, the placement of the heart symbol breaks up the flow of the entire subject line so it doesn't read easily, hurting the subject line instead of helping it.
As digital marketers, our first attempt to break through the inbox clutter is with a solid attention grabbing subject line. We know that more people are reading email on their mobile devices and that the email clients on those devices are symbol-friendly. Having symbols like the above hearts within a subject line can draw more visual attention, but just because someone can see the symbol within their inbox does not necessarily guarantee an increase in traditional email metrics, such as open or click rate.
Plus, if every company out there began using symbols in their subject lines, the idea of symbols helping to break through the clutter of the inbox would be negated. In his Return Path blog post, "Symbolically Speaking - Hard Facts on a Soft Approach" Guy Hanson shows some very interesting analysis which demonstrates how symbols within subject lines can actually add value to the recipient's user experience, as opposed to just being a marketing gimmick, and how traditional subscriber metrics may not communicate the "full performance picture for email marketers."
Therefore, it makes sense why the trend of whether or not one should use symbols or emoji in subject lines has continued to be hotly debated.
So where does this leave us?
Symbols within subject lines can enhance your message, but don't just add symbols to your subject lines because you can or your audience will view it as just another marketing gimmick. Instead be strategic in your use of symbols, engage your audience in a way that fits within your company's brand, and always remember to test! For more information about using symbols in subject lines, check out this previous blog post, "Pros and Cons of a Growing Fad."