How to use ★special★ characters in your email and subject lines

Lately we have seen an increase of people using special symbols in their emails, so we asked our creative team to do some testing on what symbols we could use, and how different email clients (including desktop, web based and mobile) display special symbols differently.  We wanted to see what we should take into account when we plan campaigns for ourselves and for our clients.

After testing the symbols across different browsers, different email clients, and testing them in the subject lines and bodies of emails, here are our findings:
- There are no issues in regards to using special symbols in the body of an email as SmartMail Pro uses Unicode encoding, which means it encodes the symbols and displays them. (Here is everything you could want to know about Unicode: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unicode) and here is another link to see the kinds of symbols to use.

- All web based email clients (Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo) display all the symbols with no issues.

- iDevices and Android display everything with no issues; however there are might be issues with the older versions of OS and/or email applications.

- There are issues with older Outlook email clients, specifically 2000 and 2003. Special characters display as empty squares in the subject line of the email.

- Apple Mail 4/5 show only first 7 symbols in the subject line, so I guess if 1 or 2 is used – everything should be fine.

Now before you go sticking special symbols all through your email campaigns, you need to consider a few things first.

You need to make sure they enhance your campaign. You still need to send relevant targeted emails that people want and look forward to receiving, and if so your subscribers will look for your email and open it, whether you have symbols in it or not. You shouldn’t need to fluff out your subject line or email with special symbols just to get attention.
The other thing is these symbols can be viewed as gimmicky.  It may lift open rates in the short term while they are novel, however if you do it too much you risk turning people off, also if everybody starts doing it people will quickly get over it. (So when 50 people all send emails with a heart symbol on Valentine’s Day don’t say we didn’t warn you.)

These symbols do not fix a less than wonderful subject line nor do they single-handedly enhance an email campaign – so ask yourself if your email is enough without these.
On the other hand if you have a relevant and unique way of integrating these symbols into your campaign, then by all means use them.

They are after all a unique way of highlighting a specific message or call to action in your campaign. For example you could use symbols to highlight a discount coupon or ticket number.
It does depend on your brand whether or not using these is appropriate. If so, then how you will use them and what symbols you would use to convey your brand message would need to be determined.

Brand related or not, the special characters should also be used in a way that best conveys the message and enhances the meaning or emotional aspect of your campaign.
There are different ways you can use special characters – put them either side of a customer number to highlight it, or next to a word you want to put emphasis on, or use them to replace words. For example tie it in with an emotive holiday to say something like ‘I (heart) Christmas’. This makes sense because it replaces the actual word with a popular symbol that people recognise, and delivers more of a visual and emotional impact.

There are also many symbols you could use – click here for the list of all available symbols: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miscellaneous_Symbols)
And here’s a few parting thoughts to keep in mind:
- Test your campaign across all browsers and platforms to make sure you know that the symbols are going to display correctly. Test and see what effect it has on your subscribers.

- Don’t just use special characters for the sake of it. Only use them if you have a specific context or objective in mind, and always use special characters to convey and enhance meaning in the right context.

- Don’t only focus on the open rate.  Engagement is the goal with email, especially as more ISP’s rely on engagement as a measure of whether they will deliver your email or not.  As always, different things impact open rates vs clicks, see how your subscribers respond to your campaigns, and think long term.

-Test, test and test.  A very simple A/B split test will show you if the subject line with the ♥ gets the love!

There are many ways you could use special symbols, so if you have some ideas of your own, write and tell us how you have used them to good effect in your campaigns.