Here’s one for you: what do selfies, Sudoku and the credit crunch have in common? Any clues?

Well, they’ve all been voted Word of the Year by the Oxford English Dictionary. Indeed.

Okay, stop grumbling about damn kids and their damn text-speak, and look on the bright side: they’re great examples of topical words that show how English continues to evolve and grow.

Etymology’s a wonderful thing – some of us here could talk your ears off about the curios of language, like how getting a mortgage might be really bad for your health, or how you should never trust left-handed people. But in 2015, did the OED go too far in announcing the Word of the Year to be…[pause for horrified gasps]…this?


What do you see here? ‘Crying laughing face’? ‘Face with tears of joy’? ‘Tear gas surprise attack’? Well, get used to it: it’s now officially in the dictionary. It reflects the way these digital hieroglyphs, these emojis, have pervaded our society. They’re everywhere now – even the Finnish Government has them for naked people in saunas. Just going to leave that there…

And now, marketers are picking up on the ubiquity of the emoji. We’ve seen Dove using curly-haired emojis as some kind of self-expression motif. We’ve seen McDonald’s attempt to use the icons in outdoor advertising – and it backfiring spectacularly with some creative vandalism.
Emojis are invading. They’re everywhere. Reams of them jump off your Twitter feed. They’re grinning from the billboard over the road. They’re chasing you through your nightmares; armies of bobble-headed, mad-eyed Pac-Men, rendering everyone and everything you love into a few KB.

Back to the waking world, though, and what do they mean for the erudite, rational sphere of B2B marketing? It’s far from nightmarish. Emojis are helping us realise that B2B is no longer about B2B at all. It’s about P2P: person-to-person, peer-to-peer. And the key thing that connects people and peers – that attracts, engages and converts them – is emotion.

Back in 2013, the CEB summarised some pertinent facts and trends about B2B decision making; namely that personal values always trump business values – having twice the impact on decision makers. This can easily be seen as a natural extension of simple good practice in communications: lead with benefits, not features; talk about your audience, not about yourself. No matter the industry or sector, people buy from people. Rationality plays a part – you need compelling facts to back up your argument – but people buy what feels good, personally and emotionally.

This is something we’ve already realised in a range of recent campaigns, deploying the principles of influencer marketing, direct prospecting and brand ambassador content to great effect.

Take the launch of a new type of plaster for British Gypsum, for example. With our audience being plasterers, we knew that the only people they’d listen to would be their own. They’re a selective group, and you’d need to earn your stripes before you had an opinion worth listening to.

So, we went out and talked to real plasterers, letting them try out the new product and give their honest opinions and reactions to it – and then we built our campaign around that. What we got out of it was something honest and credible that appealed to the heart of the plastering community with human emotion and language, not marketing jargon or impenetrable logic.

Beyond this, there’s huge scope for using emotion effectively in B2B marketing. Make ‘em laugh. Tug at their heartstrings. Don’t just show how a product or service could affect their business – show how it could improve their life. Because, at the end of it all, we’re all just people on a big rock spinning through space. That’s why the terms ‘B2B’ and ‘B2C’ are so outmoded. It’s all peer-to-peer, person-to-person, human-to-human.

Emotion is ever-present in our lives – so, it should be ever-present in our work. The rise of the emoji is just a way of beating ourselves around the head with that fact. All an emoji is, is a way of expressing emotion faster; an instant snapshot of what’s happening in someone’s head and heart that’s quicker to assimilate than ‘oh my, I’m crying figurative tears of laughter, even though my face remains relatively impassive’.

In this way, emojis are emotional signifiers designed for a world that demands instant information and gratification. A world that wears its heart on its sleeve. And that can’t be ignored in the ‘traditional’ B2B sphere. So, maybe we should get used to seeing even more of emojis, and embrace emotion in communications to come. Maybe this isn’t, in fact, an invasion – but a migration from cold, hard content to warmer, more human and emotionally engaging relationships. A peaceful revolution. We’re sure there’s an emoji for that.


Brand storytelling without boundaries…