Skip to content

We’ve all seen them – from the iPhones to the Androids – symbols used in text messaging. Now, we are starting to see them in email campaigns.   We’ve seen a lot of this in business to consumer campaigns and used them in our own campaigns at Proximity Marketing.

So, do special characters or symbols help increase response rates in email campaigns?  Well, they definitely help lift open rates.

Experian reported that emails with subject lines with symbols had a higher unique open rate in 56 percent of brands they analyzed, according to Experian.

So, it is something that people are starting to do in order to lift open rates because they stand out more than a normal text-only subject line.

Grab attention with your subject lines
Including symbols within a subject line can certainly grab attention and create more reason for the recipient to open the message. Whether or not they read all the way through it, they are least opening that message. Then, you are able to check open rates and see if there’s something else you need to do to adjust your message once they open it.

Avoid spamming
There is concern that including symbols like stars or arrows in the subject line may increase the likelihood that a message would land in the recipient’s spam folder. But the best thing you can do is test. You don’t have control over what people mark as spam. But creating the message and including symbols can help. You wouldn’t want to include a ton of images and the symbols in your email campaign because that can trigger some spam filters. So, think about the content that’s actually in your email, before hitting “send.”

Run tests before launching the email campaign
If a character isn’t supported in the email client, the recipient will see an outline of a box (☐ ) or a question mark. But most email clients have the character set and are accepting these characters. We’ve seen these (characters) supported by most email clients such as Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, and Hotmail. You won’t know if everyone has that character set when you’re sending the message so run tests before launching the email campaign.

Go ahead and stand out!
A message with special characters in the subject line will stand out compared to emails without them. We’ve seen sunbursts, umbrellas, and coffee mugs used. I’ve seen a Starbucks email campaign that has a little cup of coffee, and it certainly grabbed my attention. I also like one sent by Southwest Airlines, which included an airplane and sun in the subject line – encouraging you to get away and take a nice vacation. It works – where do I sign up?

So, go ahead and stand out. Add special characters into your next email campaign.

Do you want to try adding symbols to see if your response rate increases? Give us a call or email us at 330-220-6100 or


Symbol Fun Facts from an Experian Study:

  • The most popular symbols are (in order): ♥ ★ ☼♫ ☀ ✿ ☆ ♡ ⇒ ☺ ❤ ✈ ✞ → ☂
  • The black heart (♥) is the most popular symbol, but provided only a modest open rate lift of 2.2%
  • Of the five most popular symbols, the black sun with rays had the highest lift in open rates (14.9%)
  • Trying a different symbol may add a ‘wow’ factor to subject lines. Airplanes (✈) had a 10.7% lift in unique open rates, while umbrellas (☂) generated a 50% lift

Tips to Effective use of Symbols in Subject Lines
1.  Select the right symbol. Your symbols should make sense with the content of your email message and the branding of your event/organization. For most event fundraisers, symbols like stars or balloons can communicate a fun, social spirit that falls naturally in alignment with how you want to position your events.  In the examples above you see that it’s completely logical to see an airplane associated with a vacation or travel provider.
2.  Not all symbols are created equal. Some symbols appear in some email clients and not in others. In fact, Outlook 2003 doesn’t support any symbols. Test your preferred symbol in several email clients and on several devices to make sure your star still looks like a star for the majority of your readers.
3.  Test the waters with A/B Testing. This style of testing requires you to send out two identical messages with one aspect of the email that has changed. In this case, the difference between the two campaigns should be the presence (or not) of symbols in your subject line. Compare how the response rates were impacted by the subject line adjustment.  Email Marketers TMG saw their e-newsletter open rate nearly double when they started playing around with symbols leading the subject.
4.  Use the technique sparingly. If you do see increases in open rates based on your A/B testing, don’t immediately start adding stars and hearts to every email that leaves your event.  Overuse of this technique could spoil the novelty and prevent the uptick in future messages.

Connect with Us

If you’re ready to grow your business with digital marketing, let’s have a conversation.

Contact Us Our Services

Beth is our VP of Digital Marketing Strategy who, besides drinking a ridiculous amount of coffee, helps clients generate more business. Whether they’ve partnered with Proximity Marketing for a decade or just joined the family, Beth helps clients achieve success and achieve measurable results.

Subscribe to Happy Hour!

Subscribe to our newsletter to ensure that your company website is pulling in traffic, learn about our staff, and to get random facts each month!

Back To Top