05/16/2016 06:51 EDT | Updated 05/17/2017 05:12 EDT

A Retail Marketer's Guide To Getting On The Emoji Train

This screen shot made Thursday, April 9, 2015 on an iPhone 6 shows some of the new emojis available with the iOS 8.3 software update. The batch of more than 300 new emojis includes ones different skin tones and depictions of families with two moms or two dads. (AP Photo)

The explosion of emojis has changed texting and digital communications, but how useful are they in business? While some industries are waiting to see if this animated and emotional trend will blow over, retail marketers are embracing emojis as a new way to engage potential and repeat customers and increase sales.

According to a recent study by Appboy, retail and e-commerce marketers are the most likely to include emojis in marketing messages.

Dominos earns the crown as an early adopter of action-based emoji retail exchanges by famously announcing in May 2015 that pizza lovers can order their next pie with a pizza emoji.

Aloft Hotel in downtown Manhattan announced in October 2015 that it would be the first hotel group to enable guests to order snacks or even a hangover cure by texting the right emoji combination to the front desk. Other brands that have already experimented with emojis include CocaCola, Mentos, Ikea and more.

From early retail adopters to the "tears of joy" emoji added to the Oxford Dictionary to Instagram's ban of the eggplant emoji (for what it questioningly became to symbolize), an evolving visual language is being created whether you are participating or not.

Dove was one of 250 brands to introduce a complete emoji keyboard in 2015 in support of a "Love Your Curls" campaign. Just as text-based sentiment analysis is maturing, retail marketers now have to decipher image-based communications to determine meaning and ensure relevancy.

In Canada, Tim Horton's launched its "EhMoji" keyboard last summer to tap into national pride ahead of Canada Day. And while you are not yet able to order Dominos via emoji here (fingers crossed it's coming), Starbucks' and Pepsi's emoji keyboards are available in the Great White North.

So if you are a retail marketer who has not yet turned smiley-heart eyes into increased sales, the best way to start is as an anthropologist would -- by studying the fabric of your consumers' culture. This means studying the social customs, artifacts, rituals, patterns and values. Through the use of this new visual language, retail brands can seek not to command share of voice, but share of culture, and in doing so, understand and even anticipate consumers' changing tastes.

Moreover, by deeply monitoring emoji and visual language usage, it is possible to identify opportunities for meeting and exceeding customer expectations through relevant content, tools and services. And with a deeper understanding of consumers' online behaviors, especially in social and chat apps, retail brands can discover new and relevant ways of connecting with their consumers via visual language tools that have yet to be envisioned.

As with any new relationship, intimacy builds over the course of ongoing dialogue -- not just one-off conversations. So when a retail marketer decides to start engaging with consumers via images, whether it's a GIF, sticker or a custom-created emoji, it's important they think more like a publisher capable of a consistent stream of content and less like a campaign marketer that's looking for a one-hit wonder.

The easiest way to do this? Walk the walk -- or text the text. Encourage your entire organization - not just the folks in the social department - to explore the visual language landscape. Learn by doing and play around with communicating via WhatsApp, LINE, WeChat, Snapchat or others. Schedule a lunch or happy hour with your team using emojis. Give the thumbs up. High five good work. Convey excitement about upcoming travel plans.

So tell us, how do you really feel right now? Go ahead, use your emojis.

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