Think of emojis as modern shorthand — a system that simplifies writing by converting words and phrases to symbols.

Shocking as it may seem to millennials, emojis are older than, well, any person on earth.

They have a long history, at least as far back as 1881 when made an appearance in an issue of Puck magazine.

Puck Magazine, 1881

These early images were created by the letterpress department, aka the magazine's printers. In an apparent attempt to hold their own against a "tyranical crowd of artists," they created rudimentary images for joy, melancholy, indifference and astonishment ... with "no copyright."

The latest iteration of this visual language and its catchy new name — which literally means "picture" (e) + "character" (moji) in Japanese —surfaced on MSN chat around 1999. But Apple really kick-started the trend in 2011 when it released an emoji keyboard with its iOS 5.

Then it just spiraled out of control.

Oxford Dictionaries added “emoji” as an entry in 2013. Two years later, Merriam-Webster followed suit — and cutting-edge Oxford named the “face with tears of joy” emoji as its word of the year "to reflect the sharp increase in popularity of emoji across the world."

Who Cares?

If you're still wondering why emojis matter, you are likely not alone. But perceptive brands and marketers are finding bonafide business applications for these digital icons.

In the past year, McDonalds brought emojis to life in a video ad, Domino’s pizza created an emoji ordering system, and Twitter, Coke and Wieden + Kennedy teamed up to create a branded emoji that's actually paid ad placement.

According to a study in 2015 by emotional intelligence platform Emogi, 92 percent of the online population uses emojis. People claim they reflect their feelings better than words. And while women use emojis a bit more than men, there is no appreciable difference in use by age.

Emoji_Report_2015: 92 percent of population use emojis

Listening to the New Language

To be clear, Emogi has a vested interest in promoting emoji use. The company — which helps publishers optimize their content by capturing and processing sentiment provided by their audiences — offers, among other things, "a full suite of sentiment driven solutions for marketers that use emojis to increase engagement.

So it's hardly surprising that it claims emojis are the darlings of the internet, or that ads with emojis have higher engagement, including click-through rates that are 20 times the industry average.

But Emogi isn't the only proponent — and more companies now concur that emojis are an effective way to reach consumers on the go.

Advocates claim people are more likely to give feedback if they can click an icon instead of actually writing text.

HundredX, a Del Mar, Calif.-based company that claims its mission is "multiplying positive outcomes," gives companies feedback solutions with mood icons. Existing customers are more profitable than new ones, and listening to them makes a difference, CEO Rob Pace told CMSWire.

Emojis are the basis of active conversation, he said. With his company's Express Feedback, for instance, companies and brands can send customers feedback forms with emojis to gauge near real-time reactions. The icons and messages can be customized, depending on how general or granular the intended results.

3 Emoji Benefits

Emojis bring three benefits to feedback, Pace said. Because people are likelier to participate, you will receive more representation — which means better data. It’s also easier and quicker for people to describe moods with a picture than by writing text on survey or email. And third, emojis are more binary than qualitative feedback surveys.

Pace says people appear in a better mood, even after a bad experience, when businesses and brands follow up with them right away. It shows urgency and implies the company cares.

“Give people 30 seconds in the moment to tell you what they want to tell you, and eight out of nine times they’ll tell you something positive,” Pace said.

Emtrics, a Madrid, Spain-based startup, offers a similar survey and emoji feedback service as HundredX.

Companies can share the survey through social media, a QR code or text message, and people respond with a happy, neutral or upset face. Started in 2011, the service reports that it has collected 544,776 opinions from 6,230 establishments at the time of reporting.

Think ROI

Is it worth the effort? It is according to Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm.

In a new report on customer experience, Temkin researchers concluded, "Companies that do a very good job at recovering after a bad experience have more customers who increase spending than those who decrease spending. After a very bad or very good experience, consumers are more likely to give feedback directly to the company than they are to post on Facebook, Twitter or third-party rating sites."

The Emoji Explosion

Last year, New York City-based Swyft Media launched a platform that pushes emojis and stickers into messaging apps like Kakao Talk, Line and Facebook Messenger. Brands pay for the privilege — anywhere from $50,000 to $250,000.

Early this year, Facebook rolled out Reactions in the US. Along with the Like button (it’s not going away) you can react with any one of five emoji: angry, sad, wow, haha, yay or love. The Facebook product team said it wanted to design an experience "that was elegant and fun.”

Capitalizing on Emotion

Emoji feedback may be an advantage for businesses that don’t have a dedicated online support team or feedback system to privately communicate with customers.

Square, a San Francisco-based mobile payments company, added happy and frowny faces to its digital receipts in 2014. If you tap on either icon, you’re taken to a screen with a series of checkboxes where you can rate such things as wait time, customer service, quality and “other.”

“It’s a help desk for small businesses,” Square spokesman Alex Rafter said, noting that the feedback encourages employees to chat with the customers on the spot. They can address issues with unhappy customers.

And positive feedback can be used as a staff morale booster. "We've heard from company's such as Baking Betty, who shares receipt feedback with her staff to encourage them and reward them. Negative feedback can be acted on quickly with a refund, a coupon or just a kind word, transforming upset customers into loyal ones,” Rafter said.

According to Rafter, Square sees about 1.5 million monthly feedback communications sent by buyers to sellers through their digital receipts.

How do you feel about emojis — and what are your plans to add them to your sales and marketing? Share your ideas in the comment section below.