Why surprise and delight marketing really works

Consumers are thrill-seekers. As much as people find routines comforting, many individuals thrive on little unexpected moments. When people experience a positive moment that comes out of nowhere, the experience is likely to be one they remember, whether it’s a compliment on the street, winning a prize in a contest or something else.

One of the most powerful marketing strategies companies can leverage is surprise and delight, as it plays on the strong emotions and memories that can be created through unanticipated happiness. When businesses decide to cut through the predictability of everyday life and offer unique experiences, they will be sure to generate increased loyalty and customer retention, which in turn bolsters their bottom lines. However, considering the fact that many companies have limited marketing budgets, leaders might be skeptical that employing surprise tactics can really have a significant impact. Do these methods really work?

What makes customers tick
According to the Harvard Business Review (HBR), surprise and delight is among the most effective marketing tools because it plays to some very basic truths about human nature. For one, the source asserted that surprise is addictive, as shown in a study by scientists at Emory University and Baylor University. Researchers tested subjects to see how they would react in response to a sequence of pleasurable stimuli in the form of fruit juice and water. Subjects received squirts of each liquid, with some subjected to a predictable pattern and others experiencing one that was random. When scientists looked at MRIs of the tested individuals’ brains, those who got juice at unpredictable moments responded stronger than those who knew when it was coming. HBR noted that Dr. Read Montague, a professor of neuroscience at Baylor, said that results show people are “designed to crave the unexpected.”

Additionally, HBR asserted that surprise is a powerful tool for driving desired behavior, as it introduces people to new stimuli. This in turn encourages learning, which can result in customers being more receptive to buying new products, upgrading services and more. The source advised that instead of shaping marketing campaigns around what needs to be said to convince consumers to take a certain action, it may be more effective to think in terms of what these individuals would see as predictable and then do something that will flip those expectations on their heads.

The news provider also noted that surprise and delight can create more passionate relationships. Citing an experiment conducted among middle-aged married couples, HBR said that when people enjoy activities they see as exciting or out of the ordinary, people develop stronger bonds with one another. In the same sense, companies can keep the spark in their client relationships alive by focusing on customer retention through thrilling tactics.

Creating buzz
ClickZ emphasized that another reason why surprise and delight marketing is highly effective is that it plays into the dynamics of today’s online culture. Going viral is now an important new aspect of word of mouth, spreading the brand’s identity to new eyes through the power of others’ desire to share content. The source pointed out that unexpectedness is often a critical component of videos that achieve viral status. For example, Korean singer Psy’s “Gangnam Style” music video achieved more than one billion views not just because of its catchy tune, but also due to its quirky visuals and dance. Similarly, any brand can use gestures of kindness, compassion, humor and humanity to drive buzz. This not only helps the customers who were the direct recipients of these actions, but it presents an appealing image to potential ones as well.

However, ClickZ pointed out that businesses should also be careful not to imitate others’ efforts at surprise and delight. To make these strategies work, companies must be sure to deliver experiences that are right for their particular target audiences. As long as they keep this in mind, this unique type of marketing can become an indispensable tool.

Photo by Wendy Longo photography