In the dynamic world of marketing, the bond between brands and fans has evolved dramatically. The high expectations of fans have pushed brands to form deeper connections and deliver experiences that go above and beyond. Because fans no longer want to interact with a brand that treats them like another cog in their consumer machine. Instead, fans want moments of sheer delight and awe — where they feel truly valued, understood, and excited. They want to feel special.
As a proven (and perfectly named) marketing strategy, the approach of surprise and delight is straightforward — surprise fans with a positive experience and delight them with an unexpected reward.
While the concept of surprise and delight isn’t new, it’s proven to be an exceedingly impactful strategy for brand loyalty and customer retention. When a brand delivers a personalized, exciting experience — they unlock an emotional connection worth more than any amount of paid ad engagement.
Today, personalization is everything to fans, 83% of which expect personalized gifts from their favorite brands. Not want, but expect. Fans are voicing their requirements regarding brand relationships, but it’s up to the brand to listen and act. Surprise and delight allows brands to connect with individual consumers — a way to show they care and prove that brand relationships are a two-way street.
Can you recall the last time someone surprised you with a gift?! Not for your birthday or some special occasion — but just because they were thinking about you. Do you remember how it made you feel?
The power of surprise and delight is not found in the “thing” — but in the feeling. It’s not about the gift you give away but how the other person feels when they receive it. At the end of the day, we are all humans who are capable of feeling a vast range of emotions. So when a brand inserts themselves into our lives in a way that activates and impacts our emotions, it’s impossible to ignore.
The reality for brands today is that word of mouth marketing brings in 5x more sales than paid media. And as marketers, we all know it’s ten times easier (and cheaper) to retain an existing fan than acquire a new one. With surprise and delight, the emphasis is all on the organic audience. By nurturing the individual voices within their communities, brands can unlock and maximize the true potential of their existing fanbase.
The end goal for brands and fans is simple: more. Fans want more personalized experiences from brands, and brands want more loyalty from their fanbase. Surprise and delight bridges these two desires — allowing brands to connect with fans personally so they continue to spend with them.
There’s no one “template” when it comes to surprise and delight initiatives. The magic of the strategy is that it’s personalized to the brand and the fan to create a truly unique and memorable experience.
You might have seen Chewy sending grieving owners who recently lost their pet flowers in remembrance. Or Kleenex orchestrating surprise “feel better” kits with friends and family of sick fans.
No matter the brand, all successful surprise and delight initiatives have three key phases:
Identification: It all starts with finding a worthy voice in your community — someone who is happy (or unhappy) and emotionally invested already.
Surprise: The moment when the recipient first feels the “wow”. The initial amazement and genuine surprise that something unexpected is about to happen.
Delight: When the real magic happens. The moment when fans receive the expected and experience an emotional connection. This is when the experience becomes memorable and worth telling friends, family, and social about.
Brands who truly understand and are successful at surprise and delight know it’s not a single campaign or activation — but a year-round initiative that takes whatever form your fans need. Because if organic audiences are everpresent, our organic marketing strategies also need to be.