group of children playing with very large bubbles
PHOTO: Vita Marija Murenaite

Do you remember the last time you were spontaneous? When you stopped into a restaurant that looked interesting without looking up its reviews on Yelp? What about the last time you got lost on a road trip, but you were making good time, so you just went with it? Or when you had a “meet-cute” with someone on a random New York sidewalk while running errands (and looking impossibly chic)?

OK, maybe that last one only happens in rom-coms, but as a society we would be hard-pressed to remember the last time we allowed spontaneity to drive our decision-making. With the focus surrounding AI, machine learning and data science applied by nearly every brand we touch in an effort to “know us better,” we’ve lost one of the most human-y things about us: the notion of letting things happen naturally rather than being meticulously planned.

We’ve lost the ability to be spontaneous.

Why Does Spontaneity Matter?

You may think it’s insignificant to be spontaneous. At times, it can be uncomfortable, even risky. But that’s precisely WHY it’s valuable. 

You see, spontaneity is intrinsically linked with being curious, a trigger of some of our best, most joyous memories; a moment to give us a sense of accomplishment. Not only is this good for our humanity, it also benefits businesses. Because when we reach this stratosphere of spontaneity, we spend more, we try new things and take a chance on upgrading different aspects of our life.

Lost It? But All These Brands Do Nothing but Promote Spontaneity!

I know what you’re thinking. Brands like Seamless, AirBnB and Uber were founded on the ideas of simple exploration and smooth transactions. However, here is where smart technology comes back to bite the hand that developed it. In an effort to know us better than we know ourselves, to get smarter and predict our needs, brands have banked on the fact that we are — and always will be — creatures of habit. Surprise and delight have been traded in for efficiency and convenience. While Seamless serves up hundreds of delicious neighborhood restaurants to try, let’s face it, I’m going to eat my feelings and order the same tasty cheeseburger from the reliable burger joint around the corner (and love it, btw) because the interface makes it super easy.

Related Article: Mastering the Art of Emotional Customer Experience

Who Hasn’t Lost Touch?

The brands delivering on spontaneity today deliver high-touch customer service in the physical world. They are brands with prominent personalities that don’t overstep, and brands that have embraced their inner child.

Real world/high touch

It seems more intuitive to deliver surprise and delight in the physical realm. Because we use numerous apps daily, we expect them to take a specific form — and most of these apps borrow the same design language. I recently stayed at the Eaton Hotel in Washington DC. It’s a très cool, highly curated experience that includes a record player and vinyl collections in each room. No room has the same albums, and the records ranged from 1970s Broadway showtunes to Afro-Cuban jazz — and they were all outstanding! It was a perfect touch that delivered on the hotel’s brand essence and added an unexpected moment to my stay — all while introducing me to something new.

Related Article: Why They Click: The Psychology of Your Audience

Big personality/ small moments

In the mobile space, however, it’s more challenging to deliver on spontaneity in a way that doesn’t feel disruptive. Designs cannot stray too far from what users have come to expect or else people won’t be able to navigate the product. Brands need to work harder by creating interactions and moments that both stand out while standing back. One example is the Carrot Weather app. What sets this weather app apart from the competition is the language that accompanies each weather report. The dialogue changes with the weather, often referencing timely topics, and the tone ranges from “formal” to “overkill.” It delivers surprisingly delightful moments along with incredibly accurate and localized weather data.

Embrace your inner child

We’re never more spontaneous than when we were kids. Our curiosity and fearlessness were at an all-time high — have you ever seen a 4-year-old talk themselves out of something? I didn’t think so. The best example of this is the print-only New York Times for Kids that is published the last Sunday of each month. It’s incredibly smart, includes brain games and pulls in a wide range of topics. It’s even laid out in a way that breaks with traditional newspaper format, encouraging young readers to bounce around the various sections. The mere fact that the issues are in-print is an exercise in risk-taking!

Related Article: 4 Marketing Principles That Will Withstand the Evolving Marketplace

Should Brands Dabble in Surprise and Delight?

The short answer is yes, you can regain spontaneity. However, most brands get it wrong when they make us drink from the surprise and delight fire hose. It is these special, true moments that drive brand loyalty. When it all comes down to the role a brand plays in your life, it’s less about the function and more about the feeling. Sure, many brands deliver the same purpose (Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora), but it’s vital to provide experiences that have the power to shift our behaviors and influence our actions. 

How do brands achieve this? I return to the idea of simplicity and my favorite Jonny Ive quote, “You have to deeply understand the essence of a product in order to get rid of the parts that are not essential.” It’s the idea of stripping things back to what you stand for and remove all the nice-to-haves. Sometimes, I’ll hear that simplicity is reductive, that it takes away all the joy, leaving only the function. In reality, it’s the opposite. When done well, it’s rich, it’s additive, and it’s precisely the right thing at the right moment — exactly how we feel after the perfect spontaneous moment.