woman blowing colorful confetti out of her hands
PHOTO: Erik Brolin

Let’s be honest here, who doesn’t like to be pleasantly surprised? If a $30 gift certificate showed up in your inbox for no apparent reason it’s likely you'd show some appreciation towards the company that sent it — or at the very least take advantage of the discount. In other words, you’d probably take some form of action, which is the end-game of surprise and delight marketing. However, surprise and delight marketing is far more than just sending out discount codes.

With the help of leading industry experts, we define what surprise and delight marketing is, what forms it can take and how this marketing tactic is being used in the field.

What Is Surprise and Delight Marketing?

Surprise and delight marketing is a marketing strategy that aims to attract and nurture consumer relations by providing unexpected rewards. It is designed to increase customer loyalty and engagement while reducing churn. According to CrowdTwist, 67 percent of consumers said surprise gifts are very important to their experience.

Most surprise and delight campaigns involve rewards such as free gift cards, a product upgrade or a coupon for a significant amount. These initiatives can help foster brand awareness as the element of “surprise and delight” would encourage customers to tell friends and family either through word-of-mouth or via social media.  

Dylan Max, head of growth marketing at Sendoso, said the premise of surprise and delight is to build a strong emotional connection between the consumer and the brand or product. As a result of this emotional connection, consumers will grow into “die-hard supporters” of the brand. “There are many reasons why [surprise and delight] is such a useful tactic,” said Max. “It all comes down to the fact that we are emotional beings. So it's no surprise that multiple studies support the influence of emotion in a buyer's purchasing decisions. People want to feel special and nothing says 'I care' better than a thoughtful gift!”

Swrve CMO Tara Ryan shared that brands who specialize in this marketing strategy have the following three things in common:

  • They know who their users are
  • They know what their users are doing
  • They can capitalize on both of the above two points to deliver a memorable customer experience

“[Surprise and delight] experiences make customers feel listened to and valued, and it goes without saying that it drives loyalty in an arena where churn is available at the touch of a button,” said Ryan. “When you treat your customers to messages and communications that are micro-targeted and triggered based on behaviors not only in the past, but in real time too, you speak to them as individuals, as opposed to larger audience groups.”

However, Ryan added that for larger organizations, delivering spontaneous and unexpected rewards is not always “high” on their to-do list. And this is because surprise and delight marketing is quite a challenge to scale. To resolve this, Ryan advised brands to utilize tools and platforms that will “seamlessly integrate with their customer’s lifestyles without being overbearing, in order to create the experiences that give your brand life, vitality and drive lifelong customer loyalty.”

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Here are 5 successful surprise and delight marketing examples.

1. Kleenex

Facial tissue brand Kleenex’s surprise and delight campaign went down the user-generated content route. Dubbed as the “Feel Good” campaign, the marketing team at Kleenex went through Facebook to look for people who posted a status that they were feeling ill or came down with a cold. Kleenex then contacted their friends and family to orchestrate the surprise, and within a couple of hours, the consumer who posted their status received a Kleenex Kit filled with get-well items.

“Kleenex's 'Feel Good' campaign generated more than 650,000 impressions and resulted in 1,800 interactions between the brand and social media users,” said Yaniv Masjedi, CMO at Nextiva. Kleenex managed to “rack” up a 100 percent buy-in.

2. Master Card

Master Card recently switched from their “Priceless” campaign to a new campaign called “Priceless Surprises.” The campaign involved engaging with their customers online, via social media surprising them with rewards. These rewards ranged from free concerts and getaways to meet and greets. “The goal of [Master Card’s surprise and delight] campaign was to reward the customer without them expecting it,” said Andrew Ruditser, lead technology coordinator at MAXBURST, Inc. “This led to the creation of their mobile app where they and other business, like Staples and Citibank, can connect with these customers and satisfy them with unexpected rewards, while also promoting their brands and getting customers to join. Eventually, they allowed cardholders to share rewards with their friends and family as well.”

Ruditser added that the campaign made Master Card customers into leading advocates of the brand. Helping Master Card gain customer loyalty and business, increasing brand awareness as a result. To date, the campaign has “surprised” 97,867 card holders across 25 countries.

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3. Taco Bell

In the town of Bethel, Alaska, people received news they were going to have their first Taco Bell restaurant chain in the area. However, it turned out that this news was an elaborate prank and left people in Bethel very disappointed.

However, when the news reached Taco Bell’s main headquarters they took action. “[Taco Bell] pulled a surprise and delight marketing technique and airlifted a truck to the town filled with 10,000 tacos. This was a satisfying surprise for the customers of Bethel and proves that Taco Bell is loyal to their customers,” said Ruditser.

4. Disney

As part of promoting Alice Through The Looking Glass, Disney enlisted the help of actor Johnny Depp to boost excitement about the new release. By utilizing live streaming technology, Depp donned the full Mad Hatter costume and he was directly engaging with consumers via a billboard. Initially, the board appeared to be static, but as soon as Depp began to interact with bypassers, the shock turned into delight. People were having a one-to-one conversation with one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

The reactions were captured on video and shared on YouTube. To date, the YouTube video has gained over 4 million views.

5. Wendy’s

This next surprise and delight campaign came from a consumer who wanted free nuggets for life at Wendy’s. “A fan's quest for free nuggets for life got Wendy's to challenge him to collect 18 million re-Tweets. He came up shy, but broke a Guinness World Record in the process, and launched his own website. Wendy's gave him the nuggets anyway, and donated $100,000 to their own charity,” said Masjedi.

Even though the consumer didn’t achieve the milestone, Wendy’s gained significant brand exposure and responded in kind.