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Surprise! How the unexpected can help forge friendships with your customers.

Surprisingly enough, my daughter’s favorite commercial is for an insurance company. It’s the one where a State Farm agent meets with a customer in an outdoor café. A mime interrupts the conversation to tell the woman that this guy is his insurance agent too, and how wonderful the experience has been. As if a talking mime isn’t surprising enough, the woman’s infant son starts speaking in a grown man’s voice:

“Does it bother anybody that the mime is talking? Freaky!!”

How does a TV commercial make something as mundane as insurance interesting to a 12 year old? With a wonderfully hilarious use of the good old fashioned element of surprise.

At EMA, we have a philosophy we call “Brand As Friend” where we leverage the nine drivers of friendship to forge strong bonds between our clients and their customers. Surprise is one of those key drivers. And, when you really think about it, the fact that surprise builds friendships isn’t all that surprising.

When a friend throws you a surprise party, it’s endearing. When someone you love gives you an unexpected gift, it’s a beautifully connecting experience. So why wouldn’t we want to do the same thing for the customers we hold so dear?

In this surprise‐marketing tactic by WestJet, passengers were greeted at the gate by an interactive, onscreen Santa, asking what they wanted for Christmas. While in flight, airline employees scrambled to shop, wrap and deliver the desired gifts of each passenger to the baggage claim when they reached their destination. This warm, tear-­‐inducing surprise motivated people to share the video, resulting in an incredible amount of goodwill toward the airline.

According to an article by Harvard Business Review (HBR), surprise is critical to marketing success for a variety of reasons:

  • It’s addictive – Humans are actually “designed to crave the unexpected.”
  • It changes behavior – The article suggests asking the question: “What expectations do our customers and prospects hold, and how can we turn those on their head?”
  • It’s inexpensive – Not dependent upon big media budgets, surprise can be infused in everything from an instruction manual to a simple video.
  • It amplifies emotions – HBR suggests there’s a reason “surprise” is so often followed by the words “and delight.”
  • It fuels relationships – Research shows surprise in a relationship helps develop tighter bonds.

Using the element of surprise is fun and effective – whether it’s an unexpected element in an ad, a misdirect in a TV commercial, or a flash mob in a busy place. So take advantage of the element of surprise in your marketing. You just might be surprised at how many new customers you’ll win over, and how many current customers become lifelong friends.