Surprise! 3 Ways Your Brand Can Score With A Customer Loyalty Strategy


After a decade in marketing communications, not much surprises me, but recently I was surprised – in the best way – by an unlikely source: a pet food delivery company., a Dania Beach, Fla.-based online retailer, long ago won me over with impeccable customer service, fair prices and handwritten holiday cards. But I was transformed from happy customer to brand advocate after being on the receiving end of the company's “surprise and delight” campaign.

A few weeks ago, I came home to find a package at the door. Inside was a small portrait of my American shorthair cat, Winston, with a card that said, “Surprise! We’ve commissioned a work of art to celebrate your one-of-a-kind pet!” I was equal parts confused and touched by the gesture.

On paper, the idea seems simple – unexpected, positive interactions between a brand and a customer will build goodwill and, potentially, loyalty. It’s far from a new concept, but it also highlights the challenges brands face in creating authentic versus forced emotion with customers.

As a cynical marketer who sometimes finds schadenfreude in a poorly conceived campaign (here’s looking at you IHOP), being on the receiving end of Chewy's well-executed strategy – one that rewarded a customer in an organic and sincere way – has me rethinking the merits of surprise and delight marketing as a customer loyalty strategy.

Courting Your Existing Customers

If you’ve ever surprised a significant other with a gift – say concert tickets or flowers – you were probably betting on a positive reaction that further solidified your bond with one another. The same concept applies with surprise and delight marketing.

As Scott Redick, now the managing director of creative strategy at Charles Schwab, said in a Harvard Business Review  column: “Marketers typically spend the bulk of their creative energy making themselves look attractive to potential customers. It’s easy to forget you need to look sexy and charming to your current ones to keep the spark alive.”

Even though the goal is not to generate new customer leads, rewarding the loyalty of existing customers means you’re building an army of brand evangelists who will promote your business willingly to others.

And it works:

  • Customers with a strong attachment to a brand will spend 23 percent more compared to an average customer, according to Cap Gemini.
  • Engaged costumers are five times more likely to indicate it is the only brand they would purchase in the future, according to Rosetta.
  • Almost 70 percent of shoppers said receiving a reward from a company made them more likely to stick with a specific brand, according to Cherry London.

Surprise and Delight Stat.png

But let’s be clear, a surprise and delight campaign is not the same as a membership loyalty program that rewards customer purchases with coupons, points or discounts. Whereas transactional rewards account for 97 percent of loyalty programs, only 11 percent of these programs offer personalized rewards based on a customer’s purchase history or location.

In addition to personalization and a non-transactional approach, here are three reasons Chewy’s campaign scored with me, and how your business can apply similar tactics to capitalize on customer interactions in a meaningful way:

#1. Chewy’s motives were a mystery.


Why would Chewy do this for me? I hadn't complained. I didn’t refer a friend to the service. All I did was post a picture of Winston sitting in the empty delivery box (his favorite activity) and shared it on the Chewy Facebook page. While I don’t think it’s a great photo (cats don’t listen to art direction), the pet food retailer was able to turn an innocuous social media post into a powerful customer engagement tool.

They aren’t the first business to do this – Zappos delivering pizza to a Twitter user was a minor sensation in 2014 – but it shows Chewy not only monitors, but listens to conversations and uses that insight to build a personal connection with customers. A single engagement with one of its social media channels doesn’t answer the “why me?” question behind the gift, but knowing I was singled out from among Chewy’s 350,000 Facebook fans, 13,000 Twitter and 36,000 Instagram followers makes me feel pretty dang special.

#2. The interaction was authentic to the business — and to the customer.

In devising this surprise and delight strategy, Chewy didn’t have to alter who it is and what it does. The campaign:

  • Stuck close to the company’s values (customer first);Screen_Shot_2016-10-07_at_1.22.16_PM.png
  • Highlighted its mission (enrich the bond between humans and pets);
  • Was aligned with how it operates (shipping products to your home); and
  • Was rooted in how a customer engages with the business (it stemmed from an online exchange).

When the surprise wore off, I had still experienced a perfectly normal transaction with the company.

Creating an authentic interaction also means a tactic can’t be one-size-fits-all. For an example of how a blanket strategy can backfire spectacularly, look no further than Apple’s automatic gifting of U2’s Song of Innocence album to 500 million iTunes users in 2014. On paper it seemed generous, but headlines called the act “worse than spam.” Customers perceived Apple's gift as an invasion of privacy. Although hundreds of millions of people rely on iTunes to play and purchase music, that doesn’t mean they want Apple to be their personal tastemaker.

#3. The activity tapped my emotions, and Chewy didn’t ask for anything in return.

Chewy didn’t send a throwaway item; they sent the kind of gift I’d expect from a loved one. The company recognizes that many customers view pets as part of the family, and the painting honors and validates that bond. It’s no exaggeration to say that I’ll keep the painting forever, and I’ll always remember who sent it.

The internet is full of surprise and delight campaigns that elicited positive reactions from the recipients  WestJet’s Christmas surprise and MasterCard’s “priceless” surprises are two of the most oft-cited examples and while these examples are emotional, the “surprise” also anchored multichannel initiatives that exploited the company’s generosity through earned and paid media.

Would I feel the same way about Chewy’s gift if a camera was recording my reaction, or if the card included a custom hashtag encouraging me to share my experience? Absolutely not. The “just because” nature of the campaign inspired me to share the experience because I wanted to, not because I felt like I had to. This passive approach is risky, not to mention hard to measure, but the specific, personal and meaningful nature of the gift still got me talking (and blogging).

The Bottom Line

Like most marketing strategies, a surprise and delight campaign isn’t appropriate for all brands. But if you’re after the resonance of Chewy’s campaign or the flash of WestJet’s, ask these questions before moving forward with an idea:

  • Are we being authentic to our brand?
  • Is there a natural outlet for us to recognize our customers?
  • Are we treating our customers as individuals?
  • Can we measure success without being intrusive?

If you can’t answer “yes” to these questions, then surprise and delight may not be the right fit. But all hope is not lost! This article from CMO provides additional food for thought and gives examples of low-barrier ways to bring elements of surprise and delight to your daily operations.

Source: CBS MoneyWatch

About the Author

Andy Pollen

Andy Pollen is a former Maccabeast.

Topics:  Brand Strategy, PR Perspectives

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