The Shocking Truth About Surprise-And-Delight Strategy

Nandini Nayak

Over the past decade, the phrase “surprise and delight” has emerged at the center of marketing. The idea that it’s smart for a business to introduce experiences that slide the dial from “mundane” to “awesome” makes perfect sense, whether it’s in the form of a promotion or a streamlined way to interact or transact.

Yet exceeding expectations and cementing long-term loyalty is no simple task, as many CMOs and marketing executives have learned. “Surprise and delight typically requires a lot of different things to come together the right way,” said Rick Ducey, managing director at consulting firm BIA/Kelsey.

In fact, amid a growing array of devices, channels, approaches, and data points, surprise and delight is emerging as a complex and elusive equation. Despite no single route to success, a few best practices stand out, including the need to understand customers better than ever and deliver a product, promotion, or service in a highly relevant way. This, in turn, requires marketers to gain a deeper understanding of what creates an emotional connection with a product or brand–rather than simply gauging what people want to buy.

Also of note, in the surprise-and-delight universe, personalization and context aren’t an afterthought, and timing is everything. “The goal is to deliver something that makes a person feel as though they are receiving something of value,” Ducey told

Surprise and delight doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. It might translate into something as basic as a delivering an electronic coupon for a free appetizer when a customer walks past a favorite restaurant or steps inside. Or it might mean automatically upgrading shipping to two days without an extra charge for a holiday, such as Mother’s Day, or providing a free night at a hotel for a great customer–above and beyond a loyalty program. It might also take the form of a handwritten thank-you note or phone call to a long-time loyal customer or introducing a more streamlined way to pay or interact. Uber, for example, makes ordering a car and paying for it a completely seamless experience by tapping the power of the smartphone. There’s zero interface and no friction point.


Shaping A New Experience
The end goal for surprise and delight shouldn’t be to collect positive reviews on a Web page or land a string of gushing tweets–though these are certainly nice outcomes. It also shouldn’t be limited to an occasional moment of bliss for a customer. It’s all about constructing a more holistic framework for affinity and loyalty by solving problems, improving interactions, and making a customer feel truly special and appreciated.

In fact, Nandini Nayak, managing director of design strategy at Fjord, the interactive digital design and innovation arm of Accenture, said she believes that “surprise and delight may not be the best aspiration for a business.” Rather, it’s more about creating special moments within an overall context of creating strong love for a brand. “There must be an emotional connection to how the experience is delivered to achieve lasting results,” she told

Nayak noted that consumer expectations are changing rapidly and radically due to digitalization. As a result, Fjord developed The Love Index, which focuses on five primary marketing attributes (fun, relevant, engaging, social, helpful) that systematically explain why people love specific experiences. Experiences should revolve around these dimensions, Nayak said. This may translate into better design elements, including a mobile-first approach or a near-zero interface or transaction process (again, think Uber or Open Table).

“People do not want to be marketed to, and they are becoming less patient with interruptive and pushy advertising and marketing. It’s about providing the right thing at the right moment,” she explained.

In fact, this might ultimately lead a business outside the boundaries of traditional marketing and into a more multidimensional place. In this new order of marketing, it’s all about timing, details, consistency, and understanding the nuances of human relationships. The days of presenting a brand to consumers in a monolithic and generic way are fading. “People expect to be treated as individuals, and when they receive this type of treatment, they feel a deeper sense of attachment to a company or brand,” Nayak said.

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Nandini Nayak

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