Personalizing surprise & delight both surprising and delightful

Personalized exploding kittens packing slip

Like half the internet, I backed the Exploding Kittens Kickstarter campaign earlier this year. And, like half the internet, I recently received my games - along with this awesome personalized packing slip. Which, like half the internet, I immediately shared with my social network. Some of whom may actually go on to buy the game themselves.

The lessons we can take from this are numerous, but here’s the basic breakdown:

  1. The internet REALLY likes cats
  2. People share cool personalized stuff (esp with cats on them, see 1)
  3. Taking the time to personalize marketing in a surprising and delightful wins you fans.

Outside the world of card games, we've seen this time and time again:

This delightful example of how a throwaway compliment from a happy customer on Twitter turned into a surprising delivery care of FatCow, Pinterest and Etsy. It would have been relatively easy in this case to fire off a quite 'thanks' tweet, but FatCow went the extra mile, actively seeking out more information in order to personalize a surprise.

Monitoring Facebook for appropriate cues and responding quickly (and on-brand!) generated a huge amount of buzz for Kleenex in this campaign: over 650k impressions from just 50 rewards.

Dutch airline KLM also monitored social media for mentions of the airline, randomly rewarding travelers – in person - with gifts. Not just any gifts though; they were personalized to each recipient based on their travel destination and purpose (as tweeted by them) - from first aid kits and vouchers to travel books and fitness trackers.

Probably the most well-known example of unexpected personalized rewards resulting in major feels and massive goodwill, WestJet’s 2013 Christmas campaign has racked up over 40 million views on YouTube (not bad compared to the initially expected 800k…)

Why does surprise and delight work so well?

Researchers at Emory University explored the effects of surprise on the brain under MRI and found a much stronger response to unexpected pleasure than to something the subjects knew was going to happen. In a nutshell: if you know something nice is coming your way, your brain releases dopamine, which makes you feel good. Pie? Yes please! But more dopamine is released when you experience something unexpected and nice, and that's why surprise and delight rewards are so surprising and delightful, and generate such a positive response. #OMGFREEPIE.

Personalization is key; this isn't one size fits all marketing

Key to surprise and delight campaigns is personalizing experiences and rewards to the recipients, which is easy if you're collecting information - transactional, social and contextual data via devices - or if you ask people directly what suits them best. Check out Mobile Loyalty 201 for more on surprise and delight in mobile loyalty programs. There are a couple of caveats however:

If your previously surprising delights become routine, they’ll no longer have the influence they once did; free pie for everyone everyday is business as usual, not note- or share-worthy. Worse still, if people have been conditioned to receiving free pie and the cabinets are suddenly empty, dopamine falls and sadness (or worse - a frustrated threat response) ensues.

Likewise, if you approach this exercise as a cynical marketer, it’s not going to work. A surprise and delight strategy - whether a major campaign or mobile loyalty rewards - needs to be delightful, honest and authentic; showing genuine customer appreciation. The general public is even more cynical than marketers, and half-hearted attempts to do nice things for fame are just asking for social skewering.

You don’t need WestJet’s budget to pull it off

When your system tells you a regular guest has arrived in your hotel with her two young kids and the room's not ready yet, then free hot chocolates in the restaurant will most likely go down well. It’s a small gesture, but one with a potentially huge payoff in both revenue and goodwill - more here on the use of live data to create positive experiences and potentially profitable new behaviors.

Lastly, it's 2015. You can't underestimate the reach and influence of social networks. If each person you surprise with a personalized packing slip, unexpected pie or free hot chocolate tells her friends and shares it on social media, that’s a whole lot of exposure you didn’t pay for, to a much wider audience than you could reach alone.