Best Practices: How Brands Can Build Loyalty with 'Surprise-and-Delight' Efforts

Two Marketers Are Building Emotional Connections by Delivering the Unexpected

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MasterCard's 'Priceless Surprises' campaign.
MasterCard's 'Priceless Surprises' campaign.

A pleasant surprise can make a person's day. It might be a free drink from your favorite cafe. Or it could involve a waiter giving you a complimentary dessert at your favorite restaurant. Whatever it is, surprises make people feel special and important. For businesses, these unexpected treats help create a powerful bond with consumers -- a bond that can last a long time.

As a result, many brands are making this customer service tactic, commonly called "surprise and delight," far less random, and in some cases, it's the driving force behind several nationwide, multimillion-dollar marketing campaigns. And for some, surprise-and-delight strategies are serving as the lynchpin in a long-term loyalty strategy that's being installed and leveraged across all consumer touchpoints -- social media, brand-sponsored events, in-store experiences, advertising campaigns, mobile marketing and more.

Two current and prevalent examples that come to mind involve MasterCard and Bud Light. Both brands use surprise-and-delight strategies to great effect, creating powerful buzz and brand loyalty not just among their most passionate fans, but also with new audiences, thanks to the ability to share the news with friends across social networks.

MasterCard's "Priceless Surprises"

For years, MasterCard has been running its successful, and seemingly ubiquitous "Priceless" advertising campaign. But more recently, it launched a corresponding surprise-and-delight focused program called "Priceless Surprises." This effort began with MasterCard connecting with members on social media to give them spontaneous gifts and prizes, like a meeting with Justin Timberlake, an exclusive Gwen Stefani concert, or even VIP tickets to the Grammy Awards.

The goal was to surprise cardholders when they least expected it. More recently, MasterCard expanded the scope of the platform by building a mobile app that not only keeps the brand more connected to its customers, but also allows its partners (brands like Staples and Citibank) to offer exciting gifts and experiences directly to customers, as well.

Going even further, MasterCard uses the app and accompanying website to showcase user-generated social media content and allows cardholders to send their own surprises to friends and family. These features exponentially increase the reach of the program by letting cardholders become vocal brand advocates with their personal networks. By directly engaging its customer base with genuinely surprising gifts and experiences, and leveraging its engaged fans to reach new potential customers, MasterCard's "Priceless Surprises" pulls double duty as both long-term loyalty campaign and a well-executed new business initiative.

Bud Light's #UpForWhatever

Bud Light generated massive buzz around its 2014 Super Bowl campaign and its #UpForWhatever concept. The experience took a random Bud Light drinker and rewarded him or her for being "Up for Whatever" by treating that person to a spontaneous, star-studded, unforgettable night out.

To piggyback off the success of the ad, Bud Light created a fictional town called "Whatever, USA" and invited anyone to audition for a chance to fly there for a weekend of all-out concerts and partying. Bud Light sent over 1,200 people to "Whatever, USA" (the real-life Crested Butte, Mont.) and documented the experience on social media and other digital channels so that Bud Light drinkers around the world could see the fun unfold in real time.

As the campaign wore on, Bud Light created a dedicated website that holds all the associated ads, events, merchandise and future details about upcoming #UpForWhatever experiences. This centralized hub offers customers a place to share photos of their adventures with others, while also keeping up with what the brand has planned next.

The incentive for consumers to keep interacting is that no one knows when the brand might fly people on a plane to "Whatever, USA." Fans keep coming back to make sure they never miss out on the potential of unexpectedly finding themselves in the middle of an unforgettable experience. Bud Light's "Up for Whatever" surprise-and-delight campaign continues to reverberate one of the main goals of the strategy -- loyalty.

Technology enables consumers to control and manage the world around them easily and efficiently, but instances that truly surprise them in a positive way will inevitably stand out. In a world so digitally connected, brands are turning back to real-world, offline experiences to drive meaningful, emotional connections with customers. Whether you decide to send a small surprise to customers in the mail, or treat them to a weekend full of partying, embracing elements of surprise and delight into your loyalty strategy will drive emotional connections and create long-term customers and brand advocates.