Surprise! Here's a Ticket to a Movie Premiere, on Best Buy

The Latest Trend Isn't Just to Reward Your Good Customers but to Delight Them

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If you're a Robert Pattinson fan, you probably would have liked to have been one of Best Buy's most-valued customers when, out of the blue, the retailer invited a handful of top shoppers and their family members to an exclusive preview of "Twilight Eclipse."

The reward, which went to select members of Best Buy's Reward Zone loyalty program, was part of a "surprise and delight" approach that 's becoming a mainstay in loyalty strategies as companies find better ways to segment high-value customers and create more PR-worthy and effective programs in a crowded loyalty space.

"Loyalty is about financial rewards where you earn points and use points, and that 's great and valuable, but we want to capture customers' hearts and minds," said Bob Soukup, senior director-loyalty at Best Buy.

"Surprise and delight" plays off the principle that a dollar bill is always worth more when you find it crinkled up in an old pair of pants. At Best Buy, surprises have taken the form of movie premieres and exclusive shopping invites that the company extends on Black Friday. The "Twilight" effort generated a "tremendous response," Mr. Soukup said, not only because the retailer gave consumers something they didn't expect but because their relationship with Best Buy "put them in a better light with their family" and "established an emotional connection."

Sales are the driving force behind a points-based loyalty system, as more spending nets more rewards. But they aren't the end-all-be-all in surprise-and-delight programs, which leverage data and give marketers more control over whom they target . Marketers can choose consumers who might be major spenders but also because they're passionate or the kind of people who drive incremental buzz online.

Mr. Soukup said the company is having "active conversations" on surprise-and-delight executions at point-of -purchase, but those are not a priority for the marketer. Panera Bread is active with that style of program. In late 2010 it completed the rollout of MyPanera, a program that operates solely through surprise and delight. MyPanera touts exclusive invitations and experiential opportunities such as preview tastings of menu items, but it is perhaps most well-known for surprising customers with free bakery-café products at the register.

Social media is generating data and platforms for these targeted loyalty efforts. For example, one of Epsilon's clients integrated the surprise-and-delight concept with an online product-sampling effort, said John Bartold, VP-loyalty solutions at the firm. The team referenced a database of consumer info to identify when high-value customers logged onto a microsite that supported the marketing program. Then, when the campaign launched, the team monitored forwarding activity on the email, response and sampling kit orders from the client portal and finally monitored social channels to see what kind of buzz or mentions the effort received in social chatter.

Mr. Bartold said that surprise-and-delight is a particularly effective strategy for the consumer-packaged-goods category, which has a harder time than other industries acquiring transactional data. "I don't know if I have a real high-value customer or not, economically, so I'm not sure how much to invest," he said. "Surprise and delight has a lower cost because you control how much you want to give out and when."

"It really allows us to bring certain ideas to life for a brand," said Margaret Murphy, president-chief operating officer at Olson, whose loyalty group counts Best Buy, Amtrak and Toys R Us among its clients. "Authentic relationships are the driver behind surprise and delight."

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