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Building customer loyalty with surprise-and-delight marketing

To foster brand loyalty, companies can forge emotional connections with customers by giving them unexpected discounts and perks.

I recently received a $20 gift certificate in my inbox, accompanied by a message from the company: "When you are a small company, it is only with the support of your customers that you can succeed, and that's you. So, thank you. This voucher is yours to spend, it doesn't matter how large or small your purchase is." This kind of unexpected reward goes a long way toward building customer loyalty. In my case, it reignited my bond with this particular company, which had gone the extra mile to appreciate my business.

To foster customer loyalty, companies need to create deep relationships with customers beyond selling products. Marketing strategies should focus on trust between parties, as well as the emotional connections that motivate customers to make a repeat purchase. Practices such as giving away free content and perks can further connect with consumers.

"By showing sincere appreciation with unexpected rewards, brands can build a greater connection to customers on an emotional level," said Scott Matthews, CEO of CrowdTwist, a social loyalty-rewards platform. "If implemented successfully, brands can realize increased customer engagement, reduced churn and greater ROI."

This customer service tactic, known as "surprise and delight," is built around the notion of building customer loyalty through unexpected rewards that make the customer feel valued. When embarking on a surprise-and-delight campaign, it is critical that marketers make the experience authentic and meaningful.

Surprise-and-delight marketing campaigns that make customers feel valued by the company will net organizations higher profits, as more than half of shoppers said they would pay a higher price for the customer experiences they value most, and 77% of shoppers would be more loyal to stores that provide this kind of customer experience. Loyalty is a main driver for customers, but doesn't seem to be a high priority for businesses; 68% of companies reported they allocate less than 20% of marketing budgets to loyalty, yet 58% of companies said that more than 20% of total sales or revenue is attributed to the program.

Marketers need to think beyond traditional strategies to give customers the unanticipated thanks, perks and bonuses that give them new reasons to be brand-loyal. Let's take a look at how two companies have used surprise-and-delight marketing campaigns to their advantages.

MasterCard uses LBS to surprise and delight

Marketers need to think beyond traditional strategies to give customers the types of unanticipated thanks, perks and bonuses that give them new reasons to be brand-loyal.

MasterCard began its "Priceless Surprises" campaign in 2014, and recently added a mobile aspect that lets partner companies target consumers by their location and award them with spontaneous treats. If a customer is in an airport, for example, an airline has the option to send a "priceless surprise," which could be a complimentary drink or free upgrade, or a sporting event seat upgrade.

Many companies are experimenting with location-based services, or LBS, to reach consumers on mobile devices and offer them unique experiences when they are within a physical location. MasterCard reported that the mobile aspect of the program led to three times the engagement rate of other marketing initiatives.

Lego's Oscar strategy

Surprise-and-delight marketing can be in the form of an unexpected bonus, but it can also be in the form of an unexpected occurrence or event.

During last year's Oscar broadcast, dancers fanned out through the audience to hand yellow Lego Oscar statuettes to an audience of celebrities, whose look of surprise and delight reached 35 million viewers. The stunt was meant to capitalize on the popularity of The Lego Movie, a blockbuster film that was also nominated for an Oscar in the Best Original Song category. 

According to Amobee Brand Intelligence, Lego dominated the night, with close to 47,000 social mentions on Twitter, which accounted for 44% of the real-time discussion on the platform, and garnered it approximately $7.5 million worth of free advertising.

Three takeaways

Create a conversation about your brand. Word of mouth is important to marketing efforts, and 61% of consumers will tell friends and family about their experiences, so it only makes sense for marketers to use surprise thank-you's or rewards to enhance customers' experiences.

Targeting customer segments will pay off. "Certain experiences matter more than others to different shopper segments," according to Synchrony Financial's customer experience study. Going the extra mile to develop experiences targeted to specific customer segments will cultivate the value-based mind-set that builds brand loyalty.

Personalize interactions. Know your customers and what they want; a surprise is only a delight if it is presented in a personalized manner that demonstrates your brand has taken the time to be relevant and sincere.

For more on marketing engagement strategies, see Ernan Roman Direct Marketing.

Next Steps

Customer engagement: The path to building customer loyalty

Choosing marketing automation software

Better customer engagement through CRM

Dig Deeper on Customer loyalty and retention