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The Marketing Tool That's Underutilized

It's addictive, affordable and fuels passionate customer relationships. So why aren't more companies using it?

News that Verizon, Google and other companies turned over detailed user information to the government has heightened the debate over the pros and cons of Big Data.

While leaving the ethics discussion for another time and place, Scott Redick of San Francisco-based Heat Advertising, states in a recent Harvard Business Review blog post that data-rich practices offer brand managers an alluring promise of precision and predictability. Pull lever X, out will pop Y as a result. It’s mostly all good — with the emphasis on mostly.

Analytics can certainly make the marketing profession more efficient, but they can also make brands less exciting and surprising, Redick warns.

“With all of this information at our disposal, we risk robbing brands of opportunities for serendipity — the delightful surprises that happen when we least expect them, attracting the attention of consumers. Pursuing innovations in Big Datais essential, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore the element of surprise, because surprise is still probably the most powerful marketing tool of all.”

Redick summarizes the marketing benefits of surprise:

Surprise is addictive. Scientific research at Emory and Baylor showed the reward pathways in the brain respond most strongly when an unpredictable element is introduced. “People are designed to crave the unexpected,” says Read Montague, an associate professor of neuroscience at Baylor.

Surprise changes behavior. Unexpected events, in particular, drive learning. When developing an advertising campaign we are often too focused on the question of “What do we need to say?” Instead, we should focus on the question of “What expectations do our customers
and prospects hold, and how can we turn those on their head?”

Surprise is cheap. Rather than attempt to beat the competition with epic production budgets and media plans, marketers should think about how to cram surprising brand stories into the smallest space possible.

Surprise turbocharges emotions. The interesting thing about surprise is that it appears to amplify whatever you’re feeling. When we’re surprised and angry, we’re outraged. Combine happiness with surprise, and you hit the upper register of the feeling-good scale.
This helps explain why Zappos goes to such lengths to deliver shoes before they are promised, and why the word “delight” is almost always preceded by the words “surprise and.”

Surprise fuels passionate relationships. Marketers spend the bulk of their creative energy making themselves look attractive to potential customers. It’s easy to forget you need to look sexy and charming to your current ones to keep the spark alive.

As CMOs push their staffs and agencies to be faster, cheaper and more accountable, they also need to push the brand organization to be more surprising, Redick states. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of academic research or enterprise-grade software to make this happen. “It really comes down to a question of imagination and bravery,” he says. “And, I suspect, it has something to do with being open to situations where you might be surprised yourself.”