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The Element of Surprise!

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!

For years word of mouth has been touted as the world’s most powerful form of marketing. However, word of mouth has traditionally been little more than an afterthought for many businesses because it suffered from two fatal flaws – it was very hard to measure and very challenging to scale.  Now the public, digital conversations taking place in social media channels are making it possible for word of mouth to overcome these historic shortcomings – rapidly moving reputation to the forefront of marketing.  So if reputation is so important, how does one go about building a great reputation?  One technique for driving positive word of mouth is to use the element of surprise – or as Bonnie Raitt would say – give them something to talk about.

The element of surprise is powerful.  Pleasant surprises build good will and inspire many of the stories we share with friends and family members every day.  People love to talk about the amazing, unexpected experiences in life.  They want share advice on which products to buy or service providers to choose.  Sharing this information not only makes people feel good, it provides a form of social capital which promotes one as a valuable source of information to friends and an influential driver of business to recommended companies.  Thus, finding simple ways to regularly amaze your customers is a great way to get them to talk about you, share your story, and drive recommendations that connect you to thousands – if not millions – of people around the globe.

How does one go about incorporating the element of surprise?  One simple way to start is by showing your customers you care about them.  This could be as easy as having the company CEO occasionally communicate directly with customers to say thanks and ask for feedback.  It could involve commenting on the blog posts or Facebook pages of customers in a way that shows a genuine interest in them.  It may involve implementing a customer loyalty program or providing exclusive information to followers on Twitter.  There are countless simple ways to incorporate the element of surprise.

Beyond small gestures, the element of surprise can become a powerful factor in driving business innovation.  Start developing this competency by defining what your customers expect from the experience of using your products or services and those of your competitors.  Ask them directly by using phone calls, email surveys, or posting questions on sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter and then LISTEN.  The simple act of listening may come as a surprise in and of itself.  Once you have defined what they expect, seek out opportunities to surprise them by going far beyond those expectations.

Incorporating the element of surprise into your business is a wonderful way to build positive word of mouth.  Focus on doing this regularly and you will be pleasantly surprised with the results.


This article by David E. Bowman and originally published in the July 2010 edition of the Dayton B2B magazine.