Brands Expand the Unexpected

Everyone loves a good surprise … even those who say they don’t. We can all remember a time when we were pleasantly surprised by someone or something. It could’ve been anything from the time your mom came home with an unexpected puppy to the last time you received a bonus discount on a big purchase. No matter what it is, unexpected treats make people feel special and celebrated. For businesses, surprises can be used to create positive experiences and build rapport with customers.

There is a wide range of tactics that companies have used to surprise and delight their customers over the years, but often times the positive experience ends after the initial surprise. Digital platforms provide a way for real life experiences to live on and even gain new life with customers. We’re going to take a look at three companies that have surprised their customers in unique ways and how they have created online experiences around these occurrences to further grow their relationships with their customers.

1. REI’s #OptOutside

Last fall, REI took a unique approach and surprised their customers by announcing they would be closed for Black Friday. This was a very nontraditional approach for one of the biggest retail days of the year, but the company demonstrated their brand values while speaking to the lifestyle values of their customers and encouraged them to spend the day outside with their families. They made the announcement by launching a campaign for their customers to #OptOutside on Black Friday instead of spending the day shopping. This surprise showed customers something usually unexpected from a retailer. Their approach not only reached current REI loyalists, but the message expanded beyond their normal customer base, increasing co-op members by 7.3 percent.

REI promoted #OptOutside leading up to Black Friday in 2015.
As a part of #OptOutside, they blacked out their homepage on Black Friday.

REI created a microsite to highlight the goals for the campaign and show people how to continue the conversation. Not only does it include gorgeous landscape photography, but there is also a video introducing #OptOutside, a tool to help people find outdoor places near them they can visit and a place for them to share their own experiences. REI made a statement and then gave their customers a way to join them in their stance. By developing the hashtag and microsite, they’ve been able to maintain the stamina they gained from the publicity around their initial announcement. Furthermore, it bolstered their reputation as a nature-first company and inspired customers to join in their mission. The success of this campaign proved how digital experiences and conversations can support real world lifestyles and initiatives. REI has now announced that they’re going to “begin a series of conversations, events, actions and stories that explore what it means to truly opt outside and put the outdoors at the center of a life.”

REI created a microsite to promote the campaign before and after Black Friday.

2. MasterCard’s Priceless Surprises

Ever since 1997, MasterCard has grown brand worth and increased revenue consistently with their “Priceless” campaign, but in 2014 they launched “Priceless Surprises.” This campaign started with MasterCard giving their cardholders spontaneous gifts. Their “priceless surprises” have allowed them to reach out directly to individual customers and connect with them on a more personal level, expressing a human side to the company.

MasterCard started #PricelessSurprises by giving cardholders exclusive concert tickets.

What started out as a way to surprise cardholders when they least expected it has since expanded to reach and include more customers. MasterCard developed a site where they share videos of the “Priceless Surprises” they have created, but the site also gives customers a way to join in too. The site displays captured user-generated #PricelessSurprises and includes a platform for cardholders to share surprises with friends and family. The site not only engages their original customer base with thoughtful gifts and experiences, but it leverages engaged fans to reach new potential customers. In the first year of the campaign, social engagement increased three times!

MasterCard features user-generated content (UGC) on #PricelessSurprises.

3. Snapple’s Real Facts

Undoubtedly many people remember growing up with the Snapple facts. It was always a treat to get a Snapple instead of water or apple juice at lunch, and then there was the added bonus of a delightful and usually strange fact. The facts were generally quirky and down-to-earth, but over the years and especially with the growth of social media, some facts have been publicly proven to be fiction by customers. Snapple needed to respond.

Snapple started surprising customers with “Real Facts” on packaging in 2002.

Rather than put an end to this delightful surprise, they amended their facts with a unique online experience. With their typical humor and whimsy, Snapple created the Snapple Retirement Club. This drew on the original intent to engage users with fun facts and created an effective response to social conversations that provided them with a larger reach and a new source of humor for their fans.

Along with The Retirement Club, Snapple has provided a space where they can display visualizations, or “Re-enFACTments,” of their facts provided by real people. The creators range from illustrators, artists and musicians to toy makers and even chefs. Here, Snapple has taken their simple written facts and created new visual, shareable content that brings the Snapple brand and its personality to life. Snapple took a small, fun packaging surprise and made it into a well-rounded digital experience.

Re-enFACTments were developed to further the experience of the “Real Facts.”

In Conclusion

Technology enables brands to turn positive surprises and real-life experiences into long-lasting engagements that inevitably make them stand out. Brands are learning that real-world offline experiences do indeed drive meaningful emotional connections with customers, but it shouldn’t end there. Creating digital spaces where customers can join and continue the conversation is key to creating long-term brand loyalists.

Written by Christin Norris, Senior Interactive Designer at Elevate. 
Originally published at on March 29, 2016.

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