No time to fool around these days. Let’s get right to the point and trumpet the “Big Statement”:
The element of Surprise is the most important, yet most untapped, aspect of contemporary business.
There. I said it.
While it recalls the frivolity of unexpected birthday parties and Crackerjack boxes, surprise is far from superficial. It can be an ultra-important form of corporate differentiation (just ask serial surprisers like Virgin’s Richard Branson or Apple’s Steve Jobs), yet its power remains woefully underexploited.
And that’s too bad, because once it seizes, surprise helps influence decisions, often the deciding factor in someone choosing you over the other guy.
For business purposes, surprise’s most important function is being “The Lubricant to Yes.” There is nothing more that we want to hear than the word Yes, and surprise gets one to “Yes” faster by delivering a special feeling called “Euphoric Shock”; the moment that jumpstarts a modern marketing relationship by “upsetting” one’s system. This shock weakens our defenses and simultaneously raises our level of happiness, a double-whammy that causes us to act more emotionally and less rationally than we would normally.
The internal stirring and accompanying euphoria democratizes us by kid-ifying us, which is why the most important of my four Surprise theories is called “Everyone’s a Kid in Disneyland.” By reducing our resistances, Surprise leaves us more susceptible to an impending sales message. It’s no accident then, per square-foot, that Disney parks are some of the most profitable retail real estate on earth.
In “Taking Relationship Marketing for a Joyride: The Emotion of Surprise as a Competitive Marketing Tool,” professors Joelle Vanhamme, Adam Lindgreen and Roderick Brodie say that:
“Merely satisfying customers is not enough, businesses need to delight their customers... positive surprise is a necessary condition for customer delight and customer delight translates into higher customer retention levels.”
That’s how Johnny Cupcakes gets you. Its spectacular storefront on Boston’s tony Newbury street lures you inside with mouth-watering wafts and window-filling signs shouting “Zero Fat!” and “Zero Carbs!” Once inside, the only cupcakes to be found are on the striking t-shirts and accessories sold by the clothing boutique (on baker’s trays, of course)…and by this time, you’re so delightfully snookered, you’ve got to buy something.
It’s not just moving kid-oriented stuff like Disney products or t-shirts. Surprise can be the difference selling everything from high-end jewelry (instead of the standard vacantly-staring beauty, Italy’s Franco Pianegonda hires models who cross their eyes and stick out their tongues in his full-page ads), to healthy breakfast cereal (the venerable Shreddies, a shredded oat square, recently re-launched as “Diamond Shreddies” thanks to a simple 90-degree twist of the square itself), to American cars (by giving away a Pontiac G6 to each one of her 276 audience members to open her season in 2004, Oprah’s mind-blowing stunt increased sales of the model by 20% over its nearest competitor).
With this, Surprise shows that it’s no luxury, but a veritable necessity…and one more necessary than ever in these dire days of uncertainty, trepidation and fear. Rather than succumb to the economic malaise, London’s Little Bay Restaurant, a renowned banking and financial hangout, delighted its customers (and earned millions of dollars in buzz) with a stunning “Pay Whatever You Think It’s Worth” lunch special for an entire month. Taking this a step further, gym owner David Siscoe offered the out-of-shape an INDEFINITE free membership to his gym with one small catch: you have to show up an average of three times a week. You could almost hear the smiles.
But Surprise also delights the bottom line. Just ask Nintendo. A videogame pioneer, Nintendo became a tired afterthought at the turn of the century, playing a distant third fiddle to Sony’s Playstation and Microsoft’s Xbox. Going head-to-head against them was suicide, so Satoru Iwata, Nintendo’s president and CEO, took a different route. In 2006, he introduced the radically-simple Wii console, which eschewed the industry’s traditional hard-core gamer audience and went after regular folk.
“Wii was unimaginable for (the general public), they could not say they wanted it,” said Iwata. “If you are simply listening to requests from the customer, you can satisfy their needs, but you can never Surprise them.”
But Surprise them Iwata did. And the regular folk responded big-time; in the first six months of direct competition, Wii outsold Xbox 360 two-to-one, and crushed Playstation 3 by a four-to-one margin. Today, over 50 million consoles later, Wii still surprises, with unexpected hits like aerobic exercise and rock-climbing games.
Surprise is a wonderful emotional paradox; it combines the unspoiled innocence of a child with the potent persuasion of the world’s most hard-assed sales team (picture a day-care center run by the guys of Glengarry Glen Ross).
And this emotional paradox works. It works wonders. Put simply, Surprise is the difference between a “Holy Jeez!” and a “Who Cares?” And I don’t care what you’re selling—cool stuff, bold ideas, personal beliefs, political candidates, or just plain you—everything sells better with a “Holy Jeez!”
The world needs more “Holy Jeez.” To be more specific, it needs more Holy Jeezers. Put some Pow! into your next project, whatever it may be, then stand back and watch.
I guarantee you’ll be, well…pleasantly Surprised.