How surprise-and-delight marketing builds stronger customer loyalty

By: Max Kenkel

What you need to know

  • Developing a surprise-and-delight marketing strategy, backed by key customer insights, hooks customers and builds lasting loyalty. 
  • Using segmentation pinpoints customers with high-value potential, then adding personalized promotions resonates with the specific customer groups. 
  • Building something-for-nothing surprises into the budget empowers local teams to capitalize on opportunities as they arise with effective activations. 



customer receiving surprise and delight package

The most memorable and engaging brands offer creative, unexpected elements that set them apart. Think “secret” menu items. Fun customer perks. Compelling cross-promotional collaborations. 

Having a surprise-and-delight marketing strategy is key to hooking customers and building loyalty. Ideas to captivate customers can be as simple as enclosing an unexpected freebie alongside an order. Who doesn’t love opening a package to find a few vinyl stickers or even some candy included in the delivery? I’ve even had brands include handwritten notes along with my items.  

Personalized promotions, especially ones that solve a customer problem, clinch must-win moments. Through positive world of mouth, they can even build a brand’s reputation beyond the recipient. For example, a hot sauce company sent hundreds of mini bottles to a fan who claimed that airport security confiscated hers, and the story went viral. It’s these pivotal touchpoints that impact whether a customer engages with your brand or looks to the competition.


84% of companies who improve their customer experience report an increase in their revenue. 


Although the best surprises may seem spur-of-the-moment, they’re backed by key customer insights. Here’s our recipe for formulating inspired surprise-and-delight promotions: 

Take a no-strings-attached approach to building customer relationships

Look for opportunities to add value without customers needing to purchase a product or service. These surprise promotions should come without a catch. No mailing list sign up. No listening to a pitch, completing a contract, giving your data or donating. Your brand just needs to make them smile. The rationale for this type of promotion is that you are giving a little now to a core customer type to get a lot later. 

Decide your target audience

Kick off promotion planning by segmenting customers to pinpoint those with high-value potential. With a defined target audience, you can:

  • Add personalization
  • Protect the budget 
  • Differentiate between customer groups 
  • Ensure the touchpoint has positive impact

Below is a simple example of how to assess an audience.

sample chart of segmentation to engage and influence affluent client types

Surprises come in many forms. There’s a slim distinction between something being delightfully unexpected and weirdly off-putting. By preparing experiences that match the taste of your targeted customers, you can deliver value that keeps them engaged and reinforces your brand’s identity. 

Related: How data helps customer loyalty programs evolve 

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Design surprise-and-delight ideas around customer values

Knowing as much as you can about your target group helps ensure your tactics won’t miss the mark. 

1. Leverage first- and zero-party data

The rich insights tell you how target customers spend their money and maybe even how they spend their time. It also tells you where they’re geographically centered.

Related: How zero-party data can improve your customer experience

2. Research your target demographic

Identify the kinds of perks and promotions they celebrate on social media. You may not get a direct conversion into a sale immediately, but you can stack the deck in your favor to get earned media, viral content, etc.

3. Prioritize the emotional connection

Offers and awards that excite customers incite action. Think through how the promotion will:

  • Capture a customer’s attention
  • Reinforce your brand’s identity and promise 
  • Get your customer talking about how awesome your brand is
  • Demonstrate that your brand knows the customer 

4. Ask yourself: Would I care?

Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Is your promotion a “Gee, thanks” extra that will get tossed into a donation box, or even worse, the trash? Or does it have potential to become a “Remember that time …?” story they tell for years to come.

If you get it right, the gift or experience you give your customers will live rent-free in their head as a positive memory that makes them smile to think back on.  

Related: Listen to our podcast discussing strategic segmentation and the shifting behaviors of customers.

Build something-for-nothing surprises into the budget

Limiting your strategy to a target audience protects the budget. Proactively empowering local teams with discretionary funding to perk customers can help capitalize on those “just in time” activations that provide a solution in the moment. For instance, instead of shuttling a loyal customer in a standard vehicle while their car is in the shop, deliver them in style in a luxury vehicle. Ideally, one that already has their favorite beverage in the cup holder. 

Amplify existing relationships to reinforce customer brand connection

Your frontline employees and partners are the face of your brand. They know your customers, and maybe even their families, by name. 

Breakthrough moments can transform a typically transactional relationship into a transformational one that reinforces the people part of the customer brand connection. Have your local representative hand-deliver a gift to the customer on their next visit. Or take ideas from your local representative about what extra touches could make someone’s day.

Test and learn to get promotions just right

All good recipes are tested and enhanced. Establishing a feedback loop around customer experience is critical for making adjustments and improvements. But nothing dulls an experience more than being served up a survey on the heels of a surprise. 

  • Ask customer-facing team members who carried out the experience how they think the promotion was perceived
  • Track actual behavior and spend changes over time, comparing customers pre- and post-gift behaviors and spend, and compare them to customers who did not receive the gift
  • Segment the target audience ahead of time around the customer experience impact to make tracking easier
  • Use social listening as an effective tool to gauge impact
  • Identify key takeaways to kick up the next iteration of surprise-and-delight strategy so it can continue to deliver and develop emotional connections with your customers   

Struggling to improve customer loyaltyLearn how integrated customer communications can help.


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Max Kenkel
Max Kenkel

As Customer Solutions Manager, Max leads our Customer Solutions line, ensuring all six components of a successful loyalty program deliver for our clients. With more than ten years of experience in strategy across customer, channel and employee loyalty programs, he’s seen a lot. You’ll often hear him talk about how important data is to brands. In his words, “It’s easy to make decisions on intuition, but it’s a lot easier to justify to shareholders when you can back it up with data.” Beyond his professional passions, Max plays bass in a pop punk band, visits as many national parks as he can and is an aspiring poet, publishing his first book in 2023.