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Tuesday 2¢: Surprise! People Like a Surprise

Tuesday 2¢: Surprise! People Like a Surprise

Welcome to the Tuesday 2¢ . It’s Tuesday, the weekend is a distant memory and it’s time to let off some steam and give our 2 cents on a hot industry topic. This time, Ian Truscott looks beyond the gains of trending marketing techniques, reflecting instead on what we might have lost...


Studies show that elements of delight or surprise in a piece of good marketing enhances its effect. Some of the nicest things in our lives come through happy accidents, but it seems that we are living in an increasingly personalized world, where serendipity is being replaced by data led profiling, feeding us what we want to hear. And it’s not just the news we read and products we buy – Facebook now wants to get into dating – and I wonder if this is all going a bit too far.

Most arguments against personalized marketing focus on the important topic of privacy, I’ve talked about it often here on Tuesday 2¢, and in my view a consumer must be willing to trade some of their data in order to receive some of the personalization which they so crave, and as marketers we need to sell that story and stop being so bloody creepy.

But outside of the privacy and convenience discussion, is there something more significant going on? Our online experience is becoming increasingly influential in forming our world views and habits, and if this experience is being carefully curated around us, are we not missing out on those moments of our lives in which we are influenced to change?

But it’s not just marketers who are to blame for creating our own personal goldfish bowls - a Facebook user willingly curates the people in their friend group to be those who share their world views.

So it appears that while people today have unprecedented access to information and a diversity of opinion, ironically they are creating their own closed world of isolated 'small town' thinking. If some fake news matches the opinion of this 'small town', it flourishes unopposed and opinions become more entrenched, sometimes to the point of radicalization. Products, politicians and opinions are then sold to these 'small towns', and it’s like fishing in a barrel.

On a lighter but similar note, my daughters like Korean pop music - K-Pop – and on the surface it is a wonderful example of the access which the internet has given us to other cultures, making them curious about this country and its language. However, their friends are into K-Pop, it is part of their social bond, their 'small town', and no longer a broadening of their world. It is a narrowing of the music goldfish bowl which leaves the rest of the music world unexplored.

Now I am not suggesting that they are the first generation of teenagers to define themselves and their tribe by the music they listen to, or that people haven’t always curated and endorsed their own opinions by the company they keep, the newspapers they read or the TV stations they watch, but in the broadcast age of TV and radio, there was a chance of serendipity, a moment in which we could change.

So if we become enveloped in a digital world curated to our current opinion and needs, do we lose something important from our lives? As the digital world views us as the person we are today, or more precisely the person who appears to be the person we are today, based on our current behavior, do we lose the opportunity to change?

This also goes for marketers following the mantra of giving the consumer what the data suggests they want, (or remarketing the bloody thing they just looked at or bought), do we lose the opportunity to delight and surprise? In this article on Rockstar CMO , Tania Luna, co-author of Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected suggests that to do so would be missing a trick:

It makes great sense to weave surprise into marketing, it’s the ultimate attention grabber. It propels interest and enthusiasm and is an excellent way to get people to notice your message…. We have found in our own research that surprise propels word of mouth, leading us to share positive [and surprising] experiences with an average of six people,” she explains. “And in a world with social media, where every user is a news anchor looking for stories to share with their audience, regardless of size, it’s easy to see why ‘surprise’ is particularly coveted [by marketing creatives].

So, surprises in marketing are good, which leads me to my final point - Facebook wants to get into dating.

One of the best and most serendipitous moments of my life was meeting a person who very few of my (then) Facebook friends (if it had existed) would have chosen for me, getting married to her, having children and, despite the scary statistics about the life expectancy of the modern marriage, still be enjoying life with her today.

OK, I realize that it’s not your friends who would choose your dates in a Facebook dating app, but the data used to interpret them and my interaction with them could choose for me someone from the same 'small town'. My wife is a city gal and that’s what made it fun, it was a time of change for me.

So, let’s not get too carried away with defining the perfect, most relevant, most targeted message for an audience which we supposedly understand so deeply – maybe it is better to surprise them once in a while. Toss them something which they might not like for a change. Sure, it’s a risk, but maybe they’ll cherish it as a catalyst for change.

Ian Truscott Ian Truscott

Ian Truscott has the unofficial and honory title of the “Träger des Firmen-Megaphons” for censhare, bringing 20 years of B2B software experience to our company (surely starting as a child) to lead marketing here. Luckily for us in the Munich office, he’s found the kettle and some tea bags – look at him, he’s happy.

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