Surprise!

The no.1 strategy to a successful brand in today’s branding world

The classical idea of a brand was predictability. The first generation of brands were created as part of industrialism.  Brands were supposed to always be able to repeat themselves, mechanically.  And deliver predictably, in their brand names, or trademarks, exactness of the product, service benefit, or experiences over-and-over again, and make the customer/user sure he or she got what the customer/user expected. Every time should be like the last time.

Predictability was not only for products, but also for services. All this of course was extremely important in a society that was transferring from mostly handcrafts to industrialism.  The idea of absolute predictability and reliability was the core reason for the customer to remember a trademark and the predictability was the most important trait of any product or service brand.

Now predictability is perceived as a basic characteristic with established brands, and is more or less taken for granted, we do appreciate it, yes, but it doesn’t excite us much.  Thus we have also learned that because of fierce competitions in most categories of goods and services, a non-reliable products or services will expose themselves very negatively and become a losers.  Also the transparency of the internet with reviewing by interactive users, gives us an even stronger confidence than if quality is not is continuously maintained, this will be immediately become known to most consumers through the Internet and social media.

What now excites us with brands are the surprises. Since brands were first introduced in an organized way with the industrialism over 100 years ago, brands have now in an important way changed their nature and role in our society.  Brands are now becoming what we call  Relation brands – creating not only a support for functional transactions of tangible predictable benefits and features. Brands are built on perceptions and experiences, and branding can now be defined as management of perceptions and experiences in peoples minds.  And we are now looking at other things in brands than before.  We like a brand to introduce us to new things, brands should be representing the future in our minds and make us feel more updated and savvy.  We like the brand to offer us things that will become new favourites to us, product or services that we proudly show-off to others.

Some brands with a high innovation perception are not always being first with the technology as such, but with exploiting a new user experience (like Apple and GoPro). Even better is if we can identify ourselves with the brand, and maybe get the feeling that the brand is “always reading my mind”, being a step ahead of me, or make me as a customer in any other way feel special and important.

For the ones considered top brands their customers already have very high expectations, not only to be predictable in tangible delivery, but equally much in what is perceived as their personality. Branding is very similar to friendship. And surprise has always been a way to maintain interest by different parties in a friends relationship. This becomes most challenging for all strong brands.

Since we actually like in any relationship love to be positively surprised by our favourite brands, and the surprise-effect makes us more loyal.  When our favourite brands exceed our expectations by SURPRISE, we get more excited and our interest for and loyalty to the brand increases.  Actually, one of the few things that makesus loyal to a brand over and over again is the experience of something unexpected.

Surprises can become almost like a drug for us, the kicks of the new and different we don’t want to be without.  And when it’s getting longer and longer between the kicks of surprise we slowly get uninterested. And that’s why brands failing to deliver those kicks have a hard, hard time. Especially the brands that have made their users/customers used to expect surprising innovations.

Look at Google, a brand continuously on the rise, always with new surprises, out-of-the-box ideas like Google Glasses, or driver-less cars, or singularity research and thought leadership with Ray Kurzweil,  not to mention all start-ups picked up by Google Entrepreneurs, also creating surprise despite being within the business strategy of developing the digital world, the web and the mobile business, like Android, Uber, Waze, Nest, etc. Google is contiuously surprising, even the logotype is changing every now and then.

The other aspect of Surprise  in terms of positive, innovative, new experiences is one of two important aspects of all Relation Brands, the brands successful in this new digital era. The other aspect is the fact that many brands are actually are changing as they go, and become a brand not initially expected.  This change of what a brand stands for can come from within, i.e. the people managing a brand can on purpose redefine the brand and make changes, so that the brand is perceived as something else as it was earlier perceived. This new perception of the brand then gradually develops in the minds of many people outside of the organization.  Within start-ups this change of business and brand idea is called pivoting.  This change is usually caused by new and later learnings about users perception and preferences of the start-up’s product or service. Beta-testing of the first version of the product usually results in a lot of customer/user feedback. And this feedback leads to changes in the product. Some time these changes are huge and fundamental.

If you take a look at the most successful brands in say the last 15 years, Facebook, Google, Apple, Starbucks, etc (see examples below), these brands were initially all from a branding stand-point unexpected. Maybe this goes for business in general when introducing a new brand, some new brands though are just following up on already existing trends.

I any case it is certainly a truth in branding: the biggest successes are unexpected. How can you plan Surprise for your brand? If you interested to see how we can help with planning the unexpected, please drop us a line.