Running A Business

Surprise-and-Delight Marketing Works—Here’s How to Utilize It in Your Small Business

Jan 17, 2022 • 6 min read
surprise and delight marketing for small business
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      I love a good surprise gift—especially when they come from independent and/or local businesses, because it means I can come back for more. For a recent example, my favorite local skincare store gave me a bonus cleanser sample with my most recent purchase and, as it turns out, it’s now my favorite cleanser. I went back a week later once I used it up and bought their largest size.

      I’ve even offered “surprise-and-delight” marketing, the practice of surprising customers with add-ons to their purchase or contract, as a small business owner myself. While I don’t sell goods, I do offer a service—developmental editing—and I used it as my “suprise” for a new client who recently hired me to complete a 15,000-word article. As a thanks and in the hopes of working with her again, I offered a free round of additional edits on the article. To most of the world, a little free editing isn’t as exciting as a free cup of coffee or a cleanser sample, but in my line of business, it is, and my new client gratefully accepted it.

      I’m not alone in loving surprise-and-delight marketing: according to CrowdTwist, two-thirds of consumers find surprise gifts important for utilizing loyalty programs. Bypassing this practice as a small business owner therefore could mean that you’re missing out on future customers—and revenue—as a result.

      Wondering how you might utilize this helpful strategy in your small business? Try these tips and tricks to keep your customers returning for more.

      What Is Surprise-and-Delight Marketing?

      As noted above, surprise-and-delight is a retention marketing strategy that gives existing and former customers more than they expected—in a good way—from your products or services, building loyalty and revenue for your business in the process. This could mean a free gift with their purchase, an upgraded latte size, a coupon for their next order, a longer spa treatment, a bonus dog walk, and on and on. Businesses can approach surprise-and-delight marketing however it best fits their particular offerings.

      Surprise-and-delight marketing could be a free gift with purchase, upgraded latte size, complimentary car wash, bonus dog walk, and on and on. The key is to think about what would work for your business—and your customer.

      Surprise-and-delight tactics focus on increasing traffic or spend from your existing clients either by giving them an amazing experience (that they weren’t expecting) or by rewarding them for loyalty. However, it can also bring in new customers through its word-of-mouth component, one of the side effects of surprise-and-delight marketing, as happy customers recommend your services to their friends and family. (This happens to be how I found out about my favorite skincare store in the first place—a surprised and delighted friend!) 

      Surprise-and-delight marketing also allows you to personalize your customer-service offerings by getting to know your clients’ desires in more detail. And, in an era of big-box everything, nothing keeps customers coming back to small businesses like feeling seen, and rewarded, individually.

      How to Implement Surprise-and-Delight Marketing Into Your Small Business

      Since timing and frequency are vital components of successful surprise-and-delight marketing campaigns, consider strategizing carefully which of your business’s products/services best fit this model and—crucially—how often to utilize them.

      Loyalty points earned via an app, or even just the classic punch card, will ensure that customers engage with you regularly in order to qualify for a gift. If your offerings don’t suit that model, or you’d rather have the flexibility to be more spontaneous—great for businesses that build more one-on-one customer relationships, like salon owners or dog walkers, for example—determine in advance the product or service upgrades that you’re willing to offer your clients, and then empower yourself and/or your employees to offer them whenever relevant. Your customer will love being sent home with the trial-size hairspray used at her blowout, and you’ll love knowing in advance which parts of your inventory are allocated as gifts and which remain for sale.

      The above tips work great for maintaining your existing customers, but what about recruiting new ones? Social media is a fantastic, affordable way to market your surprise-and-delight offerings to clients-to-be, whether that’s advertising coupons for first-time shoppers with an exclusive Facebook code or sharing time-sensitive Instagram Stories about a buy 1, get 1 special for new-diner takeout at your restaurant. 

      Curious for more examples, especially from larger businesses? Check out CMSWire’s analysis of 5 successful surprise-and-delight marketing campaigns from corporations. There may be some inspiration within to scale for your small business!

      Surprise-and-Delight Marketing Pitfalls

      Not all surprise-and-delight marketing strategies suit all businesses, and there are some pitfalls to utilizing this practice inappropriately. First, if you give away too much for free, you risk a negative impact on your bottom line. Finding the right balance may take some time, but begin cautiously, and make sure you estimate the cost of your “donated” time or product before you surprise your customer with it.

      Second, make sure that you’re following any state or local guidelines regarding which product or service you’ve chosen to surprise and delight your clients with. For example, in Lendio’s home is in Utah, where it’s illegal for a member of the alcoholic beverage industry to offer its products without charge or as part of a promotion. Limiting? Yes, but you may still be able to find other ways that are well within the laws to thank your customers. Still, the lesson here: know exactly what you can and can’t do legally before you get started. This is not a time to “ask for forgiveness later.”

      When utilized thoughtfully, surprise-and-delight marketing works by building customer loyalty and increasing awareness of your range of products/services—and, thankfully, in a typically affordable way. A key final component to keep in mind, however, is the frequency with which you offer these surprises and delights to your customer. After all, a surprise is by definition unexpected, so if one arrives with every single customer transaction, your gift will become expected instead of delightful, and therefore less effective.

      Get Started With Surprise-and-Delight Marketing Today 

      As noted above, surprise-and-delight marketing can be one of the more affordable—and most effective—ways to build customer loyalty and generate vital word of mouth about your business. 

      Looking for ways to get started—and perhaps some additional funds to grow your surprise-and-delight offerings? Lendio can help: we connect small businesses with custom funding options that fit their plans and goal. Plus, by starting with our single, short application that doesn’t impact your credit (and takes about 15 minutes to complete), you’ll reach more than 75 lenders.

      Disclaimer: The information provided in this post does not, and is not intended to, constitute business, legal, tax, or accounting advice and is provided for general informational purposes only. Readers should contact their attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor to obtain advice on any particular matter.
      About the author
      Rachel Mennies

      Rachel Mennies is the owner of The Little Book, LLC, a small business that provides writing and editing services to individuals, nonprofits, and businesses of all sizes. At last count, Rachel's writing and editing skills have helped shape nearly 500 articles and blog posts for

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