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  • Sam Decker

Marketing Bullseye 8: Unexpected Touch

Hitting the marketing bullseye is balancing measurement rigor with creative relevance.

For example, Southwest Airlines maintains efficiency without losing creativity or soul. You can get a $150 flight (efficiency through operational rigor) while the flight attendant recites FAA rules impersonating Robert Deniro (creativity and ‘soul’).

Up until now I’ve posted blog entries in the "longitude" dimension of the marketing bullseye –metrics, optimization, and finance. Now, for a principle in the “latitude” dimension. These will be posts about purposeful creativity, first brain marketing, salience, and principles that drive word of mouth.

This post covers a strategy that creates word of mouth and loyalty but may lack empirical justification: "The Unexpected Touch".

When is the last time you were surprised and delighted by a small unexpected gesture from a company? The reason the unexpected touch works is because neither you nor I can think of an answer!

The key to this principle is found in the meaning of the words "Unexpected" and "Touch". I use these on purpose…


To be unexpected, you should choose to do something that goes outside the range of what the most demanding customer may expect from the product or service you provide. It is different than adding a great feature or executing perfectly on service. Here’s an example:
I love my iPod, yet it has many features I don’t use. If Apple put a dollar more of software features (conceptually), it wouldn’t make as much impact as a dollar they put into the premium packaging (which I haven’t thrown away because it’s so cool). That packaging makes me feel good about spending the $400. But that is not unexpected. That’s just smart feature allocation for a high-end, word-of-mouth-worthy product. Now imagine if after a month after using iTunes, Apple knew which artists I liked and sent me a coupon for an upcoming local concert for one of my favorite artists. That goes outside what I ever expected when buying an MP3 player. That would be unexpected.


An unexpected touch is different than an unexpected feature or service enhancement. The point of ‘touch’ is that it creates a human connection. Either the unexpected act is coming from a person or because the act itself touches (double meaning here!) the customer on an emotional level. Gratitude, humor, surprise, joy. Here’s an example of touch. I don’t think this is going to make you well up or anything, but considering it’s coming from an oil company, who knows? Our web designer was driving from San Antonio to Austin and filled up at an Exxon station. On top of the gas pump they had a simple white sign, with no ads or corporate messages. It simply said “Enjoy your drive.”

This is unexpected, because there is no advertising where you’d expect there to be advertising. It is a touch because it made the driver feel Exxon cared. It’s not going to change your life, but it didn’t cost Exxon anything either. Most importantly, the unexpected touch makes you think and feel differently about their brand and be compelled to tell someone about the experience…as it did for our designer, or he wouldn’t have taken and shared this picture! You have to do something to make you feel good about spending $32 to fill your tank.


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