Recruit Like A Marketer: Surprise and Delight (Then Reap The Social Reward!)

Holland Dombeck McCue Candidate Pool, Culture, Current Affairs, Employee Engagement, Employment Branding and Culture, Engagement and Satisfaction, Good HR, Holland Dombeck, HR, HR & Marketing, in the news, Innovation, Recruiting, Talent Strategy

Yesterday Uber partnered with the Animal Planet to bring adorable and adoptable puppies to offices in a handful of major metropolitan cities in their footprint. While the offer was geared at generating buzz for Animal Planet’s annual Puppy Bowl (and building some goodwill for a company that needs it), Uber and The Animal Planet also provided the perfect vehicle for companies to surprise and delight their employees – and reap the employment branding rewards!

Back Up… What is “Surprise and Delight” and why is it so great?

Surprise and delight is a marketing tactic in which companies randomly select an individual or group to receive an experience, often catching them off-guard (surprise!) with something that makes them feel good (delight).

Marketers love this tactic because there is almost always a guaranteed ripple effect – especially in today’s online and sharing culture. Anyone delighted by the surprise is likely to snap a picture of their experience and share it with their network immediately. They will also continue to spread the experience via word-of-mouth as they see friends and family in the weeks following.


(This above photo is a picture of me engulfed in puppy love. I shared this picture within five minutes of leaving the lobby of my building. Even though I was ravenous and under-caffeinated, ‘gramming took priority… and I wasn’t alone.)

According to Harvard Business Review, “Surprise Is Still the Most Powerful Marketing Tool.” Unlike big data and pure analytics-based marketing strategy (put in X, and get Y out), the element of surprise plays to the human emotion and acts as a powerful stimulant to your brain.

With the amount of noise in market, people often become numb to brand promises, and surprise and delight can be the perfect stimuli to get them to re-engage. Do you want to work somewhere that claims to be “awesome!” on their website, or do want to work somewhere where you saw employees actively engaged with the brand?

Executing a surprise-and-delight activation is also incredibly cheap when compared to other marketing tactics. From HBR:

“All it takes is a dime to make someone’s day. Psychologist Norbert Schwarz conducted a study in which a dime was placed near a copy machine. When the subjects who found the dime were surveyed shortly after their discovery, their overall satisfaction with life was substantially higher than the subjects who did not find a coin. Rather than attempt to beat the competition with epic production budgets and media plans, marketers should think about how to cram surprising brand stories into the smallest space possible. Consider how Virgin America infuses charm and creativity into everything from website downtime notifications to safety videos.”

Getting started with a surprise-and-delight activation is easy and models the rules for a solid opening newspaper paragraph: Who, What, Why, When, Where and How. Also, not everything related to your employment brand has to be all [literal] puppies. Do you offer great health benefits and incentives to those employee committed to improving their health? Great! Let’s build on that…

Surprise and Delight Framework

  • Who – Your employees.
  • What – Will come into to work in the morning to find out that they are the recipients of a company branded tumbler with a fruit infuser to make flavored water. Throughout the day, there will be stations at high-traffic areas in your office with water towers, bowls of fruit, and recipe cards to guide employees to create their own flavored water.
  • Why – To demonstrate you care about their continued commitment to making healthy life choices.
  • When – Enter a date/time (I’d shoot for January… new year, new you.)
  • Where – Tumblers will be placed on employee’s desks after hours the evening before discovery so that they are waiting to be used when the employee arrives to work.
  • How (or for budgeting purposes, How Much?) – While surprise and delight is cheap, it’s not free. Explore a budget/tactic that makes sense for your company.

Surprised the formula is so elementary? When big data gets you down, think outside the spreadsheet and recruit like a marketer!