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Our world of words.

Surprise, surprise…

Is there a link between Columbo and good internal communications? 44’s Emily Gravenor thinks so, and it’s all about the element of surprise…

The definition of surprise, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is an unexpected or astonishing event or fact. Some people love them, some people hate them, some people, like Cilla Black, make a career out of them. One thing’s for sure: you never forget a good one.

Surprises stay with you

Surprises tend to exacerbate the other feelings they arrive with – so whether it’s a good or a bad surprise, the emotions of pleasure or displeasure are heightened by the unexpected nature of it. I’m sure we can all think of at least one good and one bad surprise we’ve experienced, because they leave such a lasting impression. For me, these range from getting my leg stuck in a school fence as a child (bad surprise) to winning the office Bake Off sweepstake (good surprise – thanks, Nadiya).

Eyes on the surprise

When it comes to entertainment, we love being taken by surprise. Comedians rely on the shock of an unexpected punchline to keep the crowd laughing. YouTube videos go viral when they include a hilarious, surprising moment. And it’s the twists and turns of TV dramas such as Line of Duty or Broadchurch that keeps viewers guessing the identity of the culprit and gets the programmes trending on Twitter.

And who can forget TV detective Columbo’s trademark trick of re-entering a room to catch his suspect off guard when they were least expecting it, with the catchphrase: “Just one more thing…”?

Surprise and delight

‘Surprise and delight’ is a well-used phrase in marketing, used to promote the idea of exceeding expectations to promote customer loyalty. As reported by CMO[1], Kim Smith, Global Head of Digital Services Innovation at Adobe, said: “Every organisation should be thinking about surprise and delight. It’s a philosophy that should extend beyond marketing and into the entire business.”

So why not gain brand loyalty by giving customers an unexpected treat, something that will reinforce a positive image in their minds and leave a lasting impression?

Exceeding expectations

And when it comes to internal communications, surely surprise (the good kind) is something we should all be aiming for? That means creating work that exceeds expectations for our clients, and producing material that will create enough impact to get employees’ attention and keep them engaged. Bringing an element of the unexpected into everyday communications will only serve to heighten the message that comes with it.

As Carolyn Ray of Casacom[2] reported after a workshop on relevant internal communications strategy in Toronto: “The future of employee engagement is dependent on surprise and delight. Even in times of heavy workload, people still want to have fun! Whether it’s an unexpected visit from the CEO or even an ice cream truck on a Friday afternoon, we need to find creative opportunities to help employees feel valued.”

Whatever the market you’re trying to engage, the idea of producing a welcome surprise is certainly something that’s well worth factoring in.


[1] http://www.cmo.com/features/articles/2016/3/23/the-shocking-truth-about-surpriseanddelight-strategy.html#gs.4YA1PY4

[2] http://casacom.ca/en/an-open-dialogue-on-internal-communications/

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