Surprise Them — It Works Every Time, When Not Overused

Surprise Them -- It Works Every Time, When Not OverusedOur daughter Charlotte had her fifth birthday last weekend, and instead of our usual huge friends and family bash, she asked five friends to help her celebrate.

After carefully thinking through a few “theme” options, she pounced on the hiking expedition to take place in South Mountain reservation just two blocks away. We mailed invites and asked kids to wear their oldest clothes.

I was the one to be surprised to to get RSVPs accompanied by parental wonder that we were hosting this “out of the norm” (e.g. Chuck E. Cheese, a gymnastics party, etc.) party. Post-party, we got five calls telling us how much the kids loved the hike and commending us for making this adventure happen. To us, not a big deal. But to the other parents, who may not hike often or have a nature preserve two blocks away, a pleasing surprise that got their attention.

Your org should be putting surprise to work — periodically, not steadily, since all the time is no surprise — to get your audiences attention. Surpassing their expectations works every time, as long as you do so periodically, not daily (which means no surprise).

I was absolutely surprised, and 100% engaged, by Al Gore’s Coalition for Climate Protection’s (aka WE Campaign) $300 million campaign bringing the surprise duo of Al Sharpton and Pat Robertson together to discuss the importance of caring for the environment, and the need for everyone to work together for the cause. Now meet the latest couple in the “strange bedfellows” or “unlikely alliances” series: Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Here’s how the WE Campaign explained the series in their email to me and other bloggers: “Our hope is that showing this kind of Unlikely Alliance will demonstrate the unity of purpose needed and will serve as an invitation to people from all walks of life to join WE.”

That’s $300 million all about surprise and it’s working big time. Not only is the ad campaign getting huge consumer attention, it’s getting the Coalition major media coverage.

Think about surprising your audiences with a format, look and feel or message significantly different than your norm. If Al Sharpton and Pat Robertson can do it, your nonprofit can too.

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Nancy Schwartz on April 29, 2008 in Case Studies, Nonprofit Communications, Strategy | 2 comments
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  • Bob Roth

    The Heath brothers also make this point in their book “Made to Stick.”
    To paraphrase, “When you need someone to pay attention, change something. Give simple and understandable a new twist; change it. In other words, break someone’s guessing machine and then fix it.”

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