How Surprising Are You?

By Apr 01, 2009

Shocking and delighting your customers sounds like a swell idea — but how do you measure the element of surprise?

“In this economy, attention is a valuable commodity,” says Andy Nulman, the author of “Pow! Right Between the Eyes: Profiting From the Power of Surprise.” “And attention isn’t free — it’s not ‘given’ but ‘paid.’ So being noticed is the first component: return on interest, so to speak.”

Second, he notes, the initial attention has to spread. This metric isn’t easy to quantify, but at least can be “tracked” via tools like Google, Technorati, Digg and Twitter. And finally, there’s the cash register.

“Attention without commercial gain is like victory without glory; all foreplay, no climax. All talk, no action. This is as basic as it gets in ROI, although I must admit in some cases there is a delay in the payoff. The commercial reaction to the action may take weeks, or months.”

Nulman is one of the founders of Montreal’s Just for Laughs comedy festival, and is the president and CMO of Airborne Mobile. He leveraged surprise in the marketing of his own book with tactics like creating the first ever soundtrack for a business book. (Available on iTunes, it features songs like Peter Gabriel’s “Shock the Monkey” and the Ramones’ “Gimme Gimme Shock Treatments.”) He also issued a blogger challenge: The first 200 to write about the book received a copy of “Pow!” Some also got prizes, such as a pair of official “Pow!” jeans (yes, the book has an official denim sponsor), a free speech from Nulman or, the grand prize, representation by a literary agent to get their own book deal.

“You have to be able to take a chance,” he says. “Surprise marketing isn’t something for the meek or conservative.”