According to studies, when we are surprised, our brains cause us to physically freeze for 1/25 of a second. Following that initial freeze, the emotions we feel intensify as much as 400 percent. This means that if we are surprised with something positive, the sense of joy or elation we feel will be greatly magnified, according to Tania Luna, author of ‘Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected.’
Consider for a moment how this relates to your content creation and marketing efforts. A full 1 in 4 content marketers say that one of their biggest obstacles is an inability to develop compelling content ideas. Likewise, 1 in 5 marketers point to a lack of content variety as one of their biggest obstacles to achieving their goals.
In both of these instances, it is clear that many marketers either have insufficient creativity or insufficient time in order to be able to develop content that is memorable for their audiences.
Fortunately, marketers have at their disposal several tactics to help them surprise and delight their audiences. Consider how you can improve your marketing efforts by delighting your audiences with memorable content.
How to surprise your audience with memorable content:
1. Craft unforgettable intros.
Blogger and entrepreneur Michael D. Pollock has discussed a number of memorable ways a writer can pull a reader into a blog post from the opening sentence.
Some of his ideas include:
- Ask a thought-provoking question. Remember, this shouldn’t be just any question. An example of a thought-provoking question might be, “What do people say about you when you’re not around?”
- Share a shocking fact or statistic. Sensationalism is a valuable marketing tactic — if (and this is a big if) it is true.
- Fly in the face of conventional wisdom. A “hot take” that is opposite from what your readers usually hear is bound to capture attention.
- Tease your audience. Withhold a little information from the opening of an article or video to intrigue your audience just enough to want to keep watching.
2. Develop a memorable story.
In their book, “The Power of Moments,” co-authors Dan and Chip Heath conclude there are deliberate things we can do to make memorable moments. Perhaps the main point of the book can be summed up with this statement:
“The ‘occasionally remarkable’ moments shouldn’t be left to chance! They should be planned for, invested in.”
Your ability to tell a story almost fully depends on your ability to utilize storytellers who know how to create content that is memorable. The best storytellers know how to develop stories that pierce hearts.
A few items that are needed for nearly every memorable story include:
- Characters: If you can showcase a character or two that your audience relates to on some level, your ability to successfully tell a memorable story increases.
- Plot: You need to include some sort of basic “how we got here” element for your audience to understand the setting of the text or video.
- Conflict: Every great story has some sort of conflict.
- Resolution: A satisfying ending makes or breaks your ability to create a piece of content that is memorable.
Take a look at a stellar example of a brand story that uses each of these elements to surprise and delight audiences from HP:
3. Evoke emotions.
In a world of content where audiences are accustomed to scrolling and scrolling and scrolling, they yearn to find something that makes them stop and feel. Evoking an emotional reaction is not always easy, but it is worth the effort in order to provide content to your audience that is memorable.
HubSpot has provided a handy guide about which actions customers are most likely to take depending on which emotions you evoke.
Consider the following:
- Happy audiences share. Simply put, if somebody is happy, they like to share their happy feelings with others. So, if you provide your audience with content that makes them happy, they’re going to amplify that content to others.
- Sadness brings connection. Humans yearn for connection and they have an innate desire to comfort those who are struggling. Feelings of sadness cause people to be more charitable and willing to donate to a cause.
- Fear causes audiences to look for comfort. Don’t overdo it in scaring your audience, but if you do use a little bit of fear, you can position your brand as a hopeful beacon.
- Passion brings stubbornness. If you create content that your audience is passionate about (think social issues), that can be helpful in allowing your audience to become (or remain) committed to your brand.
4. Make your audience think.
One of the best ways to surprise your audience is to challenge them intellectually. Most of your audience probably isn’t accustomed to thinking deeply when reading a blog post or coming across a tweet, so if you provide any content that makes them think, you are likely to surprise them.
Don’t fall into the trap of taking a hard stance on every issue that you discuss in your content. Your audience needs to relate to what you share, so they need to be able to see that there is nuance involved in most issues.
Consider asking questions that have no defined answers or invite your audience to explore scenarios in their minds that are out of the ordinary and are different from what they are accustomed to. If you help your audience think, you are bound to improve engagement in the comment section of your blog or your social media post — all which is helpful in your efforts to drive engagements and conversions.
You will need to develop your own questions based on your brand identity and purpose, but consider the following as examples:
- If you enjoy wasting time, is your time really being wasted?
- What color is a mirror?
- If you try to fail and succeed, which one have you accomplished?
- How many grains of sand become a sand pile?
- Why do we dream?
5. Build anticipation.
Though building anticipation can be an effective tactic to surprise your audience with memorable content, do not go down this road if your end product, feature, or initiative does not deliver a result worthy of the anticipation.
Multiple ways exist in which you can build anticipation, including the following:
- Develop a special feeling. Words like “exclusive” and “limited” will help your audience feel privileged to have the information they have.
- Promote something for nothing. For example, an email header that sparks interest in receiving something for free can be helpful.
- Serialize your content. If your audience comes to expect and enjoy a content series from you, the release of new content becomes an event for them.
- Give your audience a reason to celebrate. Identifying a day, time, or hour to participate in something joyful gives your audience something to which they can look forward.
- Give a behind-the-scenes preview. Check out how New York Fashion Week utilized elements of story and exclusivity to build anticipation.
6. Be human.
Utilizing an employee advocacy program in which you let your employees be the face of your company can be an effective way to help your audience peek behind the brand and see the individuals who make up the organization.
SproutSocial reported that after West Monroe Partners made an effort to encourage an employee advocacy program on social media, it found that visitors who came to its website thanks to employee efforts stayed two times as long on the site and were more likely to convert.
SproutSocial further reported that in a survey of social marketers, more than 2/3 of respondents said they are currently using or plan to use an employee advocacy program.
If you can inspire your audience, not only do you improve your ability to create conversions, you grow fans who appreciate your contribution to their lives. These people become more than your audience — they become your advocates.
Dan Tynski has shared eight attributes of content that inspire action, including:
- Demonstrates mastery
- Fulfills a need
- Tells a story
8. Focus on relationships.
Sometimes it isn’t about what you say as much as it is about how you say it. This is where building relationships with your audience comes into play. Sure, sometimes the content you develop for delivery to your audience is stellar, well-crafted content. But other times a simple response or acknowledgement can be all the content you need in order to make a memorable experience.
Listening to your online audience; responding quickly to their questions and concerns; personalizing conversations; showing your brand’s humanity; rewarding your customers; showing appreciation for all types of feedback; and embracing and sharing user-generated content can all be effective ways to delight and surprise your audience.
9. Foster connection with you.
Think about ways you truly connect with friends and family members and consider how you can build similar kinds of connection with your digital audiences. In some ways, it may be unrealistic to expect to develop that same kind of connection, because customers don’t share the same kinds of experiences with brands that they share with loved ones.
However, perhaps there are ways you can develop those shared experiences with customers that lead them to a greater connection.
Consider these long-form video stories told by Patagonia and REI in which they showcase the connection they have with their customers and their customers have with them.
10. Show up in unexpected places.
Consider where your audiences expect to hear from you. Next, forget about all of those places and consider instead where your audience would not expect to hear from you. Now, create a plan for how you can naturally pop up in those places.
Yes, this is easier said than done, but all it takes is a little creative thinking and a willingness to get outside of the box. Consider this example from Brandscaping author Andrew Davis:
“I went to a video game convention where all of a sudden Rohto eye drops was there… It makes sense, but then it’s really out of place. It was very odd, but their booth was packed… I think the more effective content marketing isn’t just about doing what everybody else is doing. it’s about experimenting and really understanding your audience.”
11. Be funny.
Please pay attention — don’t try to be funny. As Yoda says, “Do or do not. There is no try.” Truly humorous content will delight and surprise your audience. Content that is supposed to be funny — but fails — will not have the desired effect.
If you weren’t born with a quick wit, consider some of the things that people find funny and examine how these fit in with your brand’s identity.
Consider the following in your attempts to surprise your audience with funny content:
- Keep things simple. Think about the number of funny videos you once saw on Vine or that you now see on TikTok. Though the topics and treatments differ, most are similar in that the videos are simple and relatable.
- Put yourself in your audience’s shoes. Got a quirky sense of humor? Does your audience? You better make sure they do before you pepper them with content they might not get.
- Be original. If your audience can see the punchline during the buildup, you’re not going to surprise them — you’ll just bore them.
- Don’t focus on the jokes. Remember what your strategy and purpose is. Don’t let a punchline get in the way of building a community or selling a product. The humor should help you achieve your purpose.