lucy surprise A couple weeks ago I wrote about the role swag and surprise play in social engagement. Turns out…this is kind of a hot topic. When it comes to swag and marketing, just about everyone has an opinion.

I posed a question on my facebook page (hoping to get some gut reactions from friends outside the marketing industry.)

Are you more likely to engage with brands through social because you want a relationship with them or because you want access to perks, discounts, free stuff?

Carmen O. I want a relationship with brands I identify with on a personal level in some way (e.g., Seventh Generation (social responsibility) or Enjoy Life (access to allergy-free food.) I don’t pay attention to whether there is a freebie, I already feel I’m in a relationship with these brands. Engaging through social no doubt strengthens that.

Laura S. I do not seek any sort of relationship with a brand. My loyalty to a brand is based strictly on the functionality of their product and the social/environmental impact of their company. For large national brands, I equate any social interaction with them to advertising, so unless there is some sort of perk or reward for interacting with the brand, I’m not interested.

For example, Facebook keeps suggesting I follow Bounty paper towels. I buy Bounty because they work, not because they have an interactive Facebook page. I would only tolerate their content in my newsfeed if I got something out of it.

Local brands are different to me, kind of like cheering for the hometown hero. I enjoy knowing how they are growing, what they are learning, and how they are changing. I want local brands to succeed because their success reflects well on my city, which is a reward in itself.

Monica J. I just experienced swag love yesterday. I ordered some products recommended by a friend from MooGoo. They came all the way from Australia. In the box, they had included a note thanking me for ordering from so far away. They also included free gifts and samples of other products I hadn’t ordered. They didn’t have to do any of that, but it was so very awesome that they did. It spawned immediate social media action from me as I was motivated to go like their FB page, gush on their wall about my experience, and thank my friend for recommending MooGoo. They earned me as a customer for life just by being thoughtful.

The swag post received a couple comments from great minds in the industry, as well. Their comments drive home a few points I wanted to make about swag and surprise. You’ll find them below…


Let’s be honest. We all love free stuff. But if you’re anything like me, you’ve pitched more than a few branded tumblers, keychains and koozies in your time.

Let’s get a couple things straight, shall we?

You can surprise without giving out swag. (Good.) You can give out swag without surprising and delighting. (Less good.) You can surprise and delight with the help of swag. (Hooray!)

Swag is stuff. Surprise is a sentiment.

Swag is about creating a one-off. Surprise is about creating a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Swag is evidence that your brand has a promotional item budget. Surprise is evidence that your brand is paying attention to your customers.

Swag is one-night stand. Surprise is an LTR.



Got it?

2. TIMING IS EVERYTHING. When you employ the use of swag and surprise may be just as important (if not more than) as what you give someone. Remember: surprise and delight isn’t intended to “buy,” “coerce,” “convince” or “sway.” It’s meant to show the people who love your brand that you love them back…and you’re tuned in and paying attention.

Mack Collier@MackCollier I think an important clarification needs to be made in the discussion of giving customers free stuff. WHEN they receive the free stuff can be the most important consideration.

In general, if the gift comes BEFORE the purchase, it’s an incentive to change behavior. If the gift comes AFTER the purchase, then it is viewed by the customer as a REWARD. A reward helps build loyalty, which can turn customers into fans. In researching my book I discovered that this is probably the biggest marketing disconnect between brands and rock stars. Brands, for the most part, target getting business from NEW customers, via incentives, offers and free stuff. Rock stars also offer free stuff, but they target their biggest fans via secret shows, autograph signings, etc. The idea is to target your fans, create something amazing for them, then let them become your marketing channel via word of mouth.

3. THIS IS ABOUT MORE THAN GOODS. IT’S ABOUT BEING GOOD.  Surprise and swag can work together to create a truly remarkable experience, but at the end of the day surprise isn’t about stuff, it’s about sentiment.

In the same way the coolest swag loses impact when there is no thought behind it, a simple, handwritten note has the power to overwhelm and delight. Why? Because it shows someone—a real human—cares. And in a world of tweets, text and automation, a real connection with a real human goes a heck of a long way.

Geno Church, @GenoChurch I love hand written notes. I keep every one I get. I often buy from Frank & Oak, an online men’s clothing club. With every purchase I get a little hand written note along with a random nugget. It’s not the typical thank you, and it speaks to the folks at F&O. I find that a meaningful treasure.

BRINGING IT ALL HOME… So am I proposing that you swear of swag? Definitely not. What I am challenging you to do is get to know your customers. Get in there and pay attention. Find out what they need and what they want. Really listen. Find out what makes them tick and what makes them smile. Then challenge yourself to blindside them with something remarkable.

UP NEXT WEEK: 7 Awesome Examples of Surprise and Delight that will Blow your Mind.

YOUR TURN: In the meantime, step up to the mic and share your thoughts with us. Are you more likely to engage with brands through social because you want a relationship with them or because you want access to perks, discounts and free stuff?