I’ve had a few meetings with Virgin Trains East Coast recently. The east coast mainline provider is now part of the Virgin group and has been adopting and growing into the group’s brand values over the last few months. As a marketing professional, I’m fascinated by such things so I’ve been keeping an eye on how this affects things behind the scenes and, in particular, the company’s relationships with customers.
Caption: Surprise and delight is built in at Virgin – ‘delightfully surprising’ is one of their brand values.
During Newcastle Pride last year, Virgin Trains East Coast lit up Newcastle Central Station in rainbow colours. For the last weekend of Wimbledon they were serving up strawberries and cream in Kings Cross Station. On Blue Monday in January, they were on platforms right along the line giving out hand warmers to cheer up commuters. Virgin Trains East Coast is getting into this surprise and delight concept and they’re not the only ones. These are my favourite examples – some are well reported but the others surprised and delighted me personally.
WestJet – ‘Christmas Miracle’
It’s hard to beat this example. Imagine checking in for a flight on Christmas Eve and being asked by a Santa Claus on a big screen what you’d like for Christmas. Don’t say socks. WestJet then went shopping and when passengers from the flight arrived at their destination they found the gifts they hoped for on the baggage carousel. The video – which has had over 44 million views – tells the full story.
Grove House Bed & Breakfast – free taxi ride
You hopefully won’t find this one elsewhere on the Internet. I booked a night in a B&B in York and emailed to mention that I might not get in until 4am as I was having a joint birthday party at my friend’s nearby. I promised I’d be quiet as a mouse – York suburbs are not rowdy. I got a call back straight away with an offer of a lift to my friend’s place, which I accepted (I was surprised and delighted). I then did my bit to contribute to the B&B’s 9.9 rating on Booking.com
GoPro – new camera for avid fan
SocialRank reports that when it launched in February 2014, Go Pro used the tool to pick a follower of the company’s social media accounts to win their daily ‘Win Everything We Make” competition. They selected one of their most engaged followers, gave him a new camera and kit and let the avid fan (and vlogger) do what avid fans do – talk up GoPro even more.
Taylor Swift – ‘Swiftmas’
For Christmas 2014, a selection of Taylor Swift fans received gifts picked out especially for them from their favourite singer. She even hand-delivered some of them. She also posted a video of herself wrapping the gifts and clearly enjoying the whole process. You can see the fan reactions – they’re definitely surprised and delighted. And the video’s had 18 million views.
Leicester City FC – surprising fans in more ways than one
I sit next to a Leicester City fan at work. He’s pretty proud of his team at the moment and, rather unusually for a Premier League team supporter, he’s also proud of the club for showing it’s appreciation to its fans. Leicester gave away free beers at the last home games of the 2013/14 and 2014/15 seasons, to thank fans for their support, and offered free breakfast at the King Power Stadium for fans travelling to St James’ Park for Newcastle v Leicester last November. The club even gave away 32,000 bags of limited Vardy Salted crisps to celebrate the striker’s record-breaking goal-scoring run. It must help the team when the club puts fans in a good mood before kick-off.
It’s not a surprise that this marketing technique can make a lasting, positive impact on a business’ customers. It doesn’t have to be on such a large (and expensive) scale as WestJet either. Keep it authentic, make people smile and deliver something above what they were expecting, and your customers will want to tell people about it. I did.