Banking on Surprise and Delight

By Sharon Klocek-Ibbotson

Looking for some unconventional marketing ideas you can take, twist or tweak?

Over the last year I have been fascinated by the possibilities of applying the concept of surprise and delight to banking. The idea is not new to the service industry. For years, hotels have been trying out ways of bringing unexpected moments of happiness to their customers. There’s no reason why this approach should be limited to the hospitality industry. I see so much potential for any financial institution to custom brand and engage in this way.

In February, for example, Salem Five, a Massachusetts bank with $3.8 billion in assets, ran its own surprise and delight campaign involving cookies. To mark the grand opening of a new branch in a brand new market, Salem Five sent out a street team of “banker bakers” to deliver Cookie-Grams. Sound frivolous? This simple effort put the bank’s name and new location into the hands of 3,300 potential customers within a one-mile radius of the new branch. How frivolous does it sound now?


“We followed the grand opening event with a unique direct mail piece that is sort of spring loaded,” said Chris Payne, Creative Director at Salem Five. “When the outer envelope is opened, a 3D cube pops out that doubles as a piggy bank. Once filled with coins, recipients brought it into the branch and we doubled it.” For distribution, the bank opened the radius up to three miles from the branch.

To complement this effort, the bank bought up all of the available mobile display ad inventory (2 million impressions), dominated the displays at the local commuter train station for four weeks, and used a roving billboard truck.

As a result, “We had excellent attendance at our grand opening weekend event, plenty of social media chatter, and the hero product, our Star Money Market, has seen very good results,” Payne says. “It’s become a $15 million dollar store in just a few months.”

The power of a surprise and delight approach lies in its potential for creativity. The important thing is to align your ideas with your brand promise—and to keep them simple.

Let’s talk actionable ideas.

Empower your employees to surprise customers with happy moments. This may sound scary to many of you, because it is often hard to trust employees at the branch level to stay in brand and on goal. But it can be done simply by giving them the freedom to choose within rules, examples and approved suggestions collected from all branches.

In-Branch Examples:

  • Go out of the way to hold the door open for a customer
  • Walk customers out to car with an umbrella—or brush the pollen/snow off their car
  • Offer a free giveaway that fits an immediate need (towel/rain, car shade/hot, etc.)

Out of Branch Examples:

Deploy staff for one hour once a week to:

  • Get in line at the register and buy someone a cup of coffee, pack of gum, ice cream
  • Put staff talents to work: organizing flash mobs, beautifying a public space, sewing or knot-tying toys for children or pets, distributing local area treats to customers (cider, doughnuts, apples, roasted corn)

Brand Guided Examples:

  • Friendly brand – Give away a free home BBQ party.
  • Sleek urban brand Give free rides in a Tesla or car that fits your brand of cool (partner up with car dealers in area).
  • Fun loving business brand – Set-up a bounce house or DJ for adult workers at a large business or in a central location to jump or dance at lunch (co-promote with bounce house or DJ as a co-sales effort).
  • Helper brand – Ask staff to spend 15 min a week looking for people with heavy loads (exiting stores) and offer to carry items to car.
  • Problem Solving Brand – Rent or make a puzzle container escape room and host family and young adult events with prizes donated or purchased for solving puzzle containers (offer 5 free hints).

More ideas? Many more, but the best ideas come from a community. What are your ideas and how can you use them to gain loyalty and brand recognition?

Sharon Klocek-Ibbotson is the Content Strategy & Development Leader at Kiosk & Display Company. Email: mailto:[email protected]