Monday, February 8, 2010

Surprise and Delight (?)

Good Morning!

This might be the first time in recent memory where I enjoyed the game more than the ads.  Of course, the exceptions are the Snickers ad with Betty White and Abe Vigoda and the McDonald's spot with Dwight Howard, LeBron James and Larry Bird.  I'm sure you've read a million articles (over)analyzing every spot already...

So for something completely different (paraphrasing Monty Python), I'd like to talk about some mail I got from Neiman Marcus, the luxury store based in the U.S.  I've scanned it for you (see below).  Feel free to click on it to see a larger version but remember to hit your "Back" button on your browser to return to this page.  

When I was in co-brand / private label card marketing, one of the items that floated to the top of market research was the "Surprise and Delight" concept.  Customers wanted to feel that they were valued in completely unexpected ways.  In exchange for their loyalty, they wanted recognition and special treatment "just because" (not only around the holidays) much like two friends will occasionally show their appreciation for each other at random times (e.g., "I've got lunch!").  

As consumers, many marketers can understand and empathize with this "Surprise and Delight" want.  As business people, marketers also know the positive impact to results if this is executed well -- which brings me back to my Neiman Marcus mail.  I was surprised when I saw it.  I'd not stepped into one of their stores in eons so I opened it.  Thank goodness I did because it gave me something to blog about!

I was given a $50 gift card texturized to feel like an expensive purse.  The top of the piece announces a gift card that is "just for me" and I'm invited to use it with their compliments.  The next 1.5 lines say that with spring in "full swing" it is the perfect time to shop for denim, shoes, etc.  I'm also urged to hurry in before the gift card expires.  There are a few carriage returns and then a huge Neiman Marcus logo midway through the page which looks to be a larger font size than the "just for you" copy.  That's it.  


Why am I ungrateful?  Well, I'm not per se.  It's certainly quite generous and I might very well use it but I don't have a burning desire to race there.  My issue is that while they met the letter of the law, they've missed its spirit.  They didn't say "Dear Parissa" (let alone valued customer) which doesn't align with the "just for you" messaging.  I also didn't rate more than 1.5 lines of copy on a 8.5in x 11in paper (very anti "green").  And, I live in Chicago.  We're to get snow tonight so spring isn't in "full swing" for me yet (though a girl can dream).  Lastly, the most prominent and memorable items on this page are the Neiman Marcus logo and the branded texturized gift card.  

The result: I don't feel special or different or valued.  I don't feel like if I shop there, it matters.  To be fair, I know they want for better and Neiman Marcus aims to deliver specialized treatment.  I've pasted some verbiage from their website:

"For over a century, The Neiman Marcus Group has stayed focused on serving the unique needs of the luxury market. Today, that commitment is stronger than ever. We have stayed true to the principles of our founders – to be recognized as the premier luxury retailer dedicated to providing our customers with distinctive merchandise and superior service." 

The key word in this blurb is "recognized" which is something that they have failed to do in this instance.  See, the purpose of "Surprise and Delight" is appreciation conveyed through differentiated treatment and acknowledgement of the customer as an individual; every element of how this is executed is supposed to reflect that and the business/brand/product/service is to be secondary.  Of course, we know that it's operationally difficult to customize 100% but it's an aspiration.  Along with this, customers want to be wooed continuously.  They want to feel like they matter and that the business/brand/product/service wouldn't survive without them.  

Neiman Marcus just didn't do this in this instance.  The intentions of the piece are good but where it fails is in making the Neiman Marcus brand central to the message of the piece as opposed to the customer.  It reminds me of a one liner, "But enough about me...  What do you think about me?"

What do you think?  Please send me your thoughts in addition to your continued comments to my posts on LinkedIn.  Have a great day!


Parissa Behnia


  1. feeling you on this: its really NOT that difficult to mail merge your name into the piece (if i can do it with ms outlook or constant contact, they can hook it up, too) OR reword the piece into a "we don't know you, but we'd LOVE to! bring in the card, have a free cup of coffee, tell us about you"...then, when you show up, have a rep (who is just geeked to see you) do a 5 min "interview" and get some key info they can use for a follow up ("we were so glad to meet you!")...

  2. Exactly. There are so many small ways to make someone feel special. We always want big productions when the biggest impact always seem to come with the smallest gestures. Less is more!