Deliver the Expected Unknown

What is an expected surprise for you? 

This was a question I asked a marketer in an email exchange last week. He had sent me a note explaining that he had a database of more than 100,000 contacts, complete with names and email addresses that had gotten a 90% accuracy response when he ran it through Facebook. He wanted to know how he should or could monetize such an audience.

When I asked how many of the people on his list had subscribed, told me that most had registered for access to a webinar or an asset as part of lead generation campaigns. I told him he didn’t actually have an audience, but rather a database of names. He was confused. 

That’s when I asked him to name an expected surprise.    

 “An expected surprise? How does that work?” he said.   

I asked, “What is something unknown that you expect to delight you?”

Perhaps it’s unopened presents under the tree at Christmas, the new job that you’re starting on Monday, next month’s beach vacation, or the concluding season of Game of Thrones.

Research has found that surprise can intensify our emotions by about 400%. This is why something like a simple box of chocolates you didn’t expect can make your day, and why the careless jerk who steals your parking space can ruin it.

But it’s the expectation of the surprise that’s the key. The anticipation of opening a present from your favorite uncle is more exciting than the present itself. It’s the hopeful expectation of an over-the-top fantastic beach vacation that is more happy-making than the trip itself. 

As Ben Hoff put it in The Tao of Pooh, “Each time the goal is reached, it becomes Not So Much Fun, and we’re off to reach the next one, then the next one, then the next.”

In content marketing, delivery of the expected unknown is one of the key differences between subscribing an audience and building a database.

When audiences willingly subscribe to content, they are not subscribing to the thing they got. They are subscribing to the anticipation of what they’re going to get. That’s the difference. 

A marketing database is made up of people who transacted some amount of their personal data in exchange for an asset. People in an audience may have started with a transaction, but they have an expectation (and a hope) that whatever they’re going to get next is at least as good if not better than what they got previously.  

My favorite compliment isn’t that our content helped meet some particular goal (although that’s wonderful). No. My most favorite compliment is when someone says, ‘I really look forward to your next….”      

As content practitioners, we are the ones responsible for delivering delightful customer experiences. It’s not just our ability to deliver a positive outcome for a customer that determines success, it’s also our ability to intensify the positive expectation of delight to follow. 

Our ability to deliver the expected unknown is a critical and powerful piece of holding attention, intensifying emotions, and ultimately persuading our customers to decide that we are worth looking forward to.

It’s your story. Tell it well. 

Robert Rose
Chief Strategy Officer at The Content Advisory
As the Chief Strategy Officer of The Content Advisory, the exclusive education and consulting group of The Content Marketing Institute, Robert develops content and customer experience strategies for large enterprises such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Oracle, McCormick Spices, Capital One, and UPS.

Robert’s book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing was called “a call to arms and a self-help guide for creating the experiences that consumers will fall in love with.” For the last three years, he’s co-hosted the podcast This Old Marketing, with Joe Pulizzi. It’s frequently a top 20 marketing podcast on iTunes and is downloaded more than a million times every year, in 100 countries around the world.
Robert Rose on LinkedinRobert Rose on Twitter


Author: Robert Rose
As the Chief Strategy Officer of The Content Advisory, the exclusive education and consulting group of The Content Marketing Institute, Robert develops content and customer experience strategies for large enterprises such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Oracle, McCormick Spices, Capital One, and UPS. Robert’s book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing was called “a call to arms and a self-help guide for creating the experiences that consumers will fall in love with.” For the last three years, he’s co-hosted the podcast This Old Marketing, with Joe Pulizzi. It’s frequently a top 20 marketing podcast on iTunes and is downloaded more than a million times every year, in 100 countries around the world.