In business, the general consensus is that uncertainty is a bad thing. It makes us all a bit jittery. We’re unsure how we should plan for it. But as much as we want some control or nice predictable patterns to work by, unpredictability is a permanent fixture in a business.
But I think unpredictability is actually a very good thing for businesses and brands. And here are three reasons why:
1. It sparks up conversations
In late 2013, Beyonce nearly broke the internet by releasing her latest album without prior warning on iTunes. Twitter said Beyonce’s secretive album release generated over 1.2 million tweets in 12 hours, with a tweets-per-minute spike of 5,300.
By being unpredictable, she garnered far more interest than if the album was released in the conventional way. She is a good businesswoman, that Beyonce.
Consumers constantly want something new to talk about. The press want something new to talk about.
And all this talking tends to lead to buying. Across the US (76 per cent), the UK (75 per cent), Brazil (60 per cent) and China (79 per cent), Word of Mouth came out as the top influencer for the purchase decision in Razorfish’s 2015 Digital Dopamine Report.
2. It can help you find solutions you didn’t know you needed
Unpredictability can suddenly open up huge new opportunities for nimble businesses. Take hackathons, also known as hack days, for example. These fast-paced crowd-sourced events are becoming commonplace in the tech industry where designers and developers collaborate intensively at the last-minute to come up with a new piece of software.
Essentially, they are staged without a clear idea of what solutions will emerge. But they can spark off new ideas that brands didn’t even know they were looking for. And this disruptive concept typifies the benefits behind unpredictability and uncertainty.
3. It’s what consumers want
Ultimately everything you do in business should focus on what your consumer wants.
And, boy, are they fickle.
The assumption that past consumer behaviour predicts future consumer behaviour is simply invalid. They change their behaviour quicker than you can say ‘purchase decision’.
In response, businesses need to show that they’re trying new things in order to be credible to today’s consumers who regard innovation as hallmarks of a great business.
Sure, if you’re known for doing one thing well you may wonder why you should complicate matters – and risk alienating customers – by trying something out of the ordinary.
But it is so worthwhile, because the attention span of consumers, and people in general, is getting shorter by the day, thanks to the ever digital world we live in.
Google Maps, TripAdvisor, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and various news apps allow us to be increasingly prepared for scenarios that life may throw at us. And that can make it all a bit predictable and formulaic.
While no one likes to be caught out, we as a human race are actually programmed to crave the unexpected. Indeed, scientists at US colleges Emory and Baylor demonstrated this by using MRIs to measure changes in human brain activity in response to a sequence of pleasurable stimuli, using squirts of water and juice.
The patterns of squirts were either predictable or unpredictable, and it was the unpredictable sequences that the reward pathways in the brain responded most strongly to.
These positive emotions associated with an unexpected experience in turn can build brand love and win you over some brand loyalists and advocates.
In my own industry sector – live brand experience – we’re always looking to provide consumers with unexpected experiences. In fact, my job title has recently changed to director of the unexpected to reflect consumers’ growing demand for experiences that surprise and delight.
No one can accurately predict what’s going to happen next in business. So why not focus your efforts on being the thing that is happening next in business? Instead of trying to keep up with trend would it not be simpler to create a new trend and have others follow?
Indeed, the best way to predict the future is to create it. In the words of Lynda Berry: “Expect the unexpected, and whenever possible, be the unexpected”.
Joss Davidge is director of the unexpected at live brand experience agency BEcause