Welcome to the Social Spotlight, where we dive deep into what we love about a brand’s approach to a specific social campaign. From strategy through execution and results, we’ll examine what makes the best brands on social tick — and leave you with some key takeaways to consider for your own brand’s social strategy.

It could easily be argued that e-commerce has taken a lot of the fun out of shopping. Don’t get me wrong–I love being able to order exactly what I need and have it show up on my doorstep the next day. But sometimes I miss the thrill of, as my mom would call it, “poking around” and finding something truly awesome. In this week’s Social Spotlight, we’ll take a look at how discount retailer Marshalls is reviving that feeling for the social era and turning a potential brand negative into a powerful brand asset.


One of the bargains shoppers make with a retailer like Marshalls is that in exchange for lower prices on brand-name goods, there are no guarantees that a given store will carry exactly what you’re looking for. While this could be maddening in the age of on-demand everything, Marshalls has turned its stores’ quirky, unpredictable stock into a treasure hunting adventure via a social campaign called #MarshallsSurprise.

The premise is pretty simple: Through their own social channels (primarily Instagram and Pinterest), Marshalls encourages shoppers to share pics of their best “finds” — from absurdly great deals on brand name clothing to the rug that really pulls the room together — using the hashtag #MarshallsSurprise. They’ve tapped some lifestyle influencers to join the campaign, extending the reach and reminding consumers that anyone can find a great surprise at Marshalls.


As of this writing, #MarshallsSurprise had more than 24K mentions on Instagram and over 130K engagements on those corresponding posts. From new bedding and home decor to pumpkin spice pajamas, shoppers have been eager to share their weirdest and most wonderful discoveries. And according to Sprout’s Listening data, 93% of social conversation around #MarshallsSurprise has been positive. Let’s take a look at how they did it.

  • Goals: When I look at these metrics, two probable main goals for the #MarshallsSurprise campaign stand out to me–brand loyalty and awareness–and they’re intrinsically linked in that the success of one begets success for the other. By giving its current customers and loyalists a platform for showing off their best finds on social, Marshalls is also introducing all the new potential customers among those loyalists’ followings to the thrill of the hunt.
  • Offline connection: This one is easy. You can’t find a #MarshallsSurprise unless you visit a Marshalls store and hunt one down for yourself. It’s a simple, smart and effective way to connect your brand’s IRL customer experience to one of the most motivating aspects of social: the ability to boast a little.
  • Key channels: While there is some #MarshallsSurprise activity on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, it’s mostly limited to Marshalls’ own handles and a smattering of influencers they’ve engaged with to post sponsored content. The brand is doing a particularly nice job of recapping its own favorite finds on those channels, but the real, customer-driven action is on the visually driven channels: Instagram and Pinterest. Most user posts align with the audience behaviors on each, with Instagram trending towards clothing and decor finds and Pinterest centered firmly on furniture and design. I actually think Marshalls should take note of this natural audience behavior and better define the roles for its own handles on Instagram and Pinterest by product category.


Whenever you can harness existing audience behavior to generate brand awareness and bring people into your brick and mortar locations, you’re beyond winning. Marshalls is killing it on two fronts when it comes to understanding what their consumers are already doing and asking them to keep doing it – they’re celebrating the excitement of the hunt for great deals and then encouraging people to brag about their “finds” on social. By turning the potential pitfall of unpredictable stock into an irresistible quest, Marshalls is rooting its brand in something memorable, ownable and affirming for the consumer.


  1. Find something that is specific and unique about your brand, product or service experience and lean into it. Don’t be afraid to think about how to turn a potential brand negative into a brand asset.
  2. Do the work to understand your audience and how they already behave – both in terms of your brand and on social. It’s a lot easier to convince people to participate in your campaign if it feels like only a slight adjustment to something they’re already comfortable with.
  3. Consider how you might meet multiple goals with one campaign by defining a role for your brand and a role for your audience.