WARNING: You're Losing Money By Not Maximizing Curiosity

"Curiouser and curiouser," was Alice's remark upon tumbling down the rabbit hole.  But instead of all those strange creatures giving her pause, it was her curiosity that became one of the driving forces that led her through Wonderland.

Perhaps Lewis Carroll knew instinctively that our brains are hard-wired to be curious.  It's an evolutionary advantage you see, to pay attention to novel things.  In case that information might be valuable for our survival.  So how can you use this built-in biological instinct to your advantage?

In marketing, evoking curiosity in your audience can prove essential to your bottom line.  If you want great click-throughs on social media, email campaigns, PPC ads, you name it you need an element of curiosity.  Hell, even if you just want to keep them reading.  Then you need to craft headlines with curiosity and tease it out slowly.  Without crossing the line into click-bait, of course.

So how do you maximize curiosity?

It turns out this isn't easy.  There's a delicate balance to strike.  Curiosity is a fickle emotion and quickly and easily satisfied.  Sort of like your appetite.  But without some satisfaction your audience will get discouraged, give up and click away.  It's a strip tease with your words and ideas.

George Lowenstein Professor of Economics and Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University and co-founder of behavioural economics studied curiosity extensively.  He discovered 3 necessary ingredients for arousing our curiosity.

1.  Violate the right expectations.

In order to arouse interest, you must violate expectations.  You've got to do or say something unexpected if you want to catch people's attention.  But not just any old thing will do.  Not if you actually want them to click on it.  And if your goal is to actually make a sale just being outrageous or sensationalistic isn't the way to go either.

You don't simply want to get attention for the sake of getting attention.  You want to get the right kind of attention.  You want to violate the RIGHT expectations.  Meaning it still has to have relevance and ultimately provide the customer with something of value.  If you sensationalize you lose value.  If you violate the wrong expectations you lose relevance.

Example headline: Africa: Glamour. Decadence. Murder. Hundreds of Secretarial Opportunities.

Yep, that's an actual headline.  You can read some other wtf headlines here.  It does arouse curiosity for a second because it switches directions half way through.  You think you know what the article is going to be about and then it ends with secretarial opportunities.  And it leaves you thinking how does the first half relate to the second half?  But because it lacks in both value and relevance I'm guessing you'd pass it by.  I know I would.  Unless I was an out of work secretary with a death wish and a penchant for a glamorous lifestyle, cause then it'd be jackpot baby!

Example headline: 7 Ways Your Mother Lied To You About Life and Love

Wait, Mom lied?  Okay, now you've got my attention.  Of course, you want to know what that's all about.  And if you're writing an article that lists some traditional parenting advice that no longer holds up today (or maybe never did) it could be the perfect title to entice them to click.

2.  Mind the Information Gap

There's something you know that they don't know.  Remember I said arousing curiosity is like a strip tease with your words and ideas?  Well, this is where you hint that you know more than your audience...but you're going to let them in on the secret.  You've got to show them a little leg - without giving it all away.

People are naturally afraid of missing out on important information.  It's hard-wired into our brains.  We can't stand NOT knowing.  More than the pleasure of discovering something new Lowenstein found it's the fear of missing out that drives curiosity.

So what does it look like if you don't mind the information gap?  Well, it looks a lot like a description.  Let's go back to our example.  A descriptive title would say:

7 Pieces of Outdated and Overused Advice From Parents That's Irrelevant For 2015.

Which suddenly sounds like an academic paper.  You see how the title gives it all away?  The stripper just walked out naked - poor thing.  It's boring, lacks curiosity and personality. Compare it to the one we came up with: 7 Ways Your Mother Lied to You About Life and Love. 

Now, which one do you want to click on?

3. Know When to Stop

In copywriting, there's a saying: the whole point of the first sentence is to get them to read the second sentence.  And the point of the second sentence is to get them to read the third etc.

But at some point you have to actually give the information you've promised.  You've got to strip (okay enough with the stripping analogy before the Google bots rank me for it).  You can't build curiosity forever.  And sometimes copy falls into that trap.  But people get impatient.  They clicked here for a reason and they're only going to humor you for so long (and it isn't long).

You don't have to give it all away in the opening paragraph the way you would with a lede in a newspaper article.  But you need to acknowledge the curiosity you piqued in your headline quickly.  You need to start to give your reader some satisfaction.  Show them its worth it to continue.  No empty promises here.

Build curiosity into all your headlines, hooks and anywhere you need people to click-through or keep reading.  Because the longer you can keep them interested the greater your chances they'll buy, donate, subscribe or act now.  In other words, you're gonna use this every day ;)