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We are born curious. As infants and children our curiosity has no end – it’s how we learn about the big wide world we have been brought into. As adults, we regularly consume information and scroll through endless feeds because we are curious. A lot of the time we keep on scrolling, but occasionally we stop – and click.

What is it that compels us to stop? It’s known as the Curiosity Gap.

The Curiosity Gap is generally defined as the difference between what we know and what we want to know. When we are curious, we experience a release of dopamine in anticipation of the reward of learning the answer. Our curiosity must be satisfied.

Down the rabbit hole

Alice got to Wonderland not because she saw a White Rabbit, or even because the Rabbit was speaking; rather “it had flashed across her mind that she had never seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it, and, burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it.” And willfully jumped down the rabbit hole.

As marketers, what can we learn from Alice?

That we have to spark curiosity just enough to compel people to action. Too little and the attention of our audience wanders; too much and we have satisfied their need to know without drawing them in further.

Creating the curiosity gap

Take a balanced approach to creating the curiosity gap by using one of these 3 basic methods.

  1. The information gap

Think of this as dangling the carrot – enticing the reader without giving the full answer right away. It creates a climactic moment, delaying the conclusion to create anticipation (and releasing that dopamine).

In marketing Steve Jobs is used over and over as the example for how to do everything – and using the curiosity gap is no exception. An Apple product release starts with hints about the new technology, leaked prototypes, and then a silencing of official information between the demo and the product release. This sparks speculation on what the new features will be and gets people lining up in the millions to purchase the latest gadget before they’ve even seen the final design.

  1. The incongruity gap

Creating a discrepancy between our expectations and the information presented instantly arouses curiosity. When our patterns are broken our brains are challenged to make sense of a new reality.

Humour is the simplest way to use the incongruity gap. The feeling you have when you “get” a joke is your brain working around what was expected to what was received. In the marketing world there are thousands of examples of this. Chick Fil A has cows holding protest signs saying, “Eat More Chiken.” Old Spice has “the man your man could smell like.” Possibly the prime example is Poo Pourri with the 5th most viewed ad in 2013.

  1. The ambiguity gap

Ambiguity means developing uncertainty. There can be more than one potential answer – which will it be?

California Pizza Kitchen ran a Thank You Card program, where upon paying the bill the customer was given a sealed envelope to be used on their next visit – provided they didn’t open it. The potential rewards could range from 10% off the bill to $25,000 cash. The uncertainty of the prize and range of possibilities drove the curiosity of customers to come back again and again to see what they would win.

Using the gap wisely

There are a few things to take into consideration when using the curiosity gap in your messaging.

  • Beware the pitfalls of clickbait

An enticing headline arouses our curiosity, but the article disappoints in delivery. The curiosity gap has been used against us, we have wasted our time, and the author or website has lost all credibility.

  • Moderation is key

If you’re constantly professing to have the most surprising information, the best techniques, the secret to success… people become immune to the messaging, like the boy who cried wolf.

  • Find the curiosity sweet spot

Think of it as a scale ranging from withholding all of the information to giving it all away. A lack of information generates curiosity, but once we have sufficient information curiosity decreases. We have to find the sweet spot that not only grabs attention but sparks the imagination.

A final word

As marketers we can use the curiosity gap to spark emotional triggers in our audience. But we must do it in a way that respects the intelligence of our audience – not relying on tricks but truthfully delivering what we promise.

The only way to do this is through quality content. Content of consistently high quality will yield better results in the long term than the most curiosity-inducing headlines.