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Psychological Secret # 6: Curiosity Killed the Cat but Made the Marketer Rich

Curiosity isn’t just for cats or cartoon monkeys. In fact, it may be one of the most powerful marketing forces that exists in the world today. Thanks to a combination of our natural human urges and what constitutes a “breaking story” in today’s media environment – curiosity has been taking on a whole new significance.

Often, for example, the LEADING media stories that people can’t stop sharing, tweeting and talking about are nothing but useless trivia, yet pique our curiosity. Just wanting to “see what happens” has led to voyeuristic shows about misbehaving housewives, 450 pound “biggest losers” and anyone’s silliest home videos memorializing their stupidity in exchange for cash payouts.

Curiosity marketing is about using the element of mystery to get people interested in hearing or seeing what you have for them. It is about making someone look. If I tell you not to push a button, the first thing you will do is push it. That’s human nature, and is just one example of our natural curiosity. We just want to see what happens, and this turns out to be an irresistible impulse. You may be thinking that using curiosity in marketing could easily become dishonest and inauthentic. That’s true. But curiosity marketing is not about intentionally misleading someone or making false promises. The marketing has to actually pay off. It is about using the natural human emotion of curiosity to encourage people to engage with your brand or product in a memorable way.

Why Does It Work?

Unique. It uses a natural human emotion that most find irresistible.

Authentic. It demonstrates that you are willing to communicate in a personal, noncorporate way.

Talkable. It creates an interest that people who are engaged will tell others about.

Curiosity is used a lot in business opportunity adverts. Most of the time they will never reveal exactly what is for sale but rather what it is not, like this very successful ad below.

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“This secret is incredibly simple. Anyone can use it. You can get started with practically no money at all and the risk is almost zero. You don’t need special training or even a high school education. It doesn’t matter how young or old you are and it will work for you at home or even while you are on vacation.”

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And here’s a famous example from Nightingale Conant. On the outside of the letter is this copy:

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The business executive was deep in debt and could see no way out. Creditors were closing in on him. Suppliers were demanding payment. He sat on a park bench, head in hands, wondering if anything could save his company from bankruptcy.

Suddenly an old man appeared before him.

“I can see something is troubling you,” he said. After listening to the executive’s woes, the old man said, “I believe I can help you.”

He asked the man his name, wrote out a cheque and pushed it into his hands saying, “Take this money. Meet me here exactly one year from today, and you can pay me back at that time.”

Then he turned and disappeared as quickly as he had come.

The executive looked down and saw in his hand a cheque for $500,000 signed by (continued inside)

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I bet that would make a lot of people rip open the envelope to find out who wrote that cheque.  Wouldn’t you be curious?

Curiosity works well in combination with a strong benefit. Curiosity is a major selling point for direct marketing. Remember, customers can’t see or feel the item you’ve offered so if you build up enough curiosity they have to see it for themselves.

Our latest headline that we have been running for Property Investment, picks up on this theme.


1.2 Million Australian Property Investors Know Something You Don’t.


Curiosity Marketing, Step by Step 

1. Assess the situation. Curiosity doesn’t work in a simple question – answer situation, where a customer is looking for something in particular, either a product or some type of information. In these situations, you need to give them an answer that satisfies their query, without distracting them. For any other situation, there can be a place for curiosity.

2. Find the true curiosity. The toughest part of using curiosity is understanding that it is not usually tied to a product feature or attribute. You may think that a customer would be curious about how you manufacture your product or about some other element that is interesting to you and your employees, but most don’t care. True curiosity is a more basic play on human emotion.

It wants to know what happens next because your interest has been piqued. Resist the urge to focus on a product benefit and find the true curiosity first.

3. Create the curiosity. There are three main methods you can use to create the curiosity.

• Hidden Payoff. This is the idea of a quest, which the customer has to go on in order to realize the hidden payoff.

• Randomizer. This involves presenting content completely at random to keep interest as people stay engaged just to see what will come next.

• Forbidden Secret. Everyone wants to know the thing that they are not supposed to know. The more forbidden the better.

4. Help it travel. Using curiosity in marketing is inherently talkable, because it is different. A key part of your thinking once you create the curiosity is finding ways to help it travel. This may mean encouraging people to do so, or providing specific tools and features (either online or offline) to help them do it.

5. Measure the right elements. Curiosity, like many of the other techniques presented in this section, is not meant to be a conversion tool, but rather should be used for engagement. Consequently, measuring a sales spike or related data will not be a good metric for success. Instead, you need to focus on elements like viral discussions seeded, pass-along, or length of engagement.


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