A Content Marketers Guide To Creating Curiosity

by Russ Henneberry

Last updated on March 13th, 2018

If you want more attention for your content, learn to excite curiosity.

Curiosity is one of the critical levers successful content marketers use to sell products, services and ideas in this increasingly noisy world.

Let’s take a look at the research.

What creates curiosity?

According to research by Carnegie Mellon’s George Loewenstein, curiosity occurs when there is a gap between what we know and what we want to know.

Curiosity is a kind of cognitive thirst that wants to be quenched.

But that’s only half of the story.  Equally important is this follow-up study  from CalTech which shows that curiosity increases (to a point) as knowledge increases and then drops off.

The effect of knowledge on curiosity looks roughly like this,Curiosity vs Knowledge

The important thing to note is that a lack of information will, in general, create a lack of curiosity.  At the same time, once a sufficient amount of information is received, curiosity decreases.

Before we move on, let’s review these two critical principles of curiosity:

1) To make a person curious we have to create a gap between what they know and what they want to know.

2) To maintain curiosity we must “leak” out knowledge a bit at a time without giving away too much.

Here are 3 brilliant uses of curiosity in content marketing,

1) A Brian Clark Article Introduction

In an article about the potential of hyperlocal websites, Brian Clark makes excellent use of curiosity to drive readers deeper into the article.  The following is part of  the introduction to the article,

“My interest in building these [hyperlocal] sites stems from the fact that I made a lot of money from them between 2002 and 2005, back before I started Copyblogger.

We’ll get to that in a bit.

First, let me frame the way I think about profitable hyperlocal websites, which is generally in sharp contrast to the way many approach them.”

~ Brian Clark, Entreproducer

How’s that for creating information gaps?

Firstly, notice how Brian mentions the desired effect, making a lot of money, and then states “We’ll get to that in a bit.”  This is a tease.  He’s priming the pump by releasing just a bit of information and then pulling back.

Second, Clark mentions that he is going to discuss his take on hyperlocal websites which is,

“in sharp contrast to the way many approach them.”

Clark’s choice of words here is deliberate.  He wants you to know that his take is new.  He wants you to know that you have an information gap.

I don’t know about you, but I’m curious.

2) A John Caples Sales Headline

As legendary direct response copywriter Joseph Sugarman says, the purpose of the headline is to get the reader to read the first line.  The headline’s ability to do that can be tied, in part, to the level of curiosity it generates.

A great headline creates irresistible curiosity, and this classic headline from John Caples is a fabulous example of that.

Play The Piano

Consider the mental itch this sales letter headline creates on your brain.   The headline creates an information gap.  It  forces you to ask the question:  What happened when he started to play?

It gives you just the right amount of information and leaves you begging for more.

3) A South By Southwest Presentation Title

The title of a presentation is often the first, and only, information a person will use to make a decision about attending or watching.

A well-worded presentation title will draw an audience that is curious about the subject matter.

Consider the follow presentation titles at the upcoming SXSW Interactive conference.

SXSW Presentation Title

SXSW Presentation Title

Assuming you didn’t know the person or company giving the presentation, which would you choose?

I think most would choose the second.

Based on our understanding of how curiosity works, the first presentation title falls short for a predictable reason — a lack of knowledge.  The title simply doesn’t provide enough information to pique curiosity.

The second presentation title gives us enough information to create a number of questions.  How did he almost die?  How did it help him?

More important now than ever

In a snippet-filled world of blog post headlines, email subject lines and status updates your ability to sell others on your products and ideas will be correlated with your ability to generate curiosity.

And this will only continue to become more true.

Take some time to incorporate the element of curiosity into your content.

We’re waiting with bated breath.



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Russ Henneberry

Russ Henneberry is the Editorial Director at Digital Marketer. He's worked on digital marketing projects for companies like CrazyEgg, Salesforce.com and Network Solutions. You can connect with Russ on Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ or on his blog.


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  1. Nicole says:
    January 18, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    Thank you for these tips and very clear examples. I am a work in progress regarding the use of language to create curiousity and capture that interest. Your post got the juices flowing in my brain 🙂 have a great weekend.

    • Russ Henneberry says:
      January 18, 2013 at 1:21 pm

      Hey Thanks Nicole! Glad to hear it! I hope you have a great weekend as well!

  2. January 3, 2013 at 10:52 am

    When I sign up for a panel at SXSW I usually gravitate towards the ones with most outrageous titles (and sometimes kick myself because the panel turned out to be a dud) so yeah, generating curiosity works. Like you pointed out so well, curiosity should be correlated with your product, not curiousity for the sake of grabbing your audience’s attention. I think brands sometimes miss that boat, thinking they can put a cat on whatever they’re selling and people will buy it because people love cats. If your customer walks away feeling duped by your shiny cat advertising, you’ll lose that conversion and potential brand advocate, authenticity counts too.

  3. December 19, 2012 at 12:23 am

    You definitely triggered my curiousity with this post 😉 It is a skill that I would love to learn. Any suggestions on articles, books or short courses, you can think of, that is worth checking out?

    • Russ Henneberry says:
      December 19, 2012 at 8:09 am

      George, great question. There are two books that I would recommend that you read when it comes to the psychology of marketing. The first is Influence by Robert Cialdini. The second is Advertising Secrets of The Written Word by Joseph Sugarman. Both of these books will serve you well in every aspect of marketing. I hope that helps!

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