It’s not enough to make audiences curious – you have to reward them too

At a recent creativity event in partnership with Maxus Global I argued that nurturing and harnessing curiosity is the most important job we can do.

Curiosity is the fundamental driver of our human behaviour. It makes us smarter, healthier, and more successful. Hal Gregersen of INSEAD discovered that curiosity is a key component of business success. He told Harvard Business Review that: You might summarize all of the skills we’ve noted in one word: ‘inquisitiveness’. I spent 20 years studying great global leaders, and that was the big common denominator. It’s the same kind of inquisitiveness you see in small children.

And it’s never been more relevant, because our curiosity levels – as brands, clients, and audiences – are in real danger.

Part of the problem is the sheer volume of content vying for our attention. There’s simply too much information. Youtubers upload more than 300 hours of video every minute. 130,000 articles are posted to LinkedIn every week. We put up 350 million photos a day on Facebook. We can never, ever see it all, and that stresses us out. Neuroscientists call it ‘cognitive overload’ – where there is too much sensory information to process at any one time – and it leads to anxiety, depression, and it hampers our decision-making skills.

As publishers, our biggest problem is not quantity. It’s quality. The stuff we are being bombarded with is not worth the click. A study in September by Reboot Online found that “85 per cent of content on the internet is redundant”. In an internet of some 4.62 billion pages, that means that 3.97 billion pages are ‘redundant’.

To take just one example, Buzzfeed ran a story in February called ’29 mind-blowing ways you can eat chips’. One of those ‘mind-blowing ways’ involved eating chips with ketchup.

This is a real problem. Our curiosity is ‘triggered’ when we sense an information gap – when we realise there is something we don’t know, we seek to bridge that gap with new information. And when we do a flood of dopamine makes us feel good. It’s the brain’s reward mechanism to encourage us to learn and explore.

In the Buzzfeed example above our curiosity is aroused, but the information we are directed to is not new. The information gap isn’t closed: instead we feel duped. This negative feeling inhibits our curiosity. Redundant ‘clickbait’ content is stressing us out, dulling our brains, and making us angry. Worse: it’s making us lose the appetite to click again – and the next click might just be that perfect article that answers your question. Or promotes your brand.

There is hope. I collaborated with the London School of Economics to study ‘curiosity and its effect on advertising’. We discovered that some people are naturally more curious than others, and that those with a higher ‘curiosity quotient’ are 44 per cent more open to advertising messages, 53 per cent more likely to be early adopters, and 87 per cent more likely to share their discoveries with others – making them powerful word-of-mouth mavens.

Our curiosity study also found that highly curious people are 19 per cent more likely to read a newspaper. This makes sense – a newspaper is essentially a compendium of curiosity, given that it a) contains all-new (and important) information, b) is carefully curated by the editor so there isn’t ‘too much’ content, and c) has surprising stories about subjects you might never have discovered anywhere else. These three values are what make newspaper brands so loved, and what makes newspaper readers much more curious.

I can’t think of a better set of guidelines to adhere to when planning a content campaign.