Marketing and Research Consulting for a Brave New World
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“Curiosity is an emotion related to natural inquisitive behavior such as exploration, investigation, and learning, evident by observation in human and many animal species.”


So what does curiosity mean for marketers?

Curiosity impels us to do things beyond functional need. It makes us explorers, discoverers.

From shopper insights, we know that consumers like to browse, to discover new things. We purchase many (perhaps most) new products not because we arrive at the store with a perceived need for those particular items but, instead, because they’re fun things we encounter as we shop. We’re curious to try that new gourmet coffee, to unscrew the lid off of a shampoo bottle and take a sniff. Many shoppers love wandering around a Trader Joe’s intending to find something interesting.

So marketers, take note: the curiosity impulse can lead people to discover and engage with your brand.  When curiosity takes over there is no need to patiently move consumers through a linear funnel from awareness to interest to desire, blah blah.  Curiosity leads to purchases that are serendipitous and often spontaneous.

To leverage people’s natural curiosity, consider the following strategies.

Build curiosity into your marketing plans

  • Create a brand experience that requires exploration and play. (Twitter, gaming and Bing—with the wonderful exotic photos– are three examples.)
  • Create a stream of interesting new product forms. Air-freshener products are great at this.
  • Create an offering that never stops surprising. iPhone apps, for instance, provide endless opportunities for discovery.

Build curiosity into your brand communications

  • Use both traditional and digital advertising to make people curious about your brand, and then send them to an owned-media digital destination for more. For an example, look no further than the Frito-Lay award-winning ad campaign that Ogilvy created for Cheetos: it used a variety of media to deliver people into “The Orange Underground,” an imaginative, entertaining digital place that further whetted consumers’ appetite for the snack food.
  • Use teaser advertising for a major launch to build intrigue. For an active case in point, look at what Verizon used to pre-launch the new Android phones.
  • Use massive multi-player games to build awareness—a practice well established by the movie and gaming industries.
  • Use state-of-the-digital-art technology Augmented reality and QR codes will allow people to explore your brand in a retail setting like never before.

Build curiosity by retail activation

For a retailer, curiosity equals exploration equals shopper excitement. Retailers always are struggling to create in-store excitement to engage shoppers to more fully navigate up and down the aisles.

  • Create demo and tasting stations. People love to sample new foods; it combines curiosity with the strong attraction that people have to “free.”
  • Create thematic retail activation ideas that break the linear shelves (e.g., a party center; a “here’s-what’s-new-this-month” venue; an “essentials-for-less” destination, where any brand [including the store brand] that meets certain affordability guidelines gets secondary placement).

Herb Sorensen, author of Inside the Mind of the Shopper says that a typical supermarket carries some 40,000 SKUs but that a typical shopper buys 400 items in a year. Maybe part of the reason is that shoppers are out of ideas but would welcome new ones.

Shift Marketing Thinking; from products to experiences

To be interesting, you not only compete for attention with functional competitors, you go up against “unrelated” brands. Whole Foods (a retailer) competes in the mental marketplace of health/fresh with Dannon, Kashi (products), and Subway (restaurant). Whole Foods “competes” pretty well by building a sizable brand community across social media (e.g., more than 800,000 Twitter followers), having a wonderful blog and iPhone app about a wellness lifestyle with organic and fresh foods. Coke competes in social media such as Facebook and Twitter with Nike and with celebrities to be fanned and followed by consumers.

Brands as experience is an important marketing concept.  In a long-tail world of choices that are sometimes not very functionally different, perhaps “interesting” is the new “better”.

For more on this topic, please check out my article in the Dec ‘09 Journal of Advertising Research.

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3 Responses to “How to make people curious about your brand”

  1. Jennifer B

    Creating curiosity is great if you want your sales to peak (increase in trial), however, a product needs to deliver in terms of expectations (taste good, etc) or else there will be no repeat. Alternatively, this could also just attract curiosity-seekers – the type of consumer who is always looking for the next new thing – and may never lead to sustainable brand growth. So while generating curiosity is a good start, it’s not the end of the brand story (in fact, if only curiosity is generated, this would probably lead to the brand failing).

    • Joel Rubinson

      Trial and repeat are highly correlated in real life. In concept/product testing, a cross-tab reveals that purchase intent is always highly correlated with repurchase intent even though everyone tests the same product. The reason is that if someone buys into the concept, they will buy into the product as well as long as it reasonably delivers on the promise.

  2. Sarah Mages

    I go to Whole Foods because I can just about get a lunch out of the free samples. But….I just might find something extrodinary that I really like. Then I buy it. Samples is where it is at. Oh, PS: since I’m there I usually buy about $50 worth of items that I might have bought at Jewel. It’s a win-win for Whole Foods.
    I would make a great market researcher because I buy what I want.