The Curiosity Factor: How to make your content rock

By , Vice President of Brand Engagement, Hanson Dodge

If you’re serious about content marketing, the Content Marketing Institute needs no introduction. CMI’s articles and emails consistently deliver valuable and inspiring content. And their annual Content Marketing World (CMWorld) conference is always time well-spent. This year’s CMWorld was packed with valuable presentations and other assorted goodies, including a much-hyped keynote address from Tina Fey.

Yet if you search for “Content Marketing World 2018 recap,” you’ll find that some of the most glowing reviews belonged not to Fey, but to speaker and author Andrew Davis. That’s because Davis’ talk on “The Curiosity Factor” was pure content marketing gold. Davis challenged conventional thinking about what content plays best with consumers (and why), and took pains to make sure attendees had a hell of a lot of fun along the way.

While Davis shared a wealth of strategies for creating winning content, I’ll focus on one: the power of the “curiosity gap” to make content so compelling, audiences can’t look away.


At CMWorld 2018, Davis asked attendees to think about the last time we found ourselves in a state of heightened intrigue. Was it during a suspenseful movie? Midway through a close friend’s story about something unbelievable that happened to them?  

Davis then asked us to recall the last ad that caught our attention and kept it. Much harder, right?

But consider this Ikea ad. It’s literally four minutes of nothing. The actor even warns us that there’s nothing to see, and that it’s pointless to continue watching. Yet the typical viewer watches the ad for three minutes. What’s even more remarkable is that 39% of viewers watch the ad to the very end.

According to Davis, Ikea’s ad leverages what he calls a curiosity gap: the space between what people know, and what they want to know. In spite of what we know to be true—what the actor tells us is true about the pointlessness of this piece of content—we’re compelled to keep watching. The lesson here is that it’s not about the length of your content; it’s about creating content that people will make time to watch.

Davis explains that there’s a psychological phenomenon that occurs within the curiosity gap. The more tension you create, the more people need closure. This is the premise of FOMO (fear of missing out): we don’t want to miss out on what our friends and colleagues do or know.


Davis shared a second strategy at CMWorld: create content that delivers a "proportionate payoff." In other words, close with something that rewards people for making it through a Curiosity Gap. Kind of like the Grand Finale in a 4th of July fireworks show: build momentum, then deliver a big bang at the end.

Case in point? BuzzFeed. Sure they may be best known as the inventors of clickbait. But they also do a pretty darn good job of keeping you engaged once they have your attention. A few years back, when Facebook came out with Facebook Live, Buzzfeed had an idea. They wanted to play off of what the Slow Mo Guys did with melon fragmentation, but do it in a way that held an audience.

Instead of using a bullet to destroy a watermelon, BuzzFeed blew up their watermelon one rubber band at a time. BuzzFeed’s Facebook Live video attracted 11 million organic views, 17,000 shares and more than 316,000 comments. Astounding!

Review the comments, and you’ll see viewers say things like “I’ve already invested 30 minutes, I can’t leave now!” Audiences were at the edge of their seats waiting to see what number rubber band would be the one to explode the melon.

If you don’t want to sit through the entire video, just check out the link and toggle to the end of the video. I won’t ruin the surprise for you, because it’s worth the watch. You’ll thank me.

So what’s the story you’re trying to tell? Take a step back from your typical approach to creating content, and leverage the power of a curiosity gap. Your audiences will thank you for it.

Sarah Collins, Vice President of Brand Engagement, Hanson Dodge

Turning content into results, Sarah is responsible for leading the company's social media practice and digital activation projects. Her team engages audiences across a variety of communication channels, focusing on digital campaign strategy, content and analytics. Sarah began her career in music marketing and then honed her interests to online PR, SEO and digital marketing. Sarah has been immersed in the digital landscape since social media put its first mark on the map and she is an authority speaker on the topic of content. Through a variety of agency positions, Sarah’s experience encompasses brand activation, content strategy, SEO, online PR, social media strategy and relationship management.

Subscribe to Active Insights