How marketers can feed off of consumers' curiosity

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"Curiosity was framed. It was ignorance that killed the cat." -- Anonymous

Curiosity -- one of the most basic biological drivers -- compels people to learn, discover, and do things beyond the functional need level. It moves us a few levels up on Maslow's Hierarchy, and turns us into explorers. What makes the attribute even more intriguing to marketers is what it reveals about and how to crack into consumers' consideration sets -- and their shopping carts.

Shoppers like browsing because it allows them to discover. We often purchase new products not because we came equipped with them on our list of needs, but because unexpected wants are encountered when shopping. According to the Department of Labor's American Time Use Study about time spent shopping, what's referred to as "looked forward to" time is becoming more scarce and precious, as Americans are spending less time in-store.

Curiosity piqued its own reward

Claustrophobia of abundance, in communications (online and offline) and product choice, have led to decision fatigue and shopper ennui. Curiosity serves as a welcome and rewarding distraction for shoppers. We are witnessing a noticeable change in naming, packaging, and activation all designed to break through this clutter by piquing curiosity. Something the shopper wants to look at and not a confrontation of their senses.

A recent New York Times article chronicled a trend emerging in product naming (e.g., Holy Crap Cereal, Bad Ass Fans, Fat Bastard Wines, Hello Flo). A name that piques attention is a good way to get in the shopper's consideration set. Even better, names like Hello Flo stands out from similar monthly subscription services for women like Le Parcel and Juniper, in that you get a sense of what it is. You are drawn in by Hello Flo to know more, whereas with a company like Le Parcel or Juniper, if you don't know what it is, then you don't know what it is. Simplicity is key.

Retro-packaging piques the curiosity of shoppers of a known brand and signals something different is going on. Often curiosity centers around experiencing an era one may not have experienced first-hand. Not so much those who grew up with the brand, but new and younger shoppers that are curious about how retro-inspired or re-imagined will look.

Cognitive science suggests curiosity arises from an information gap -- the discrepancy between what we know and what we want to know and unknown information that is anticipated to be rewarding. It also suggests curiosity may be its own reward that activates the reward circuitry of the brain.

Curiosity rewarded

"Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back," said the Irish playwright, Eugene O'Neill. Sometimes it's an idea's ability to reduce the sense of tension or paradox that draws people in. Several yogurt brands have been successful at reducing the inherent tension between reduced guilt and the craving for indulgence. For example, Yoplait Light's dessert-inspired flavors have only 90 calories with the tag line "Managing your weight never tasted so delicious." Another, Chobani Bites sophisticated flavors, has only 100 calories, and Asda has developed a range of dessert-style yogurts. The multi-packs contain strawberry roly poly, sticky toffee pudding, and custard-flavored yogurts. According to Mintel's GNPD, dessert flavors appeared in 10 percent of category launches in 2013.
Such products have opened the door to new behavior or consumption occasions -- responsible indulgence for morning or afternoon snacks. Providing a solution allows shoppers to balance eating healthier with their craving for indulgence.

Dessert-inspired yogurts