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How the Curiosity Gap Can Help You Create Compelling Content

Why did 800,000 people stay tuned to a FaceBook Live broadcast starring a watermelon for 45 minutes? And why do reality TV shows always break for an ad just before the big climax? And what does this have to do with marketing for accounting firms? 

Andrew Davis, the keynote speaker at AWAI’s annual Bootcamp for copywriters in Delray Beach, Florida, introduced us to the curiosity gap: the void between what you know and what you want to know.

Those 800,000 people wanted to know how many rubber bands it would take to blow up a watermelon (it took 686). One viewer commented that he was supposed to pick up his kids 40 minutes ago. Another viewer commented “Why am I watching this. What has happened to my life.” 

And while it’s a completely nonsensical, utterly useless bit of trivia, all those people stayed online because they had to find out what would happen at the end. When would the watermelon explode? And what would happen when it did?

This is the same reason TV shows break for an ad, or cut off an episode just prior to a big reveal. It’s why we love cliffhangers, whether they’re in TV shows, books, or movies — we’re caught up in the curiosity gap and we need to find out what happens.

The curiosity gap is what keeps us watching those cat videos until the very end. It’s why we’ll read compelling long-form stories on our phones until the very end. It’s why so many of us spend weekends binge watching our favorite series so we don’t have to wait a whole week to find out what happens next. 

The curiosity gap is what’s missing from online content that gets the hashtag #TL;DR. It’s not the length of the content that keeps people from reading to the end — it’s just that it’s boring. 

Davis pointed out that in an effort to make our content short, we take out the interesting parts that keep people engaged. But by leveraging the curiosity gap, we can tell better stories that keep people’s attention to the end.

Now unless you’re an accounting geek like me, you’re probably not all that curious about the latest IRS regulations on the Section 199A deduction, or the FASB pronouncements on revenue recognition. And if you’re putting content on your website in an effort to attract new prospects to your business, delving into the minute details of those topics won’t interest the right people. I might find it interesting, and I might read it to the end, but I’m not your prospect. 

How can accountants use this in their marketing?

We’re hard-wired to love stories, and a story that teaches a business lesson is more interesting than a dry explanation of that business concept. Every day, we have experiences that, with a little creative thought, can be connected to a business lesson. 

I subscribe to several newsletters from other writers, and my favorites are those that tell a story of an event from their life, and ties it into a relevant message. Those stories activate the curiosity gap: while I’m reading a story about my friend Kim’s travels in New Zealand or about Michael’s experience renting a car at the Denver airport, I’m wondering why the heck are they telling me this story? 

My curiosity about the point of their story gets me to read to the end. 

Here’s a really quick example from my life this morning:

Our old dog Allie has two great loves in life: going for walks and spending her days snoozing on the living room rug. Fortunately for her, since I work at home, she gets both of those, every day. 

Allie is a weird dog, and food is a very distant third love for her. She sometimes ignores her food bowl for 24, even 36 hours at times. But maybe once or twice or four times a week, she gets hungry for an extra meal. And with her odd appetite, anytime she wants that extra meal, I’m inclined to give it to her. 

Unfortunately, being a dog, she’s not too communicative. She has one method for asking for food, to go outside or to be petted: she starts wandering around the house. So it’s up to me to guess which of those three she wants. Sometimes she’s not too sure herself. Then I have to help her figure it out. If I guess wrong, she keeps wandering. 

It can be the same with your clients and prospects. What they ask for isn’t always what they really want or what they really need. A client may ask you to do their taxes, but what they really want is help with cash flow for their business, or advice on starting a new business. Maybe they want someone to help them make sense of the financial chaos in their lives. 

Fortunately, your clients are generally better at expressing themselves than my poor old Allie dog. By asking them probing questions, you can get to the core of what they really want. Sometimes your clients aren’t looking for just a simple accounting service — they need a partner who will help them achieve their dreams. Unless you ask them, and get to the bottom of what they really want, they may wander off to another accountant. 

Activate the curiosity gap, and your audience will stick around to see what happens

Were you wondering what kind of message I would connect to this story of my old, odd dog? And what about my opening line about 800,000 people and a watermelon? 

That’s the curiosity gap in action. 

As my simple story about a wandering dog shows, almost anything in your life can be tied to a business lesson — you just have to be creative about it. 

Need help finding the curiosity gap for your content? Contact me, and I can help you create engaging content that will turn casual visitors into customers.