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Mind the Curiosity Gap

There is nothing inherently wrong with teasing out some tantalizing information and leading the audience to a deeper answer elsewhere.

Like many of us, I live in fear of hitting “send” on an email that is not quite ready for primetime — even more so on ones that reach thousands of inboxes, like the Residential Systems newsletter. So, my empathy was extended to whomever it was that sent out an email alert from the New York Times last month with just its placeholder copy as content.

The curiosity gap
Iilustration: erhui1979/Getty Images

Fortunately, it was a benign error and, save some embarrassment for the sender, no harm was done. The correct version was sent a few minutes later, and we all went about our day. However, the content of the placeholder stuck with me a bit longer.

The erroneous email read: “You can often use the Wirecutter web summary here. Write a short intro that introduces/sets up the article, but doesn’t summarize it fully. Try to employ curiosity gap and not give away too much in the inbox. We want them to click to read the piece.”

Again, nothing earth-shaking here — the producer of a newsletter would like you to open the email and then click through on the stories. That is the same mission I have with the Resi enews, along with the rest of the newsletter-producing world.

Also by Anthony Savona: Watching Daisy Grow

It was “curiosity gap” that kept reverberating with me. For those not familiar, it is a term primarily used in marketing to describe the space between what is revealed and what is still to become known. Today it might be better known as “clickbait,” but that term seems to have a negative connotation — maybe because bait is used to lure creatures into a trap. There is nothing inherently wrong with teasing out some tantalizing information and leading the audience to a deeper answer elsewhere.

I am certain you use the curiosity gap in your sales promotions. It can be very effective, as in the case of the subject of this month’s Showroom Spotlight, Electronic Concepts. A powerful tool for them to bring clients into their showroom is through high-quality videos they created that show off the space. They promoted these videos heavily and have hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube. And while you can get a good feel for the space by watching the video, the only way to cross that gap and experience it is to go the shop and get a tour.

The curiosity gap doesn’t have to be a tease. For example, on the aforementioned Resi enews, my goal is to give you enough information in the headline and deck to make the determination whether the story is worthwhile for you. I get that my time with you is limited, so I want to make sure each click works for both of us.

Personally, I find it irritating when I click-through and the story is either not as promised or requires more clicks to get to the other side of the curiosity gap. I canceled my subscription to a local newsletter because the subject line would get me to open the email, where it would just be repeated inside with no additional information — and then often the linked story would not be what I was looking for anyway. Two clicks to nowhere. I don’t want it done to me and I certainly don’t want to do that to you.

Also by Anthony Savona: Lessons Learned From the Supply Chain Crisis

The bottom line is a little mystery never really hurts. And if you apply it properly in your marketing materials, it might just lead to more business…as long as it takes your potential customers somewhere other than a rabbit hole of clicks that don’t solve the mystery.

Plus, if the curiosity gap is good enough for the New York Times