Marketing's new mission: Creating a customer curiosity strategy

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Welcome to the new customer journey - where brands are encouraged to identify the role of curiosity and feed it.

Curiouser and curiouser….it seems that these days it’s not just Alice getting curious in Wonderland. Today’s consumer is also curious – and by that I don’t mean they’re odd! Consumers have become naturally inquisitive and this has become a driving force behind how they behave. This represents a huge, albeit complex, opportunity for marketers to better understand, influence and engage with consumers. 
Is this new news? Not totally. In 1979 the Marketing Science Institute was talking about how generating curiosity about a product increased consumer motivation, boosted brand awareness and led to an increased desire to find out more. However, what makes customer curiosity newsworthy and interesting today is the fact that marketers now have the tools at hand to turn curiosity into customer commitment across the whole customer journey.
So what’s different? 
The coming together of digital and data with an accelerated rate of adoption of technology has made it much easier for consumers to assuage their curiosity. Take Google. Last year there were 9 billion searches made in the UK, representing a 35% increase year on year. LinkedIn currently has 4m users in the UK and is acquiring one new user every two seconds. These figures show a staggering rise in our ability and desire to be inquisitive.
However, it’s not just the ease of curiosity that has altered. Consumers have also been taught that curiosity can be rewarding and now, with gamification, can even be fun. Insurance aggregators have altered the way we review our insurance renewals and with Tripadvisor we can check things out before we commit to a brand or purchase. 
The other game changer is the explosion of data. In the UK in 2011 consumers created 1.8 zettabytes (1,800,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes) of data. That’s a lot of data! And this has been coupled with a significant reduction in the cost of storing data.
Add all these factors together and there is a perfect storm for real marketing innovation. The internet offers consumers access to almost unlimited information sources – and with over 40% of smartphone users using their mobile to access the internet, they can be curious wherever they are. The internet also enables messages not just through email but via an entire social landscape with daily updates and insights. The icing on the cake is that ‘big data’ means we can now see, follow and measure consumers and observe exactly how curiosity drives their behaviours.
As a result, brands now have access to killer insights that can inform their marketing activity – from the level of consumer curiosity in a category and brand market share of curiosity, to what stimulates curiosity and where . We are no longer restricted to tracking consumer behaviour via data we own – we can track them almost anywhere.
Take customers on a ‘curiosity journey’
This means brands can segment their customers according to curiosity profile and where they are on the ‘curiosity journey’. Unlike the traditional linear customer journey that takes a customer from the point of seeing an ad through to purchase and then loyalty programme, because of the multiple touch points and emotions involved, the curiosity journey is much more complex. However, if we can understand where someone is on this journey, and the curiosity ‘feeding stations’ where they are looking for information/content, we can ensure that we offer them what they need to take them to the next level. 
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This could be Youtube videos, website, blogger opinions and product search at the beginning of the journey, through to price comparison websites and live chat once they have a more directed curiosity around what they want. Further along the journey, once someone has purchased a brand, we can encourage them to become advocates to help in other’s curiosity through product reviews while helping them to retain their own curiosity through loyalty cards and exclusive opportunities to buy before the rest of the market.
A word of warning, though, is that honesty must be central to any brands developing a customer curiosity strategy. Customers questions must be answered honestly and feedback, whether good or bad, should be encouraged. Woe betide any hotel chain found out putting up fake reviews on Trip Advisor! Interestingly, we have found brands sometimes struggle with the idea of openness – especially if it means bad things might be written about them. Yet, it’s much better to know if a customer is unhappy so you can make amends; it’s a well proven fact that a complainer whose problem is dealt with effectively is much more likely to become a real brand advocate. 
Indeed, Guinness created an interesting marketing strategy around complaints, asking people to let them know if they were served a bad pint, sending a Guinness ‘Trainer’ to the pub to show the staff how to pour a perfect glass of the black stuff.
Curiosity in action
A great example of customer curiosity in action is Philips RéAura, an innovative (and rather expensive at £800) skin rejuvenation system. The target market for this comprises highly affluent, intelligent women who have an active interest in finding ways to look younger but also a curiosity to find out the truth behind product claims.
With this in mind, all elements of the campaign were created to drive consumers to an interactive RéAura Tumblr site which used diaries and trial results from real people. The unedited site was primarily made up of user-generated content, providing potential customers with the unbiased information they needed, engendering trust and also providing a social platform for customer engagement and interaction. To complement this activity, other social media was used such as beauty blogger outreach, a Q&A session with Mumsnet and trials by brand ambassadors such as Rosie Green who is beauty editor at Red magazine.
The whole RéAura campaign gave Philips the opportunity to demonstrate the results the brand can achieve to prospective customers in a really fresh and unique way. In the age of the consumer, there is no better brand ambassador than another real life customer, and so by tapping into this we were able to provide the right mix of user generated and expert content that allowed the audience to make an informed purchasing decision. What was interesting was that, not only did people visit the Tumblr site, but they were likely to return at least once. This shows curiosity in action as the site would enable them to check up on the impact that RéAura was having on customers and brand ambassadors over time, and to find out more about the product before parting with a significant sum of money – hence why the campaign strategy allows for new content to be updated to the site on an ongoing basis. 
So what next?
If our predictions are right, we are going to see more and more brands focusing on customer curiosity and investigating how to adjust marketing strategy to grow and fulfil consumers’ inquisitive demands. Indeed, we can see brand measures changing as a result. No longer will it be important just to worry about brand awareness, but the level at which a brand is stimulating Consumer Curiosity – or your Brand Curiosity Quotient. Okay, that’s a term that we’ve made up ourselves, but it’s a good one.
Generation Y is soon to come of age. It will bring with it an unprecedented level of marketing savvy, a constant desire to know what’s trending and a knowledge of where and how to find that out. Life for them has always been thus. Brands that ignore the power of curiosity are going to get left behind fast – as HMV knows to its cost.
Gavin Wheeler is CEO at direct response and relationship marketing agency WDMP.

About Gavin Wheeler

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