[Translate to English:] Saint Elmo's: Warum so neugierig?


Why so curious?

04. December 2019, Dennis Pfisterer

Curiosity is not bad behavior, but the key to successful communication.

The assumption that “too many questions” or curiosity is something bad is deeply rooted in culture. It started with Adam and Eve, seduced by the evil snake and driven by curiosity – they eat the forbidden fruit and gain "knowledge", but unfortunately have to leave paradise afterwards. It's little better with the ancient Greeks. There escapes a mysterious box of evil such as work, illness and death, which were previously unknown to mankind – Pandora would only have heard of Zeus.  


Curiosity inspires innovation

But if you often ask yourself: Why the hell ...? How in God's name ...? or why not ...?, you automatically take a step forward. Because without questioning the status quo, we would not know today that the world is round, computers would not fit in our pockets, and cars would not drive themselves. Inventive and creative people are just curious. Or is it the other way around, to be creative you have to be curious? It's certain that researching new things and thereby acquiring new knowledge is in our nature.  

As children, we understand the world by constantly asking ourselves and others annoying questions and simply trying things out: what happens when I throw my plate off the table? What does sand actually taste like? And should I maybe press this red button?” – We just enjoy discovering new things. Because curiosity leads us to surprises, new experiences, challenges, discoveries and unexpected opportunities to learn – and thus to a happier life, as the psychologist Daniel Todd Gilbert from Harvard University writes.*

Is curiosity dying out?

Education and culture explain that our natural urge to explore and our curiosity eventually goes away. "Don't stick your nose in other people's affairs", "it's fine the way it is", "a cobbler should stick to his trade" or "that's not your job!" are curiosity killers. It's also understandable that the older we get, the less we crave new things. At some point, we have already experienced a lot, know more and have fewer questions. We're just not as hungry as we used to be. But when we get to the point where all curiosity has died, we not only deprive ourselves of special moments of happiness, but also lose the perhaps most important driver of our progress.

In a society and economy driven by innovation, one would actually have to assume that the generation that is constantly moving up will generate more and more curiosity. A kind of natural distribution of curiosity across all generations that drives our society. However, as a study by the Merck Group in collaboration with a multi-disciplinary research group suggests, curiosity and the spirit of innovation seem to be much weaker in Generation Z than in the previous one. In addition to social and cultural characteristics, economic and intellectual saturation may not play a promising role here. Because curiosity is always a search for ways out of economic grievances or personal boredom.

What the individual is looking for is very different. Psychologist Danie Berlyne divides curiosity into the search for new experiences and the search for knowledge that is either targeted or general in nature. However, if it is suggested to us that all knowledge in the world is always available, why should we crave new knowledge? And why should we still look for new experiences when they've been illuminated in detail and from all sides on millions of channels by millions of brands and millions of people?

Curiosity is the key to creativity

And here we are with the topic of marketing & communication. A natural curiosity is often simply assumed here by the recipient of the messages sent. And we believe that since consumers and users have less and less time, we have to convey the product and its advantages more and more easily, quickly and directly. "Better processor! Now more economical! Even cheaper! Buy now! ” – are boring arguments but they may be useful at the end of a user journey.

However, if people want to get to know new brands, innovative products or socially relevant ideas and have a real “brand experience”, this strategy works poorly or not at all. The question is why should consumers want to go on a journey? We have to arouse their curiosity first. Free the person addressed from their paradisiacal-lethargic state and give them motivation to become active. Instead of bombarding consumers directly with a thousand exclamation marks, the first step we should focus on is the question mark that is supposed to appear in their heads. A question mark that is fun to take the next step and that makes you want to discover something new. Maybe a "what's this all about?", caused by guerrilla activities in an unusual location. Maybe a "how did they do that?", conjured up by a courageous PR campaign. Or a "what's behind it?" posed by a clever content piece. Or the very classic question "how does the story end?", which has always been the basis of many good brand stories.

Regardless of whether consumers are looking for experiences or knowledge, regardless of whether they do this in digital or real space, if we want to offer a deeper "experience", we would do well to give the recipient the opportunity to "decrypt" something themselves or to "reveal" something exciting. Because this corresponds quite simply to our human exploratory nature – and rewards us with an aha moment of happiness.

Of course, the stories shouldn't be too cryptic or confusing. However, if we no longer expect the recipients to decipher our messages ourselves, we lose the chance that they will discover something valuable and new for themselves in our brand and our products – and identify with it on a deeper level. Ultimately, the art of communication is to “pack” things creatively and cleverly so that they arouse curiosity and thus become desirable.

So the next time there's a discussion about new communication activities and the question arises: “Why all the bells and whistles? Why don't we just show our product and its advantages?” – be brave and maybe answer this way: “Brands build on trust and knowledge. And gaining knowledge is a question of curiosity. "

*Daniel Todd Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness. Don't look for your luck, then it'll find you by itself, 2008.

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