Sales funnels are longer. Information is noisier. Attentions spans are shorter. The glut of data and “Paradox of Choice” cause people to leave a video or webpage after less than 10 seconds. The “Netflix Effect” forces unknown films to have an immediate hook. Otherwise, it’s back to the good old queue. The challenge in the digital marketing world becomes: How do you get these stubborn, hard to convince, distracted people to want to click through and stay engaged?
Marketers need to create an “Information Gap” to pull you into the story. Upworthy.com gives you just enough information to make you care about the “mind-blowing,” “incredible” or “unbelievable” ending that results in a click. The DaVinci Code author, Dan Brown, creates page-turners by ending every chapter in a cliffhanger. Episodic television like Lost, Breaking Bad and The Sopranos keep you coming back every week by answering burning questions but then posing new ones. Even LinkedIn gives you just enough information about your anonymous profile visitors and then allows you to pay for the identity of your online stalkers. A site called Died In House let’s you pay $11.99 per search to find out if anyone died in the house that you live in.
We are all naturally curious. Studies show how the search for reward triggers a highly addictive dopamine response. These Pavlovian responses lead to marketing methods like sales, sweepstakes or even activating scents. One such reward is closure, the desire to know, or as we have called it, the “Information Gap.” Notice how the final Harry Potter movie generated the most in box office sales for the entire series, playing on fans’ desire for closure and information like “how does it end?” Even though tools like Shazam, Google and social media help us scratch itches right from the convenience of our own pocket, we’ve noticed a pattern to how to craft an “information gap.” Here are our findings summarized as three tips:
1. Make me care, and then make me ask what happens next.
Upworthy.com does a great job of this by pulling out the right imagery and the right English with popular issues that face everyone, like public policy, animals, human rights or health issues. Notice how differently you may feel when you change the English with this Chrome plugin.
Geico and Dos Equis have created episodic characters like their cavemen and gecko and the Most Interesting Man, respectively, allowing fans and customers to follow their antics. People cared about and empathized so much with these characters that the cavemen were even offered a television show. Startups like egg spice company Gourmegg have taken note and humanized its product resulting in a smart-looking, English-feeling, mustache-wearing egg. The print advertisement at the top of the article features a cute, smash-faced, bread loaf-shaped puppy with a tag: “You eat what you touch.” The advertiser: LifeBuoy Hand Soap.
In creating this “what happens next” effect, tension only heightens it, whether it’s “whitespace” pauses, waiting until next week’s episode or a slow walking slasher’s victim. We want to know what happens, and we want to know now. This is one of the drivers behind paying for video game lives and coins, why ads during the two minute warning, clock-stopping free throws or pitching changes in the ninth inning are more expensive and why television shows always break at a point of tension. Goldberg machines, like this one by BMW, are a great way to create tension and a “need to know what happens next” framework.
2. Withhold an essential piece of backstory.
Withholding an unexpected piece of information creates an information gap in the secondary sharing market. Remember what people said about “twist” movies like The Sixth Sense, Memento, or The Usual Suspects? Imagine IBM’s A Boy and its Atom BEFORE you were told that it was made with Atoms, or watch last fall’s Guinness commercial (the ending is quite unexpected). Meyler Capital’s Kyle Dunn notes that since most sales people put all relevant information into their sales deck, they get fewer callbacks. Without an element of mystery, there’s no information gap, and thus no need for any other communication. Even in tracking our own stories, we find that people quoted in stories are more likely to earn a click than ones in which entire bios are stated.
3. Shock Me.
Shock is probably the most used tactic. Dove Body Images, Old Spice, K-Mart’s Ship my Pants and Volvo’s Van Damme Split are just a few campaigns with unexpected storylines. Offline, Dumb Starbucks shocked many into visiting simply because of how gutsy they were by obviously ripping off the coffee shop. Creating a shock and information gap does not need to be difficult or sexy. A successful campaign by the BlendTec blender featured a Mr. Wizard-like series called Will It Blend?, which featured the blending of various items, ranging from a garden rake to an iPhone to even Justin Bieber. Even though the result is predictable (things always blend), the video is exciting to watch and always shocking.
Building an information gap is easier than you think. Give it a try. The results you get might shock you. While I’m not a fan of Upworthy.com-like prose, I was extremely surprised at how effective it is. Similarly, I rarely played video games, but I was shocked at how addicted and loyal I would get to some of these games. And while I’ve always had good self-control, I’ve lost weekends being sucked into good episodic television via Netflix. In business, you should always find your mark and figure out a way to engage. Perhaps one day, we may hear entrepreneurs with exciting pitches like this: “Two smart venture capitalists invested in us, and how we changed the world and made them a ton of money will amaze you while bringing you to tears.”