How Brands Can (and Should) Keep the Mystery Alive on Social Media

Mar 08, 2019


By: Lauren Henninger, Senior Media Strategist & Emily Williams, Media Strategist

TIme to Read: 4 minutes


Who sings that song? What was the name of that actor in that one movie? When one of those questions pops in your head, and you have to know the answer, you’re experiencing the power of curiosity. Also, that nagging desire you have to solve the mystery is the same one brands can use to drive consumer engagement and purchase motivation.

Curiosity Is a Powerful Tool for Brands

When we asked consumers about their curiosity in a  Curiosity 100, we found that 96% of respondents consider themselves extremely or moderately curious shoppers, and 74% of respondents said their curiosity drives them to purchase something they don’t need once a month, at a minimum. That got us curious: how can brands capitalize on that curiosity?

Neuroscientists have been asking the same question. Recent research findings published in the Journal of Business Research suggest that retailers can use mystery to actually create curiosity. Also, the best place to do that is where you can talk directly to your curious consumers: social media.

Why Users Love an Unsolved Mystery

A little mystery makes us curious, but not always in the same way. Comparison of two studies, astrophysicist and author Mario Livio gleans that different types of curiosity may, to some extent, involve different parts of the brain. The two types he primarily identifies are perceptual curiosity and epistemic curiosity:

  • Perceptual Curiosity: “That’s the curiosity we feel when something surprises us or when something doesn’t quite agree with what we know or think we know. This is felt as an unpleasant state, as an adversity state,” explains Livio in an interview.
  • Epistemic Curiosity: “ … a pleasurable state associated with anticipation of reward,” Livio continues. “That’s our level of knowledge. It drives many artworks. It drives education and things like that.”

With two types of curiosity at play, there are different ways mystery can be used to engage consumers. In the Journal of Business Research study, researchers refer to these as “mystery appeals,” or “attempts to connect with consumers by intentionally withholding information about the product or promotion being offered.”

Four Mystery Appeal Tactics for Your Social Media Strategy

1. Unboxing

Unboxing content, in particular, satisfies epistemic curiosity because users anticipate the reward as much as the influencer. “Unboxing videos stimulate a part of the brain that produces pleasure in the viewer. We find joy without even unwrapping the product ourselves because we share the influencers’ emotions,” Janna Ehrhardt says, citing the phenomenon literary scholar Jonathan Gottschall refers to as “mirror neurons.”

2. Sneak Peeks

The key here is a balance. Studies found that participants were more curious when given moderate information versus minimal information. A list of product benefits, for example, without any mention of the product itself, will pique more curiosity than vague messaging. Give the consumer just the right amount of clues, and they will instinctually have the urge to satisfy their curiosity and engage with your brand. Chanel struck that perfect balance using a sneak peek tactic in their influencer activation campaign for the Chanel No. 5 L’Eau perfume launch, which reached more than nine million people.

3. Brand Storytelling

A good story can trigger perceptual curiosity. Use brand storytelling best practices to inspire your consumers. Glossier tells the story of the modern millennial woman who has better things to do than spend hours applying makeup. The hero in their story isn’t skin care and makeup. Their hero IS the modern millennial woman, and Glossier has changed the perception that great makeup takes forever to apply. Glossier has garnered millions of followers, and millions in investment (in 2018, Glossier got a $52 million capital infusion).

4. Product Demonstrations

In our research, 41% polled said that a product demonstration piques their interest most. Product demonstration is a great way to drive perceptual curiosity when a product or service may challenge consumer beliefs. A great example of this is IAB MFG, which is an athletic apparel brand built on inspiring people to challenge themselves. They initiated the #NoRideChallenge and video content on social media to challenge consumer’s belief around spandex staying in place during a workout. The product directly defies this belief by showing a side-by-side difference between IAB spandex and another brand worn by the same girl after the same exercise.

Whatever tactics you use, piquing either type of curiosity is a valuable way to drive consumer engagement and, ultimately, purchase behavior specifically on social media. Which you choose depends on your brand. If you have a product that has a surprising attribute different from your competition, this leans into the perceptual curiosity. If you have a service that over delivers on quality, focus on epistemic curiosity. Let us know how it goes...we’re curious about it.