Can The Zeigarnik Effect Increase Your Engagement, Subscribers and Sales?

Introduction of the Zeigarnik Effect

Sitting in a restaurant in Vienna in the 1920s, Lithuanian-born Russian psychologist and psychiatrist Bulma Wulfovna Zeigarnik (1901-1988) came upon a startling realization. She noticed that the efficient waiter vividly remembered every detail of the orders yet to be settled. Surprisingly the waiter forgot the specific details of previous orders almost immediately after the order had been paid for by the customer. Bulma documented her findings in a 1927 paper titled Das Behalten Erledigter und Unerledigter Handlugen which can be translated in English as The Retention of Completed and Uncompleted Activities’. Her studies were corroborated by her contemporary and fellow scientist Maria Ovsiankina in 1928 and four decades later by another scientist, Van Bergen in 1968. The combined result of these observations became the Zeigarnik Effect which has literally taken the internet marketing world by storm. Now that you know how the effect began you can understand the principles of it and how to optimize it for your own marketing  purposes.

The Zeigarnik Effect

incomplete tasks are remembered more

The main premise of the Zeigarnik effect is that the human mind is wired to remember uncompleted tasks more than completed ones. The brain acts pretty much like the Random Access Memory (RAM) of a computer. When a task is completed, the necessary information to complete it is generally eroded as it is no longer of practical use. Conversely, information pertaining to pending or unfinished activities is subconsciously stored for future use; sort of like saving to the hard disk.

This brings to the fore the basic nature of humanity; once we begin a task, we set out to finish it. The result is that if there is an interruption of the exercise for any reason, we harbour intrusive thoughts that drive us to resume at the next opportunity so as to complete and gain closure. Failure to do so only serves to heighten our anxiety. An interruption makes us more aware of the specific unfulfilled tasks. This is that nagging feeling of unfinished business that lingers so uncomfortably.

How Marketers Use The Zeigarnik Effect


The relevance of the Zeigarnik effect in marketing and advertising can be seen all around us in our everyday lives. Marketers have exploited the human nature to their advantage. They have fully absorbed the fact that we instinctively always look to complete tasks and find closure even when we do it subconsciously. Savvy TV executives and movie producers will always leave a storyline pending before a commercial break so that the audience remains glued to the show to see what happens next and find closure.

Amazingly, an individual can use the same concept to their advantage by tricking themselves! Understanding the phenomenon can help beat procrastination when faced with seemingly complex tasks. If one just makes a start, the innate character can see them through one step after another as they gain momentum.

Engagement And The Zeigarnik Effect in Internet Marketing

internet marketing missing pieces

With the widespread penetration of the internet across the globe, the digital space has naturally become the next frontier for marketers to exercise their charm offensive. When a person searches for a product on the web, they will be given a list of relevant websites to view. Invariably, these landing pages will be squeeze pages that marketers use to herd traffic to specific sales pages.

It is on these pages that they can use their knowledge of the Zeigarnik effect to plant those intrusive thoughts on the browsers mind. As Ovsiankina herself observed in 1928, an interruption heightens anxiety and compels one to want to finish a task at the next opportunity. This is where those unsolicited pop ups serve their purpose. A clever marketer will have tracked the route by which a potential customer arrived at their site and an automated program then prompts a pop up that the surfer may be interested in. This is the first crucial step of engagement.

From Engagement To Email Subscription

increasing user engagement

If the marketer has utilized the right analytical criteria to determine relevant content to a specific visitor to the site, an appropriate pop up will appear. It may be a simple Yes or No pop up that informs the potential client that to proceed to the next screen they may have to verify their email address. Again, the Zeigarnik bug kicks in and once the potential customer enters their email address and clicks on the Yes button a verification email is sent to the prescribed address.

neil patel uses the zeigarnik effect
Neil Patel uses this effect with his Popups on Quicksprout

Back in the individual’s personal email inbox a highlighted link will provide a route to the webpage that he so desires to get access to. All along, the Zeigarnik effect is at play. At this point, the email address has been verified and automatically added to a mailing list. The second part of the engagement has converted into an email subscription.

Converting an Email Subscription to Sales

email marketing engagement for sales

The next stage is to get a sale from the email subscriber. There may be an invitation to open an account so as to take advantage of considerable discounts available only to members. Once registered, the marketer may now possess crucial information such as physical address, date of birth, etc that can be used to further entice. Automated programs can now monitor his activities on the targeted sales website.

user flow

A lot can be gathered from the way a visitor goes through the site. The on-site browsing may be on specific genres of music; or a certain subject in the books section. Armed with the subscriber’s date of birth, at the opportune time, carefully engineered relevant discount or gift offers can be offered during Easter or Christmas or even on the occasion of their birthday. Such personalization is likely to leave a mark on their psyche and translate into a sale when done correctly.

To Sum It All Up

In conclusion, we have seen how it is possible to drive traffic to a business website by the Zeigarnik effect alone. Once on-site, the same procedure is used to further induce the potential customer to engage and provide confirmation of an email address that can then be integrated into an established mailing list. Further information on registration of an online account divulges further information which can be utilized in a targeted audience marketing campaign strategy. It is therefore proven that using the Zeigarnik Effect can help you increase engagement, email subscription and sales.

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