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How Marketers Utilize the Zeigarnik Effect to Increase Conversions

How Marketers Utilize the Zeigarnik Effect to Increase Conversions

Nearly a century ago, Lithuanian-born psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik described what is now known as the Zeigarnik effect in her doctoral thesis. While the observation seems rather obvious now, it was a groundbreaking discovery at the time and is still used today by business professionals and marketers to increase response and conversion rates among consumers.

Origins of the Zeigarnik Effect


The Zeigarnik Effect describes the human tendency to finish what we start. If something we’ve started is not completed, we experience dissonance – even if the conscious mind is focused on new tasks and goals.


In her doctoral thesis, Zeigarnik spent time studying this effect firsthand. She specifically notes the fact that waiters in restaurants are able to remember complex orders long enough to deliver them to the table. However, once the food is delivered, the information that they remembered vanishes. Instead they begin to focus on the uncompleted orders from other tables until they, too, are fulfilled.


Zeigarnik also spent some time conducting a number of studies on test subjects in her laboratory. She asked each participant to complete various puzzles. Some subjects were interrupted from their progress. Later, the subjects were asked to describe the tasks they participated in. Both adults and children remembered interrupted tasks an incredible 90 percent better than the yet-to-be completed ones. In other words, we remember the things we don’t complete more than we do the ones we finish.


Marketers Placing an Emphasis on the Zeigarnik Effect


In modern society, the Zeigarnik Effect is perhaps no more utilized or effective than in marketing. Marketers clearly understand the human mind’s desire for completion and closure and use words, messages, and structures that capitalize on this. Here are a few specific examples:


1.     Website Opt-In Forms


Many websites have on-site forms that allow visitors to enter their email address or contact information in order to opt-in for some sort of benefit or reward. The most successful sites use the Zeigarnik Effect to increase these signups and maximize conversions.


Optin Monster, one of the leaders in online opt-in technology, has gone in depth about how it uses the effect by developing two-step opt-in technology. According to their research, two-step opt-ins, rooted in the Zeigarnik Effect, have the power to increase conversions by an astounding 785 percent. That’s because the user, after clicking the initial link or button, has begun an action. As a result, they’re more likely to complete that action (subscribing to an email list).


2.     Email Headlines


The Zeigarnik Effect doesn’t lose its power yet, though. Marketers and advertisers frequently use it to increase email-opening rates. According to small business marketing expert Issamar Ginzberg, the Zeigarnik Effect is what makes people read past the headline or subject line of an article.


“When you have a subject that finishes with a period, you are basically encouraging the recipient’s mind to think of the message as a completed task,” Ginzberg says. “But without the end punctuation, the subject line is perceived as unfinished, and the brain will not be happy with the idea of moving on without finishing the sentence.”


Understanding this, marketers spend a lot of time and effort developing ‘cliffhanger’ headlines to enhance the chances of an email being opened and read. You can also see traces of the Zeigarnik Effect at the end of an email, when marketers say something like, “Don’t forget to read tomorrow’s email to hear our next tip regarding the efficacy of this technology.”


3.     Banner Advertisements


One of the more successful banner campaigns in recent years belongs to Pringles. And while the ad itself wasn’t incredibly compelling, it was the simple call-to-action that made it so successful. The ad shows a young man on one knee proposing to a girl. The female with a can of Pringles on one arm has both her hands on her head. Is she surprised, confused, elated, scared? The advertisers simply place a small text bubble at the bottom write, which reads, “click.”


Users were then pushed through a funnel of different images and scenes, continually clicking in an effort to see how the story ends – an obvious and effective example of how marketers and advertisers exploit the Zeigarnik Effect.


Encouraging Action with the Zeigarnik Effect


Bluma Zeigarnik’s observations may have seemed insignificant at the time of discovery, but they’ve had a lasting impact on a number of different industries. At the top of that list is the marketing field, which still uses her theories to this day. Whether it’s website opt-in forms, email marketing, or banner advertisements, the Zeigarnik effect is everywhere.

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