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🧠 Zeigarnik Effect: How unfinished tasks capture customers

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Hi there - Jen here :)

Did you watch Game of Thrones?

If you’re not familiar with the show’s history, you might not know it had one of the most-hated series finales in history.

Here’s how it went down👇

The much-anticipated final season was released after a two year break.

In the second-to-last season, writers introduced shocking cliffhangers and plot twists.

Fans couldn’t wait to find out what happened, but had to psychologically edge for two years to get answers.

And when the final season finally did arrive, it was awful.

Fans were so upset they started a petition to have it rewritten by “competent writers.”

Turns out, the last season flopped because writers didn’t pay off any of the cliff hangers they’d introduced in earlier seasons.

But what do dragons, White Walkers, cliffhangers, and unfinished business have to do with marketing?

It all down to a psychological principle called the Zeigarnik Effect.

Today we’ll cover:

  • What is the Zeigarnik Effect?

  • Real world examples of brands like Amazon, Heinz, and Mango using the Zeigarnik Effect to drive conversion, engagement, and sales

  • And how you can use the Zeigarnik Effect to grow your own brand

👉 But before we get started:

If you’re trying to figure out what makes your buyers tick, I recommend learning more about Customer Journey Mapping.

It’s an easy-to-use framework that can help you crack customers’ deepest desires, goals, and psychological pain points.

I’m holding one more FREE Journey Mapping WORKSHOP on April 19th:

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What is the Zeigarnik Effect?

The Zeigarnik Effect (also called the Incompleteness Effect) is the unconscious urge to finish what we’ve started, even if we’re not particularly interested in the work.

People remember unfinished tasks better than completed ones, and they experience psychological relief once they’re done.

(It’s why that unsent email response nagged at the back of your mind all weekend.)

And when it comes to marketing that means unfinished business is great for grabbing attention and driving engagement.

Real World Examples of the Zeigarnik Effect in Marketing

We can use the Zeigarnik Effect to catch people’s attention or nudge them to complete a purchase. Here’s 3 examples of how:

  • Ask customers to mentally complete an unfinished thought

  • Get people to “complete the set”

  • Remind people they’ve left something unused or undone

1. Ask customers to complete an unfinished thought

Creating an ad that leaves out vital information can stop people in their tracks.

They’re drawn to figure out a message that’s alluded to instead of being spelled out.

For example, can you guess the iconic brand featured in the ad below?

That’s right, it’s an ad for Heinz ketchup.

But the ad asks you to mentally complete this unfinished sentence (“It has to be…”) with the brand’s name and logo - hinted at by the shape of the burger.

2. Get people to “complete the set”

In this genius email from clothing retailer Mango, they present an item that a customer just bought - in this case a coat - as the start of an incomplete outfit.

This gets people thinking of their item as part of a set and hits on one of the biggest pain points in fashion - we buy items but we wear outfits.

So often, we fall in love with and buy an item but it sits in our closet because we don’t know what to wear it with.

This email not only solves that issue but it uses the Zeigarnik Effect to do it.

This strategy of the “unfinished set” was actually tested in a study that applied it to sales of wine.

Customers purchased more wine when they saw empty, suggested placeholders waiting to be filled for a full course meal.

3. Remind people they’ve left something unused or undone

This push notification from Audible reminds a subscriber to their audiobook service that they have 10 credits that are due to expire.

This grabs attention not only because it’s an unfinished task but also because it uses Loss Aversion (we don’t want to lose out on something we’ve already spent money on).

How you can use the Zeigarnik Effect to grow your own brand

If you want to apply this principle, starting by asking yourself:

  • Where are the moments in your customer journey where you most need to catch customers’ attention? Is there an opportunity to apply the Zeigarnik Effect to drive curiosity at that moment?

  • Where in your journey would increased customer engagement benefit your brand the most? Are there opportunities to create psychological tension by leaving things “unfinished”?

Thought of the day:

👉 Too many brands misunderstand who they’re competing against.

Netflix's biggest competition is sleep. 

Nike's biggest competition is the couch. 

Spotify's biggest competition is silence.

Your competition isn't another company.

It's your customer's default behavior.

So what is your business really up against?

Read, Watch, Listen

  • Use This Framework for Fascinating & Memorable Presentations (Backed by Science) [Read]

  • The BILLION DOLLAR MARKETING secrets of Trader Joe's [Watch]

  • Check out the latest episode of the top-rated Choice Hacking podcast [Listen]  

🚀 Coming up in the Thursday Edition:

The Thursday Edition is a weekly newsletter shared with Choice Hacking Premium subscribers - upgrade to Choice Hacking Ideas Premium for $5 or less a month.

This week’s Thursday Edition will cover:

  • Special Series: From Abandoned Cart to Converted Customer. How to use psychology to create the perfect abandoned cart email and copy to capture more customers

  • Part One of Three: The art of using Urgency and Scarcity in abandoned cart emails (without annoying customers or damaging your brand)

  • Includes exclusive video workshop of 3 high-converting abandoned cart emails with frameworks you can steal

To get this newsletter, upgrade for less than $5 a month today.

FYI - I have 1 one-to-one coaching spot that will open up in May and 1 at the end of June/early July.

If you’re interested in learning more about Executive and/or Business & Marketing coaching, respond to this email to book a free exploratory call.

Until next time,

Jen Clinehens, MS/MBA
Founder & MD Choice Hacking

Want to use behavioral science, psychology, and AI to grow your business?

👉 When you’re ready, Choice Hacking can help:

  • Training: We can help your team level up their work with psychology, behavioral science, and AI training.

  • Courses: My popular course “How to Create Magnificent Journey Maps” version 3.0 will open for registration for only 48 hours on April 23, 2024. There are 25 seats available in this course and it will only open 1x this year. 

  • Consulting: Get your biggest marketing and business challenges off your plate and into the hands of a dedicated team of experts.

    • Want 1-on-1 expert advice on how to grow your brand but don’t want to pay thousands to get it? Check out my Website Audit. For only $1200 USD, I’ll send you a 43-point Audit Report, a UX breakdown, and a 60 minute video breakdown of your website that gives you actionable ways to drive trust with users and increase your conversion rate.

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