Using the Zeigarnik Effect in Medical Marketing

Highly successful marketing campaigns usually include some variation on the Zeigarnik Effect. In fact, the Zeigarnik effect is always part of the marketing success behind blockbuster movie franchises, successful television series, bestselling book series, and the relatively new phenomena of binge watching.

When applied appropriately, the Zeigarnik effect is a powerful tool to increase marketing and sales effectiveness. More on that later.

And there it is. You have just been Zeigarniked (not an actual verb). The Zeigarnik effect posits that incomplete tasks remain in memory longer than completed ones. In addition, incomplete tasks create tension within us that remains until we can complete the unfinished tasks.

If you were motivated to learn about increasing sales and marketing effectiveness, the use of “more on that later,” interrupted your progress toward that goal and cemented the incomplete task into your memory. It will likely continue to bother you until you feel that the issue is resolved, or it is no longer sufficiently important for you to seek resolution.

The Theory

Presumably, in her quest for better table service, Psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik noted that café waiters tended to remember incomplete orders better than they did the orders that were complete. She tested the hypothesis in a 1927 experiment where subjects were given a series of simple tasks to perform. While performing their tasks, researchers randomly interrupted them and redirected their attention.

During subsequent interviews, the subjects were able to recall details of the interrupted tasks 90% better than those they had completed.

In Action

As mentioned earlier, the familiar cliff-hanger endings, teasers, and interwoven story arcs of most successful entertainment series are examples of the Zeigarnik effect that we are all familiar with and have succumbed to in the past.

They are also examples of two situations where the use of the Zeigarnik effect can backfire.

  1. It only works if the subject is motivated to reach closure. Use it too much and motivation declines.
  2. If the resolution of a story arc is disappointing or results in a “let-down,” the effect diminishes dramatically in subsequent attempts. Subjects simply become frustrated and lose motivation to reach closure.

How to use the Zeigarnik Effect

The Zeigarnik effect has many uses in sales and marketing making it a very flexible technique if applied well. Here are some simple examples.

  1. Show progress. If you are asking your visitors to take a multi-step action, show them how close they are to completion.
  2. Accentuate the Relief. Focus messaging on the relief that comes with completion. This is more powerful than rewarding steps along the way.
  3. Tension reminders. If visitors leave without completion, remind them about the incomplete task as often as practical to maintain the feelings of tension. Make returning to the task as frictionless as possible.

Story-style funnels. Use creativity to design interactive sales funnels that use engagement, cliffhanger titles, and open endings to maintain movement toward a goal. Ensure no competing tasks exist in the funnels to avoid conflicting tensions cause movement to stall.

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