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Zeigarnik Effect Or How to Keep Your Customers Engaged

Updated: Apr 2

Memories. What's not to love about them? The good times, the bad times, the hilarious times when you looked silly in the middle of the dance floor - they're all there, etched into your brain like a tattoo you can never get rid of.

But what if I told you that forgetting is as essential as remembering? Forgetting is the unsung hero of our memory system, the yin to its yang. Without forgetting, our minds would be cluttered with endless details, useless information, and embarrassing moments we'd rather not relive. According to a recent article by Columbia Psychiatry, forgetting is significant for our memory. It allows our brains to filter out irrelevant information and focus on what's truly important. It also helps us move on from negative experiences and avoid being weighed down by past mistakes.

Short Attention Economy

Considering that fact, the battle for customer attention for businesses becomes tough. It's like trying to get a toddler to sit still for a family photo - near impossible. With so many ads and distractions competing for our attention, it's no wonder that studies have found that the average person's attention span is now shorter than a goldfish's. That means businesses have less time than ever to capture our interest and convince us to take action.

marketing strategies and zeigarnik effect

Let’s look into some numbers from the Klipfolio metrics HQ:

  • Only 52 seconds are spent by customers on a company's website.

  • If a mobile website takes more than three seconds to load, users will go.

  • Consumers read through brand emails in just 10 seconds.

  • Because Gen Z uses short-form social media platforms frequently, they have 3–15 second ad expectations.

With consumers' short attention spans in mind, companies need to create a product concept that is appealing and engaging enough to hold their audience's attention. That's where the Zeigarnik Effect comes in.

Zeigarnik Effect in a Nutshell

Bluma Zeigarnik

In 1927, Lithuanian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik observed how interruption affects memory. Her professor, Kurt Lewin, noticed that waiters in a cafe remembered incomplete tabs better than complete ones. Zeigarnik found that interrupted tasks were remembered 90% better than completed ones. It suggests that the desire to finish a task keeps it in memory until completion. This statement aligns with Baddeley and Hitch's “Working Memory"s key idea that active rehearsal helps retain information while unrehearsed information is discarded.

In 1972 Heimbach and Jacoby proposed that the Zeigarnik effect could be utilized in advertisements through recognizable jingles that compel viewers to hear them to their conclusion, thus increasing the likelihood of remembering the ad's content. Their experiments found that highly motivated participants showed better remembrance of ads with jingles, and interruptions towards the end of the commercial led to better recall.

Using the above-mentioned psychological principle, we can tap into the natural human tendency to remember incomplete tasks and create a sense of curiosity that can help keep customers engaged and interested in what you offer. Let’s outline some practical methods to be applied to concepts and marketing.

Come-Back Messaging

Remarketing strategies are crucial in communication as they help to keep your brand at the forefront of customers' minds, even after they have left your website or store. Using targeted and personalized messages increases the likelihood of customers returning to complete a purchase or engage with your brand again.


The most popular types of remarketing interactions are:

  1. Abandoned cart messaging

  2. Re-engagement email campaigns for inactive subscribers or customers

  3. Retargeting ads on social media or other websites

  4. Follow-up messaging after a trial or demo of a product

  5. Incomplete forms or applications on websites reminders

  6. "We miss you" note to customers

  7. Reminder messages for upcoming appointments, events, or deadlines

  8. Cross-selling or upselling messaging

  9. Personalized recommendations encouraging return visits

  10. "Save for later" messaging on e-commerce sites

Make sure you use Zeigarnik-style call-to-action phrases to emphasize the need to finish the process. Here are some examples for you of what these messages could look like to get inspired:

· "Unlock your full potential: finish your workout strong"

· "Don't leave your taste buds hanging - order now"

· "Complete your look with these must-have accessories"

· "Get ahead of the game: finish what you started"

· "Don't stop short of perfection - try our newest product"

· "The adventure awaits - finish planning your dream getaway"

· "You're so close to victory - keep playing and conquer"

· "Complete your vision - finish your home renovations"

Top companies widely use remarketing approaches. Retargeting customers who displayed an "intent to purchase," Watchfinder reduced their cost per acquisition by 34% and achieved an impressive 1,300% ROI on their ad spend. This success was achieved by targeting 20 different groups of potential customers. Instead of targeting everyone, Watchfinder doubled down on targeting only those who have already visited their website and demonstrated an interest in buying one of their products.

Marketing best practices

Unfinished storytelling or Teasers

If you sometimes find yourself at 3 AM trying to guess who the killer is, be sure you got trapped by cliffhangers often employed by TV serials. Because of something cut in the most exciting place, you continue to suffer the advertisement.

Teaser Marketing

Unfinished storytelling is a powerful technique that capitalizes on the Zeigarnik effect to keep the audience engaged and interested. By creating an unfinished story, the audience's desire to know the outcome will drive them to take action to find out.

This method can be used in various marketing multi-channel campaigns, including email marketing, social media posts, and video content, teasing upcoming product releases or events without revealing all the details, or creating an ongoing brand storyline that leaves followers wanting more.

Here are some hints on how you can use it to increase engagement:

  1. Tease your audience with a sneak peek of something big coming soon.

  2. Use cliffhangers to leave your audience wanting more.

  3. Build anticipation with a countdown or release date.

  4. Use interactive elements like contests or polls to engage your audience.

  5. Use user-generated content to involve your audience in the storytelling process.

  6. Create a story arc with a beginning, middle, and end to keep your audience engaged.

  7. Use humor or other emotions to connect with your audience and create a memorable experience.

  8. Make sure your story aligns with your brand and messaging.

  9. Make sure you can fulfill the promises.

Get inspired with the Coldplay promotion case to see how creative this storytelling campaign can be. The group promoted their upcoming album "Ghost Stories" in a mysterious way by hiding lyrics from their new songs in libraries worldwide. Fans tracked the lyric-hunters' progress with the hashtag #lyricshunt, and the campaign resulted in "significant new follower growth" for the band on Twitter. One lucky fan found a handwritten lyric sheet and a ticket to see the band perform in London in a book of ghost stories.

Progress tracking

Progress tracking is the use of game-like elements in non-game contexts, and it is a popular strategy in marketing and product design. One of the reasons it works so well is because it leverages the Zeigarnik effect. Creating a sense of unfinished business encourages people to stay engaged and invested in a product or service. It can be used for customer engagement, employee motivation, educational settings, etc. According to Presedence Research, the Gamification market will grow to $ 96,8 Billion by 2030. Through the forecast period, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality technologies will see increased corporate investment, driving the market.

Gamification in marketing

The main types of progress trackers utilized by businesses are:

  • Loyalty programs that encourage customers to engage with a product or service over time.

  • Progress bars show how far along a customer is in a process.

  • Personalized dashboards that track a customer's usage of a product.

  • Gamification elements, such as badges or rewards, celebrate customers' achievements.

  • Progress reports outline a customer's progress toward a goal or milestone.

  • Mobile game applications complement the product and services.

Here are some tips to make this process most effective:

  1. Set clear goals and objectives.

  2. Keep it simple.

  3. Provide rewards.

  4. Make it social.

  5. Measure success.

A good illustration of a straightforward game with significant impact is M&M's Eye-Spy Pretzel app. Users must find a pretzel in a picture of M&Ms. This simple puzzle resulted in 25,000 additional Facebook likes and about 6,000 shares for the business.

Nike's fitness app, NikeFuel, is motivated by users' desire to post their fitness accomplishments on social media to gain approval. Every day, users compete with one another and publish their results. By incorporating the app into their daily life, customers build a community around the brand, ensuring continuing brand loyalty.

Starbucks' My Starbucks Rewards app encourages customer loyalty by offering rewards for purchases, with up to 25% of US Starbucks purchases made through the app.

Chipotle's "A Love Story" memory game rewards customers with a buy-one-get-one-free coupon for matching natural ingredients while avoiding adding colors and flavors. The game is available on mobile devices, making it easy and convenient for customers to play and receive rewards.


Did you know that a Forrester Research analyst discovered that 10 to 30% of online marketplaces revenue is generated by upselling strategies?

From the Zeigarnik effect point of view, the ecosystem of products can be very appealing to individuals, as it creates a sense of incompleteness or desire to complete a set. Introducing the act of collecting into your concept can increase customer engagement and loyalty, as they are driven to continue engaging with the company or product to achieve their goal of completing the collection.

The most popular ways to implement the "ecosystem" approach are:

  • Bundles for related products or personalized bundles for up-sale or cross-sale.

  • Product tiers such as basic, standard, and premium version.

  • Collections by theme, category, season, or cross-brand collaborations.

  • Subscription-based boxes.

Lego, the world-renowned toy company, has mastered the art of collections by creating themed sets that capture the imaginations of children and adults alike. From popular franchises like Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Marvel Superheroes to original creations like Lego City and Lego Friends, Lego offers diverse collections that cater to various interests and play styles.

Pandora, known for its customizable charm bracelets, amuses customers through a wide array of themed charms. Customers curate personalized collections with sentimental or stylish trinkets. With seasonal, limited edition releases and collaborations, Pandora entices consumers to expand their collections and express their unique style.

Birchbox's subscription-based model is designed to offer clients a personalized and convenient way to discover new beauty products. Buyers sign up for a monthly subscription, and in return, they receive a box filled with beauty and grooming products tailored to their individual preferences.


Decisions are not solely based on self-interest or utility, as emotions often affect people's actions. The online space, with its many distractions, amplifies this unpredictability. Employing techniques like the Zeigarnik effect can subtly guide audiences to take the desired action, leveraging the power of psychology in your business.


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