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Blog: Event marketing

How to use the Zeigarnik Effect in your event marketing

1 June 2022 minute read

Ian Dickie
Managing Director

Ever binge-watched an entire box set on Netflix? Me too. Ever wondered why you did it?

You wanted to know what happened next, right? But why? Was it just curiosity? Boredom perhaps? Maybe you had nothing better to do?

If you have binged on a TV show, you know that’s not it. You get an itch. There are unanswered questions. You need to know what happens next. You have to close the loop.

That mildly agitated mental state has a name in behavioural psychology. It’s called the Zeigarnik Effect, and you can use it to get more people to register for your events.

What is the Zeigarnik Effect?

Named after Soviet psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, the Zeigarnik effect postulates that people remember unfinished or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks.

Bluma was in a restaurant in Berlin when she noticed that the waiters could remember – in great detail – orders, requests, and even customers’ names, so long as the bill had not yet been paid. But, when asked about parties that had settled their tabs, the waiters could remember far less.

You know this effect yourself. When you have a task you haven’t completed, it stays in your head until you get it done. You’re heading out the door and you ask yourself, Did I unplug the iron?

You are 99% certain you unplugged it. But because you asked the question, you’ve opened a loop. Now It will stick in your head, and when you get to the office you’ll still be worrying about it. So you go back inside to double check. Now you’ve closed the loop and you can forget it.

How to use the Zeigarnik Effect in event marketing

There are a number of ways you can use the Zeigarnik effect to entice delegates to your events. Some are subtle, others have more in common with those dramatic Netfilx cliffhangers. Let’s take a look:


Harness the power of the progress bar

The best example of Zeigarnik effect in UI is the use of progress bars which inform users of how close they are to completing a task by letting them know they have two more steps left or by showing a completeness percentage along the journey. At AttendZen, all our registration journeys are split over 4 screens with a customisable progress bar at the top, precisely because this UI is proven to encourage customers to finish what they started: in this case to REGISTER!


Progress bar


Enticing email subject lines

It’s tough to get people’s attention in crowded inboxes. A good subject line can mean the difference between a full auditorium or a sea of empty seats. One of the lowest hanging fruit in Dr. Zeigarnik’s orchard is simply to ban yourself from ever using a full-stop in your email subject line. When you use a full-stop at the end of a subject line it signifies completion. And we don’t want that.

You could, however, ask a question:

‘Are you missing these 3 customer experience techniques?’

Or promise an answer inside your message:

‘This is the fastest way to grow your virtual event audience’

The idea is to inspire curiosity. Take the following email I got from Etsy (of all people) …


Etsy email with subject line Rock the colour of the year


This is deceptively clever. In just six words Etsy has managed to pique my interest. I must have bought something from them once. But this email isn't an invitation to buy clothing or jewellery or anything. It's an invitation to find out what the colour of the year is.

I didn’t know there was a colour of the year. And I don’t really care. But now they’ve mentioned it, I kind of have to know what it is. This email was too intriguing not to open. It opened a loop in my mind. Turns out it was ‘ultra violet’ by the way.

Now think how you could apply this approach to teasing information about your speakers, or your agenda. Here’s one I got from a conference in the automotive space:


Email with subject line The biggest threat facing automakers in 2021


What is the biggest threat? I can think of several. But what do they think it is? Will their take agree with mine? Loop opened. I click.

Copywriters call these teasers. Use the Zeigarnik effect to get your prospective attendees feeling they need to learn more and take the next step.

A word of caution though. To be effective, your teaser needs careful, creative thought and consideration of your target market. Do not go near tired phrases like ‘Your Winning Ticket is Enclosed!’ or ‘Whatever You Do, Don’t Delete This Email!’. This kind of nonsense just screams SPAM! It’s the email equivalent of shouting at cars in your dressing gown.

Remarketing ad copy

Sometimes even the best cliffhanger emails don’t get people to take action. Most of us put things off – especially a decision to sign up to an event that commits us to spending time and money.

That’s why we love retargeting ad campaigns. We love them so much, we wrote a whole article about them. Anyway, you can use the Zeigarnik approach in your retargeting banners to reignite that initial flame of curiosity. To do this, you want your banner copy to open another loop and get the prospective attendee thinking about what they started – but have not yet finished. Something like:


Banner announcing This is the ONLY reason you should attend MedTech 21


Hang on! I was already thinking of registering for this conference! I actually had several reasons (learning, networking, never been to Vegas etc.) But what is this ONLY reason I need? I’m intrigued! Loop opened.

Consider using teaser headlines in retargeting banners to get people to click through to your event website. Once they’ve clicked, make sure you take them to a strong landing page that answers the question in your teaser and drives them to register with no extraneous distractions. They’ve taken that first step and, in their mind, they want to complete the task.

Don’t give away the goods too soon

If you’re looking to promote further consumption of material you’re writing, focus on it being incomplete. Our natural desire to complete a task will result in the deeper content being read. Don’t disclose all of the value of your content right at the beginning.

Using blog posts, articles and whitepapers to promote the event? Break down content into smaller parts, making portions easier to digest and also to perpetuate the feeling that readers are ‘not yet done’.

Think about how to best take advantage of the user’s state of mind after having completed the ‘task’. Are there things they’d be more likely, able or mentally-free to do at the end of the task that they’d not be able to, prior to completion?

This email from fashion retailer Missguided is a great example of the Zeigarnik effect in action …


Missguided email showing Zeigarnik effect in action


Now, I am male, middle aged and have no interest in fashion. Yet somehow I want to click that button to find out about the free delivery. What’s that about?

Why this stuff works

Many event marketers are just too literal with their marketing material. They subscribe to the ‘build it and they will come’ mindset. They have a decent programme, good speakers, a nice venue. All they need to do is put that in front of people and they’ll get enough registrations.

But people don’t make decisions just based on what’s in their best interests. They don’t buy products just because they offer maximum utility.

People are driven by emotion, and our minds wander in random, unpredictable ways – especially online where there are so many places to wander.

When you tap into a mental pattern like the Zeigarnik effect, you guide your audience in the direction you want them to go. It’s subtle, but powerful.

So if your conversion rates are rather lower than you’d like. If people seem unresponsive to your ads. Try making them feel there is something they have to complete. Remind them of the task they have to finish. Open that loop they have to close.

Now you know about the Zeigarnik effect, you’re going to have try it in your event marketing. Otherwise it’s going to stay in your head and annoy you until you do.