Psychological Warfare I – Shutting Down Customer Concerns & The Zeigarnik Effect

The human mind is a strange yet powerful tool and if you are truly intent on taking your business to the next level, you need to become an amateur psychologist to unlock the triggers that will convert dubious prospects in adamant proponents of your business. In the end, sales copy is only successful if it leads to extra cash in your bank account at the end of each month.

Finding these psychological triggers is not easy and to create an in-depth analysis of the subject, I have created a 4-part series of hopefully informative posts. If you want success, you must get inside the minds of your prospects, find the relevant information and use it to your advantage. In this series, I will discuss how we react to loss, why we need enemies, the 6 pillars of influence and much more. In this first post, I look at eliminating customer concerns and the use of cliff-hangers to increase curiosity.

**A Warning**

Before I start, it is important to note that the psychological devices mentioned in this series are extremely powerful marketing tools but must be used sensibly because they can also be dangerous if used inappropriately. You are not using psychology to trick people into buying inferior products nor must you become a master manipulator. Instead, you are tapping into aspects of human nature that allow readers to happily become customers. It is your responsibility to use these triggers sensibly and morally and besides, psychological devices such as these will be ineffective if you can’t meet the basic needs of your target audience.

Pre-emptive Strikes

A real mistake made by organisations is an inability to react quickly enough to crises. All it takes is a handful of poor reviews and the Internet is awash with angry customers laying into your company. Only attempting to put out the fire at this stage is amateurish at best and lazy at worst. To benefit from happier consumers, you need to not only admit your shortcomings, you should also think about the objections prospects may have that prevent them from making the purchase. Doing this will alleviate fears because it shows that you see things from the customer’s point of view and this can be an invaluable marketing tool.

Shouldering the Blame

Do you want to be known as the company that makes excuses or do you want to have the reputation of being a trouble-shooter? According to Fiona Lee, a renowned social psychologist, companies are better off admitting their culpability rather than trying to pass the buck.

She created 2 fake reports where one company admitted its failure to make the right strategic decisions while another company blamed external factors. Lee found that the company which confessed to making mistakes received more positive feedback because investors admired it for not attempting a futile cover up operation. Blaming external factors such as the economy is seen by consumers as blatant excuse making. Believe it or not, saying ‘it’s our fault’ can actually increase your trust level among customers and ultimately yield an enhanced conversion rate.

Eliminating Customer Concerns Before They Are Issued

This requires research on your part and involves discovering the potential barriers that will prevent consumers from purchasing your products/services. Psychologists state that consumers are more likely to open up to a company that genuinely opposes their viewpoint and gives sincere reasons for doing so. Customers are more likely to listen to the company’s explanations and when this happens, you have quickly bypassed the initial ‘hostile’ barrier that prevents further exploration into your company.

It also strengthens ties with existing customers because you are acknowledging that there are possible alternatives but are also skilfully dismissing them in favour of your product. This ensures that customers feel more secure with their decision and this will only solidify their loyalty to your brand. For example, you may understand that your product is seen as expensive but you outline why it is worth the cost. Alternatively, you could admit that customers see a lack of experience in your business but you can show previous projects and allay their fears with examples of your work. Ultimately, you are addressing potential problems before dissenting voices are even heard and this only serves to enhance your reputation.

The Zeigarnik Effect

This phenomenon is named after the famed Russian psychologist of the 1920s who discovered that the human mind dislikes unfinished tasks. According to Dr. Bruma Zeigarnik, the human brain remains uncomfortable and continues to provide reminders to complete the task. In other words, we don’t like leaving incomplete tasks behind and our brain will continue to nag at us until the aforementioned task is completed.

How does this relate to marketing?

Website owners continually make the mistake of cluttering up pages with various items of interest. This distracts readers and makes them feel uncomfortable; a process that is sure to see them leave your page in frustration. Expert marketers know that you must stick to a single message and bring customers down the sales path. This is also known as ‘linear path’ copywriting and to achieve this, look at your existing sales pages and note how many buttons and links they have. Eliminate all unnecessary distractions and allow readers to focus on a single message.

If your copy is filled with advanced terminology that readers may not understand, add in mini links to pop-up windows that quickly and concisely explain the term. This allows readers to continue on the linear path; the alternative is allowing them to become confused and leave your sales page to find out what the terms mean or more likely, permanently leave your website.

Arousing Curiosity

You can use the Zeigarnik Effect to your advantage too. As well as ensuring that you employ a single message, you can increase your conversion rate by adding a ‘cliff-hanger’ to your sales copy. Adding an uncompleted thought to your sales copy can annoy readers in a good way; now they want to know what you’re about to say and will click to find out more. For example:

The one simple change that company X made that transformed them from regional store to international superpower. Find out more by clicking here.

Email marketing is another great arena for making people curious and you need teasing headlines to get people to open your email in the first place. For example:

Your business is failing because...

This is simple but effective because business owners looking for success will be curious. It only takes a few seconds to open and scan so there is a good chance they will bite.


The human brain may be powerful but we are incapable of using its full capacity or anything close to it. As a result, we are generally only able to concentrate on a single major thing at a time so when it is attacked by several thoughts, it makes presumptions that certain suggestions are actually facts. Therefore, using the power of presupposition in marketing is likely to yield success.

For example, you could be selling yet another product/service to help a business make money and say this in your copy:

What will you do with the extra £50,000 your company earns this year?

The question assumes that you will earn an extra £50,000 this year and is actually asking you what you’re going to do with the money. The answer this question, the brains of your readers must assume that they will actually earn that money and now they are more concerned about what they will do with the windfall.

Can’t you see how this is more effective than: ‘Earn an extra £50,000 per year’?

The former tells you that the money is in the bank whereas the latter comes across as yet another desperate attempt to sell a dodgy money making scheme.

Ultimately, presuppositions help to add a veneer of respectability to what you are saying and readers assume that the statements made are true. Instead of trying to vainly sell something, you are deemed to be stating things as fact and now your arguments are given a greater deal of credence.

That concludes part I but the subsequent parts are ready to go so come back to find out about how the 6 Pillars of Influence can transform your marketing campaign from ‘also-ran’ status into a quantifiable success.