C for Closure — Understanding People A to Z

My dad, after giving us a chore always says, “Keep me posted.” Another friend, keeps following up until that one thing she’s asked me to do, is done. What amazes me is that some tasks might not even be something she needs to follow up on. For eg: why does she care that I’ve thrown out my trash? Or that I went for a haircut this weekend like I’d told her I would.

So, I went on a quest to understand what is this need for closure? And how I can apply it to marketing. And here’s what I found.

The to-do list, also known as open loops, rests in our subconscious and nags our conscious mind, repeatedly. These tasks can be for the day, for the week or life.

“Learn Nihongo” | “Start working out” | “Buy that product” | “Wash dishes” | “Finish the report”

Over the course of the day, these mental loops can sap your mental energy and rob you of the present. Let’s understand it so we can solve it.

What is it and why does this happen?

Well, it’s called the Zeigarnik effect. Psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik discovered the effect studying under her mentor Kurt Lewin, one of the pioneers of applied psychology. They observed, and you must’ve too, that waiters display an unusual ability to remember complex orders.

But the truth is once those items are down on the table, meaning their task is complete, they almost immediately forget about it. In other words, they remember what they need to do better than tasks they finish.

Open loop — heavy recall.

Closed loop — very little or no recall.

Our brain thinks an unfinished task is important.

Zeigarnik further learned that if there’s an objective that we commit to pursue (an open loop), we’re highly motivated to close that loop in order to escape intrusive thoughts and feelings it causes.

While reading about this effect, I thought about what happens when we go through a breakup with unresolved issues. Our subconscious keeps reminding us to find closure and until we do, we can’t rest.

How do businesses use it?

  • Remember how Game of Thrones kept us anxious and lusting for more? Cliffhangers — classic technique of leaving us with an open loop, subconsciously seeking closure.
  • The best clickbait headlines do that too. Just reveal enough to open a loop in our brain. So, we must read it to get closure.
  • Quest-based video games are designed so that our list of tasks is never complete — get on a quest, open a loop, close that loop, get rewarded, get motivated for another quest, repeat.

Here’s a more familiar example of delayed closure.

While delayed closure can be used to hook consumers, immediate closure can be used to satisfy consumers.

When we delete trash from our Macbook, it makes a sound. A sound so satisfactory, it makes me feel like I’ve been cleansed. The blinking tick mark after money is transferred or ‘Success’ written in big and bold once a transaction is complete, are some of the tools I have noticed.

If you have examples on how closure can be used to make consumers happy, please share.



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