Negan wielding a bloody baseball bat…
The West Wing staff in disarray after shots ring out and a Secret Service agent shouts, “Who’s Been Hit…?”
The hatch door opens and the survivors of flight 815 peer into the depths of the earth…
Cliffhangers are the ultimate in cognitive dissonance. We hate them when they occur because we crave a resolution and are forced to wait for months to obtain one (unless you binge-watch later). But we love the explosion of feels we experience when the next series finally begins and the cliffhanger is settled (regardless of whether the outcome is good or bad).
No surprise, then, that marketers love using cliffhangers.
If we can put our prospects in a state of suspense, we’ll stay in their mind for far longer, and we’ll find it easier to convince them to take action than if we deliver a message that is merely interesting or useful.
Yet there’s a right way and a wrong to use cliffhangers in a squeeze page video. What many marketers consider to be a cliffhanger is, in reality, just a tease.
And teasers and cliffhangers are NOT the same thing.
The former will have limited effect and run the risk of irritating your viewer, whereas the latter…
…is how you achieve opt-in rates of close to 50%, or even higher.
But how can you tell if the suspense you’ve engineered is a tease or a cliffhanger?
Read on to find out…
(Was that a cliffhanger? Oh, yes… I think it was)
Tease Vs. Cliffhanger
If you’ve been following this article series from the start, you already know how to create an introductory hook that will capture your viewer’s full attention and how to use an audience proxy to create a connection between you and your audience.
So, at this point in your video, you’ve introduced a problem or a tricky question, and the assumption is that you have the expertise to produce a satisfying answer.
Here’s where people mess this up…
They follow up the presentation of the problem by saying, “to get the answer to this question, just enter your email address below.”
Or, “to discover the solution to this problem, just enter your email address below.”
And that, my friends, is NOT a cliffhanger… it’s a tease.
Yes, I’m making a bit of semantic distinction, but it’s a sizeable one.
Because, for a cliffhanger to TRULY be considered a cliffhanger, it has to be specific. It has to take you part of the way there BEFORE it leaves you hanging.
Consider the opening cliffhanger examples…
Season Six of The Walking Dead concluded with Negan killing someone in cold blood, with the audience experiencing the horrifying act in a first-person POV.
But what if the season had finished a few moments earlier? What if the season had concluded with Negan merely threatening to kill someone?
Think how different the post-season conversations would have been.
Is Negan going to kill someone? Is someone going to swoop in and save the day? Is the whole thing just a threat to scare the group?
But by creating a cliffhanger in which someone is clearly bludgeoned to death, the conversation was all about WHO died? For months, YouTube was filled with people offering their predictions based on the position of the trees in the background, possible clues earlier in the episode, even slowing down the background audio to try and pick out recognizable voices.
Can you see the difference?
If the ending had been a mere tease – is Negan going to kill someone – you don’t get anywhere near the level of rabid suspense created by the cliffhanger where Negan has DEFINITELY killed someone, but doesn’t reveal who.
In The West Wing example, the season could have ended with the shooter lining up a shot, leaving you to wonder if someone is going to stop the attack. But instead, the shots ring out and an agent shouts “Who’s been hit?”
Not, “has someone been hit,” or “is everyone okay?”
“Who’s been hit?”
Leaving you in little doubt that SOMEONE has been shot. We just don’t know who and how severely.
And, finally, the flight 815 survivors staring into the opened hatch…
The season could have ended with the explosion and left us wondering whether or not the hatch door had been compromised. But instead you have the faces looking down the shaft, the camera panning away from their puzzled faces, leaving us to wonder…
What are they looking at?
Tune into the disappointing Season Two to find out… And we did. And we were disappointed.
Note: I actually think this is a fairly weak cliffhanger, but I’ll explain why…
The point is that we tuned in. Because we HAD to know what they were looking at.
That’s the difference between a tease and a cliffhanger. You have to take the audience part of the way there.
So, when you’re producing a squeeze page video and you say, “enter your email address to see the answer to the question I just raised,” this is too vague a promise.
What you must do instead, if you want to harness the cliffhanger effect, is ANSWER the question, or reveal the solution…
But in such a way that you leave the audience incomplete.
Give it Away
If I come to you and say that I know a software program that will solve all your money problems, and that I’ll tell you what it is in exchange for your email address, you’re probably going to ignore me.
But if I come to you and say that the secret to solving all your money problems is a budgeting software that will fundamentally change the way you think about the relationship between your incomings and outgoings. And that, in exchange for your email address, I’ll show you a demonstration of how it helped one struggling family triple their disposable income, simply by making one change to their budgeting strategy…
That, in a nutshell, is the difference between a tease and a cliffhanger.
The first example is so vague, it’s virtually meaningless. But the second REVEALS that the answer is a budgeting software program, and the cliffhanger is wondering what this “one change to their budgeting strategy” might be.
When creating a squeeze page video, it’s easy to become anxious about giving too much away too early. But being stingy with the information you share will simply make it harder for people to trust and respect you.
The trick with this approach is to give away SOME of the goodies, but hold enough back that it creates a cliffhanger.
Introduce the solution, answer the question, and only then are you ready to suggest an exchange of email for further information.
At Genndi, one of our favorite cliffhanger methods, is to answer the question directly (to solve problem X, you must engage solution Y), but then explain that there’s a right way and a wrong way to implement the solution.
And we’ll happily reveal the RIGHT way, in exchange for an email address.
I kind of did this already in this article when I explained that a cliffhanger is a great marketing tool for squeeze page videos, but that there’s right way and a wrong way to use this technique. And you had to keep reading to discover the correct way.
And I know that compelled you to keep you reading because you’re reading this now…
(See how these cliffhangers work?)
It Had Better Be Good…
One final rule of cliffhanger use in squeeze page videos…
The reveal MUST live up to the hype!
If you convince someone to hand over their email address so they can resolve the cliffhanger you’ve presented, you must deliver what you’ve promised and it must be worth your customers’ time.
I know this is obvious. It’s like saying your product had better be good or no one will buy it.
But, because it’s so powerful and effective, it’s easy to overuse the cliffhanger technique and get lazy with the quality of what’s on the other side of the squeeze.
In the TV show examples cited in this article, the Lost cliffhanger is easily the weakest, not just because it’s a little too vague and open-ended (which it is) but because the resolution in the next episode was quirky, but ultimately a letdown with no answers to the questions posed in the previous season.
It’s VERY difficult to make an effective cliffhanger, when the resolution is sketchy at best.
By contrast, while no one enjoyed the first episode of The Walking Dead Season Seven, no one could deny that it delivered the harrowing, misery-porn experience that the cliffhanger promised.
All that’s left for your squeeze page video is the call-to-action.
That should be easy, right?
Your audience is anticipating your “to be continued after you hand over your email” message. Doesn’t that mean there’s a risk of your viewers allowing their attention to wander, just as you get to the most important part of your video?
The solution is to, once again, circumvent your viewers’ expectations and surprise them… one final time.
In the next article, I’ll show you how to accomplish this.
Was that ANOTHER cliffhanger? Oh, yes… I think it was…