Suspense and Payoff in Online Marketing Materials

by Michelle Salater on June 29, 2012

Russian playwright Anton Chekhov famously said that if you show a gun in the first act of a play, you must have one of your characters fire it by the end. While the advice was intended for writers of stories and stage dramas, it provides valuable guidance for entrepreneurs who write their own marketing copy, too.

Here’s your guide to creating suspense in your marketing content so your list can enjoy a satisfying payoff.

  • Create a long-term plan. You won’t be able to hint about the future if you’re not sure what’s coming down the pike for your business. Before actually creating suspense in your marketing materials, you’ll need a long-term strategy in place. Once you have that plan, you can allude to future events long before they happen.
  • Hint early and often. Sprinkling hints about upcoming events will not only pique your audience’s curiosity but also increase their sense of familiarity with the events, products, and services that you eventually introduce. Use hints liberally, but don’t follow a formula for foreshadowing—as with anything else, your audience will learn to tune out repetition.
  • Include narratives in your marketing materials. Soap operas are infamous for stringing audiences along with cliffhangers and unresolved plots that span months and even years. Follow their example by starting stories in emails and blog posts that you leave unfinished—when your list sees the next communication from you, they’ll be eager to open it to find out what happens. (Hint: make your stories compelling, but don’t forget that they have a purpose, which is ultimately to sell something. Keep all narratives focused on the endgame.)
  • Live up to your own hype. If you’re hosting a free webinar in two months, it’s okay to drop hints about the event before you officially introduce it. But if you imply that what’s coming will completely change the lives of your list or cause a dramatic and immediate boost in their monthly revenue, and don’t deliver on your promise, your list will quickly learn to distrust and ignore what you say. Be realistic about your claims, and live up to them.
  • Keep your goal in mind. Creating suspense and payoff in marketing materials can do wonders for your email open rates. But remember that if your list is not clicking through once they open (i.e., they want to hear the story, but they aren’t interested in forking over money), then you need to tweak your campaign. Suspense and payoff are a means to an end, not the end in themselves.

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