Listen & subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Google Podcasts

Today we’re talking about tripwires. What are they? Why do we use them? How do we use them well? I'll explain it all on this episode.

Just click play, and I'll meet you there.

Transcript & Shownotes

Naomi Explains... Tripwires

Welcome back to Naomi Explains Marketing, the show where I help coaches, consultants, experts, authors, and other associated nerds, geeks and misfits sell the contents of their brains for cash money. I am your host, Naomi, and today we’re talking about tripwires.

Let’s take it from the top.

A tripwire is an ultra-low priced product designed exclusively to turn a prospect into a customer. We will discuss this in more detail in a moment, but first, why in the hell is it called a tripwire? Yeah, about that…

In non-marketing terms, a tripwire is a hidden wire, placed close to the ground, so that if someone walks in a certain direction, they’ll trip, or trigger an event of some kind. They’ll get shot at, or an alarm will sound, or they’ll get doused in water, or some other undesirable outcome.


Well, tripwires in marketing were originally used in this way.

We used to use the term tripwire to refer to products that were offered when a visitor looked like they were about to leave a website or sometimes a mailing list. In its original usage, for example, they started moving their cursor towards the back button in their browser, or the little x to get out of the browser tab, and that triggered a marketing event called an exit intent pop up. The visitor was intending to exit, and a pop up would jump out of the digital woods and say, “Wait! Don’t go! I have cheap stuff you might like!”

Then they’d offer some absurdly valuable item for an absurdly cheap price – $9, $7, and $1 were the most common.

If it succeeded – if the offer was sufficiently compelling and valuable to the visitor – they’d buy it. Like magic! And then, bibbidi bobbidi boo, not only did you not lose a visitor, never to be seen again… you gained a buyer, the most important and valuable asset a business can have.

Eventually, we realized that selling good stuff for low prices to gain new customers is a very effective way to build a buyers list, regardless of whether anybody’s planning to leave, and marketers started using tripwires in all sorts of situations. And now the term is used to refer to any low-priced offer exclusively targeting new customers.

Now, why are we doing this?

When we have a store full of perfectly good products, why are we making a new one? And a new sales page? And a new back-end, and upsell, and, and, and? It’s a lot of work for $7. Why don’t we just, um, effectively market our main product or service without going through all this “extra product” nonsense?

Well, getting someone to buy a new thing from a new person is hard. There’s a ton of friction and perceived risk, only some of which is financial. (More on that in a moment.) But! If we bring the financial risk down to as close to zero as possible, that’s often enough to get them to go ahead and take the risk anyway. This is the “Screw it, it’s just a dollar. How bad can it be?” argument.

Because, after all our fancy avatar work, and all our fancy targeting work, and all our fancy surveying work, at the end of the day, the most likely person on this earth to buy your product… is someone who has already bought from you. Even if what they bought was only a dollar.

See, there are lots of reasons a person may not want to buy your proper thing right now. Your proper thing might be a course or digital product, it may be coaching, it may be a class, whatever. However lovingly we craft our nurture sequence, however strategically we write our sales pages, there are lots of reasons someone may not want to make the purchase of our big main thing today.

Why may they not want to buy it today? Well, there are the obvious reasons.

They don’t want it.

They’re not ready for it.

They can’t afford it.

They can absolutely afford it but they don’t trust you.

They absolutely trust you but they don’t trust buying expensive stuff from randos on the internet.

They are sensible with their finances and don’t spend three, four, or five figures just because someone suggested they might want to.

Those are the obvious reasons, and they account for a good number of the sales we’re not making.

But what about the less-obvious reasons? The ones with more nuance?

Like inertia. When you’re not doing something – taking your vitamins, bringing your own bags to the store, buying from me – continuing to not do that something is much easier than starting to do it.

Doing anything for the first time is hard. If someone has never bought from me, that first purchase feels risky to their nervous system. It doesn’t matter that there’s no financial risk – the nervous system is uninterested in our pesky logic. Because risk isn’t just financial risk!

People don’t want to risk getting their hopes up, or feel foolish. They don’t want to risk navigating a draconian checkout process. They don’t want to risk their spouse thinking they’re chasing wild geese. They don’t want to risk thinking they’re going to do your thing and then not do your thing and feel ashamed. Most risk is not financial. Brains don’t like risk. Your prospects have brains. Therefore, your prospects don’t like risk.

Remember, believing is different from knowing. They may believe your products are good – they have every reason to trust you. But being pretty sure a restaurant is good and having eaten at the restaurant are two completely different things. So anything we can do to make it easier and safer to step out of their existing reality and give you a try eases the transition from not customer to customer.

Once they’re a customer, they are likely to look at your proper offers from the perspective of the offer itself, not from the perspective of “this is different and my brain hates that crap”.

So. Tripwires. Good for reducing risk. Excellent.

Now, what do I want to see in a tripwire?

Obviously you can’t just take any old thing and slap a ridiculously low price tag on it. So what works for these offers?

There are three things I want to see in a tripwire, and I want them to be visible and obvious. That means I want to see them communicated in the sales copy, not just hidden away inside the product.

First, I want to see speed of absorption – I want something the buyer can consume in its entirety easily and fast. One session. Of course, there’s variability in that. A set of templates can be skimmed in minutes. Something with more editorial will take longer. But regardless of how long that session is, this is a one-shot. We want to give them the opportunity for closure, and they’re not going to get closure if your snazzy thing is collecting dust in a folder somewhere, waiting for them to “have time”. This needs to be easy and fast, and that needs to be obvious in the marketing literature. You don’t have to say, “This is easy and fast!” although you can if you want to. It just needs to be clear that this does not require much on the part of the buyer.

Next, I want actionability – like we said in the last episode on launch content, things people can use or do are better than interesting concepts they can think about. Maybe that’s a script they can use when they’re having a challenging conversation. Maybe it’s a workout plan. Maybe it’s a meditation audio. Doing is better than sitting around contemplating.

Last, I want completeness. In almost all cases, we don’t want this to be part of a greater whole. They shouldn’t have to buy more stuff to make this thing work. Are you going to upsell them to bigger things? Of course you are – that’s the point, and this isn’t a charity. But you’re not going to require the purchase of bigger things for this thing to function properly.

So let’s look at a few quick examples before I let you go for recess.

  • 55 Customer Service Email Scripts For Every Conceivable Situation – yes! It’s consumable in one sitting, because they’re going to skim. It’s actionable – they can make canned responses out of these things and start using them today. And it’s not part of something bigger. “Here’s some scripts. They’re scripts. We’re done here.”
  • Customer Service in the Digital Age – no! It may be fast and it may be complete, but it’s not actionable.
  • Journal prompts? Yes. Again, they’re short, they’re actionable, and they’re complete.
  • Why journaling matters? No. Probably not short, probably not actionable.
  • If you’re familiar with my products, Plug and Play Subject Lines – yes! Short, actionable, stands completely on its own.
  • The Ultimate Digital Marketing Template Pack? It’s actionable and it’s self-contained, but it’s not short. It covers too many areas to count as a tripwire.

Got it? Of course you do because you’re amazing.

So that’s tripwires. They reduce friction and risk, and give prospective customers something quick and easy they can do to give your great work a test drive.

Now, what’s coming up next on Naomi Explains Marketing? Next up, by multiple requests, I’m talking about social media marketing. I’m guessing that’s something you might like explained? I’m on it. Until then, take fantastic care of yourself.

Unlock the IttyBiz Freebie Vault – 15 premium resources you can use to instantly get your ittybiz growing!

Unlock the IttyBiz Freebie Vault!