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Steal Hollywood's Secrets to Boost your Landing Pages

Kim Brebach - Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Why Landing Pages and Hollywood films have lots in common

If you're a film buff you'll know the name Billy Wilder, the Hollywood writer/director who co-wrote and directed classics like Sunset Boulevard, Some like it Hot, The Apartment and Double Indemnity. Recently a post from Mark John Hiemstra at Unbounce called Direct Your Landing Pages Like a Hollywood Legend caught my attention. I investigate how much we can still learn from greats like Billy. 

Wilder had a set of 10 Rules for Writing Great Screenplays. Let's look at what they can teach us about landing page design.

The audience is fickle

An audience is never wrong,' Wilder used to say. ’An individual member of it may be an imbecile, but a thousand imbeciles together in the dark - that is critical genius.

In other words, don’t underestimate your audience just because you’re smarter than some of them. Those people can make you or break you – they can share and promote your content, or they can ignore or pan it. Radio shock jocks aim their message at the lowest common denominator, great content creators target the highest.

Grab ‘em by the throat and never let ‘em go

What would Wilder say about the internet, where an audience of one decides in 10 milliseconds if you’re worth listening to? The job of the landing page is to make them stay, and that’s extra tough when you’re marketing a new technology. Boredom sets in at the speed of light when your audience sees 'hi-tech' images they've seen before or tired clichés like 'breakthrough', 'leading edge', 'next generation' and the rest. Their throats will be long gone before you can even reach them.

So what do you do? You can make it fun, you can make it outrageous or hard-hitting, but your landing page must be utterly simple. Think of a runway, and a visitor trying to land her plane at night. She wants to know it’s the correct runway, wants to see clearly along the track and know that there’s a safe dock at the end.

That’s why good landing pages are minimalist in design, avoid clutter, show just the bare essentials, and answer these questions with the fewest possible words and the utmost clarity:

  • What have you got for me? (Your offer)
  • Why do I need it? (your Value Proposition)
  • Where do I get it? (the call to action - CTA)

Make sure the short CTA stands out, and choose a supporting image. Here’s an example

Develop a clean line of action for your leading character

The leading character on your landing page is not your technology or your company, but the woman in the plane looking for a clear runway and a safe place to dock. To make a quick decision easy for her, make sure nothing distracts her. No fancy video clips, cartoons or fireworks displays.

Resist the temptation to fill the empty space on the landing page by adding a couple more offers on the side, or a pointer to another resource. Giving visitors too many choices confuses them and makes it hard to work out what you’re offering. That’s a turn-off. Research has shown that even different type fonts on a landing page will turn visitors away. The ideal landing page gives visitors just one choice to make, so make sure your Call To Action is compelling.

Know where you’re going

This rule of Wilder's made me think about White Papers. Why? Because so many of them make us ask the question 'where are we going?' And often I’m only halfway through the first page when I ask. Kurt Vonnegut, one of my favourite writers, offered this advice: ‘Use the time of total strangers in such a way that they will not feel their time was wasted.’

That's good advice. A White Paper is no different to a film or book in many ways: you need a story to engage the reader or it will bore the socks off her. Stories have a common structure: a beginning, a middle and an end. Stories also make a promise to share something of interest or value with the reader, or a promise that she’ll learn something vital.

If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act

Like jokes, the White Paper's story has to be told the right way to work. The set-up is as important as the punch line. If you leave your reader with no idea why she bothered, the White Paper has failed. That’s why Wilder says: ‘If you haven’t set up the joke the right way, it doesn’t matter how well you deliver the punch line – it will fall on its face.

We’re offered white papers every day, and one of these was the perfect How-Not-To. It was from an IT company, and it was 29 pages long. Stop laughing, this is serious. Here’s what it contained:

  • First we had to wade through a long and tedious history lesson - why?
  • Then came a long-winded introduction to their technology, which read like a brochure
  • That was followed by a detailed guide on how to use their technology, which was neither an application brief nor a best practice guide
  • It ended with 2 customer case studies

I shudder to think what the IT company paid for this document. The set-up was sleep-inducing, the story line nonexistent, and I doubt any reader ever got as far as the punch line.

A White Paper is no Joke

This is not one of Wilder's rules, but jokes have to follow the same rules. A White Paper is no crime thriller either, so you can’t start the story with a murder. What you can do is to start by asking 2 or 3 direct questions that speak to a problem that keeps people in your target industry awake at night. That's the role of White Papers in technology marketing: to explain common challenges and offer fresh ideas and perspectives for dealing with them. The rest is standard story structure:

  • The set-up: questions that grab the reader
  • The promise: answers to the pressing problem
  • Define what the problem is, and why doing nothing is not an option
  • Describe how others have tried to solve the problem – use a couple of pertinent examples
  • Explain why those approaches haven’t worked – use expert quotes to support your stance
  • Show why a different approach can work – use more expert quotes
  • Explain what that approach consists of (elements that happen to be part of your solution)
  • Use a couple of strong examples that show how the approach works, with customer quotes.

Additional Reading

Unpacking Billy Wilder’s 10 Screenwriting Tips


Kim Brebach
Content Chief

I've always loved people and words. As long as I can remember, I've been a story-teller and the team here says I'm pretty good at it. That's probably why I head up the Content Team: I create the arc of the story and others add their magic. 


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