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The “tripwire” is one of those horrible, jargon terms that make even my most hardcore marketing friends cringe. If you’re wondering, “What is a tripwire?” let me break it down in real-human-person language:
A tripwire is a low-cost offer that’s designed to turn a member of your audience into a customer quickly. When that happens, the exchange of value changes the relationship: once someone trusts you with their cold, hard cash and you deliver value in return, they’re more likely to take you up on a more premium offer than someone who has never made a purchase.
The role your tripwire plays in your value ladder
Ugh, I know, “value ladder” — more marketing lingo. But hear me out because this one is a goodie because it’s a visual metaphor for exactly what it is and that helps you remember it (and put it into practice).
A value ladder is simply a series of offers that guide people from “complete internet stranger” (who are you again?) to loyal customer and raving fan.
The idea is that each offer increases in price and value and meets them where they are in their decision-making process (to hire you or make a purchase).
When they first encounter you, it’s highly unlikely they’re going to be ready to commit to a purchase. At this stage, they’re probably only willing to invest a bit of their time to read a blog post. Then, if the blog post was valuable to them, hopefully they’ll be willing to give you their email in exchange for a free offer.
You’re building trust, they’re getting warmer, and we’re on our way.
A tripwire is a bridge between your free content and your marketing emails
Now, what most people do at this point is to start sending out newsletters to “stay in touch” until they’re ready to take the next steps. And that’s fine, I do that too, but we all know the chances are very likely that this person will be one of the 75-80% who, on average, doesn’t even open your emails.
Enter… the tripwire.
By making an irresistible offer right away, a percentage of those people who sign up for your list will become a customer. And a customer is different than a random person who doesn’t know or trust you who signed up for your list.
Now, before you start getting dollar signs in your eyes…
Yes, you can make money selling tripwires. (Some people make a lot.) But the most valuable role your tripwire plays is to earn trust. So come at it from that angle and make that the primary goal.
If you offer some flimsy thing that doesn’t have a whole lot of value… they might not be too upset if they didn’t pay a lot for it, but you’ve blown your chance to retain a customer and maximize value for the long run.
In the following illustration, I’m calling the tripwire an “intro offer.” (This is the exact ladder I teach in my Bullseye Offer Formula course). It’s the first time you’re putting a price tag on the value you provide — higher in value than your free offers (blog posts, freebies, webinars, etc.) and less than your 1-1 services. It needs to be a (digital) product of some kind (not a discounted consultation or service) so you’re able to scale and make the best use of your time.
For more info: If you’re interested in learning more about the value ladder and how you can use it as a system to attract clients, check out my free masterclass. There, I go into more detail about what’s involved at every step and the results of my first tripwire.
Tripwires provide a way for hesitant customers to vet you
This is an unexpected surprise I learned about tripwires after implementing them into my business.
I expected people to buy them as part of the natural flow of a very simple marketing funnel (blog post > opt-in freebie > tripwire offer) but what I didn’t expect was that by having them available on a products page as well, people who were sussing me out and considering me for my higher priced 1-1 services chose to purchase one of my digital downloads as a first step.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten on a sales call and they start with, “Yeah I read your book…”
Sometimes what they purchased had nothing to do with what they wanted to hire me for. (For example, one client purchased a guide I wrote about mindset and what he ended up hiring me for was to create his brand identity and messaging.)
I realized that it wasn’t so much that I had earned their trust and they went up the value ladder, it’s that they were eyeing the top rung of the ladder and skipped back down to the low-priced offer as a way to overcome final objections and lingering doubts.
And that? Makes sense. Whatever works. 🙂
Use tripwires to help you gauge interest in larger offers
You can get creative with tripwires and use them to validate other ideas you have for larger product or service offerings. Here’s how I did just that with one of my tripwires…
First, let me just give you a super quick example of what I mean by “solves a specific problem.” One of my tripwires is The Font Personality Swipe File. The problem I identified is that it’s a pain in the ass to find the perfect Google font combination when designing websites or branding, it can be a huge time suck.
So I spent a couple of days and researched every single Google font out there and I created a swipe file of 75 combinations using a brand personality framework so people could do a quick exercise and then find a bunch of suitable options.
I didn’t create a gigantic typography or brand identity course — that’s solving the problem too far. I just offered a quick win for one specific problem. If people gobbled that up? I had several other ideas for digital products I could create that would solve their problem further. In that scenario, the larger product would be an “upsell” to the lower offer but I can test the waters a little bit to gauge interest using a tripwire first.
For those who purchase, I can make good assumptions about them. They’re either DIYing their brand or they’re designers or people who offer design services.
Tripwires can be a great way to understand your audience and what they need help with, and it doesn’t cost you a lot of time to put together.
Plus, keep in mind that even if a tripwire flops, chances are good you’re going to make some sales to offset the costs of creating it.
Repurpose a tripwire and use it as a bonus for larger offerings
Once you’ve created a tripwire, if it naturally relates to another product or service you offer, you can easily throw it in as a bonus. An example is my Brand Story Blueprint. This is a low-cost offer I created that helps people get clarity about their brand positioning and write their key brand statements.
This relates naturally to my branding services and asks a lot of the same questions I ask my clients in the early stages of working with me. So, it’s kind of a no brainer for me to include it in my lead offer, which is my initial branding project assessment, The Brand Plan.
A friend of mine has a catalog of digital products and she uses her tripwires as bonuses for her larger courses. She also uses them to “downsell” — offering them to people who didn’t want to commit to her higher price tag offers.
What makes a great tripwire?
A great tripwire is a low-cost offer ($50 or less) but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be incredibly valuable — in fact, it should provide much more value than the price you put on it. Some internet marketers offer tripwires at 12, 7, 5… even $2! Remember, the first goal isn’t revenue, it’s trust.
It should help your customer solve a problem a little bit of the way and give them a quick win and that problem should relate to your free content and your paid offerings (see value ladder above).
So think about…
- What problems do you solve? (With your 1-1 services.)
- What problems do they have?
- What’s the outcome or transformation they want?
Then think about…
- How can you break this problem down and solve one specific aspect of it?
- What can you create that’ll have a huge payoff and be useful to them (for example save them time or money, or help them achieve a goal)
- What would be relevant to your most popular blog content and how can you help them take the next steps?
👉The key to a great tripwire is that it solves a specific problem. Don’t go wild and start solving all of the problems your dream clients have. Make it hyper-relevant to your content and services and aim to give them a quick win.
Examples of Tripwires you can create easily
Since we’re talking digital products here, we’re talking about content and that can come either as…
- Written content
- Audio content
- Video content
- A combination of all three (like a small course)
Once you have an idea for what you can create, play to your strengths and choose the format that will be most useful to your audience.
- It might be an interactive .pdf or a .pdf guide, calendar, or swipe file.
- It might be an audio guide that people can listen to in their car or while at the gym
- Maybe it’s a video masterclass or tutorial
PDF Workbooks, Swipe files, Checklists, etc.
You don’t need special software or design skills to create a .PDF — just hop on Google Docs and start creating! Then, save it as a .PDF and voila!
Or, if you want to give them a professional, branded look — I always love to recommend Biz-in-a-Box templates and training for Canva. Canva is free (there’s also a pro plan that’s super affordable).
With Biz-in-a-Box, you get up & running super fast with Canva and making products because she includes video tutorials for how to design them (they’re not very long either, it’s easy), and a heap-ton of templates (not just tripwires, but everything you need to market them and your business too).
For tripwires specifically (she calls them “products”) you get templates for ebooks, workbooks, checklists & worksheets, ebook covers, and opt-in graphics.
In fact, I just remembered I had the creator hop on a Zoom with me to demonstrate it as a bonus for my course. I just made that module a free preview so you can check it out here (and listen to my dorky voice): Design Your Free & Intro (Tripwire) Offers in Canva.
Admittedly, I’m no audio expert so if you’re a podcaster or have experience with this, just fast forward, nothing to see here.
I keep it cheap and easy by using QuickTime (already installed on my computer) to record audio.
I don’t have a fancy-pants microphone (yet) and I don’t think you need to to get started. I either use earbuds that have a microphone built-in (these ones from Apple work great) or my Blue Snowball. I haven’t personally tested this one, but supposedly this Samsung mic is better than the snowball and similarly priced.
I wouldn’t go crazy investing in expensive microphones to start, but if you’re “one of those people” and only top-shelf will do, I’ve heard great things about the Rode Podcaster, you might check that out.
Back to what’s important though: that you’re helping them solve a problem. If you can do that, people will forgive audio quality issues.
For editing, I already had Adobe Premiere Pro (because I subscribe to the Adobe Creative Cloud) and even though it’s really for video editing hey, it edits audio files too so I go with that. If you don’t have the Adobe suite, check out Audacity.
To sell an audio file, you can use Gumroad. Just sign up for an account (you can use the free plan to start — they just take a bigger cut of any sales, upgrade when you’ve got everything cooking and grooving).
Video tutorials, workshops, masterclass, small drip course
If you can teach something that’s better presented in video format, you could create a video presentation or a series of smaller videos to be delivered as a “drip course” (for example one short lesson delivered each day for a fixed number of days).
It could be something as simple as collecting payment using PayPayl, hosting your videos as “unlisted” on YouTube, and then creating an automated series of emails that link to the videos with a tool like MailerLite or ConvertKit.
Both email tools make creating automated sequences easy but my preference is MailerLite if you’re just getting started with something like this because it’s free until you hit 1,000 subscribers.
The easiest way I know how to host and sell videos, though, is to set it up in Teachable. You upload the videos directly into the lesson and they handle all the hosting for you, you can even set it as a “drip” course. It’s also extremely user-friendly for people who are consuming your content and works on all devices. If you have supplemental text, checklists or workbooks or documents — you can upload them as well. Easy-peasy.
Plus they have an option to handle VAT for you if you sell to people in the EU. Same for Gumroad. Who wants to mess around with all that?
Side note: I know there are lots of great membership sites and digital product e-commerce solutions out there that I’m not mentioning. I’ve done tons of research and have used lots of technologies for client projects. But, I use these in my own business and I’m a huge fan of choosing the easiest solutions to start — my feeling is, tech headaches and frustrations are not a good use of time until the revenue justifies it.
How to set up a simple marketing funnel using a tripwire
Once you’ve created your low-priced digital product, you can’t just stick it on a “products” page on your website and expect people to buy it. Some may, but most people will miss it. The idea is to present them with an offer they can’t resist at exactly the right moment.
Remember that this is the bridge between your free offers — usually, that’s a blog post > free opt-in incentive — and your email marketing content.
Adding a tripwire will look like this, then:
Free content > Free opt-in incentive > Tripwire > Email marketing
Where exactly does it “GO,” though?
Well, it needs to happen immediately around the time they sign up for your email list when they’re most engaged, so it’s normally done in one of two ways:
- It’s presented on the “thank you” page that you redirect people to after they opt-in to your email list
- It’s offered in your welcome email
Either way, you’ll want to create a sense of urgency or scarcity. If it’s just a low-priced offer that they can get any old time any old where they are unlikely to take action and become a customer quickly (the goal).
To create urgency and scarcity for something that really isn’t scarce (a digital product can be sold an infinite number of times), the OFFER must be scarce and/or time-sensitive.
For that, you’ll need a couple of tools. There are all kinds of expensive funnel products out there but with a bit of creativity you can easily set this up yourself to just get started with it.
Method 1: The One Time Offer Page
How this works is immediately after they sign up for your mailing list, you’ll send them to a “thank you” page. Most email service providers have this functionality.
But instead of just a simple “thank you” message, you’ll also present a special offer… you might call it:
- An exclusive offer that’s not available anywhere else
- A one time offer that won’t be made again
- A limited time offer for new subscribers
STEP 1: Create a landing page
A landing page is different from a normal web page because you’ll remove all distractions with the exception of your offer. That means it should have no header navigation, no footer, no links to other things, no “follow me on social media” — just the offer.
I recommend learning how to set up landing pages on your own domain because to me, committing to using a third-party landing page service (which are usually not cheap) is a monthly expense that’s not worth it.
Also, every time I land on one of those types of “lead pages” or “click funnel” type pages it feels a bit spammy to me… like, “YOU’RE IN MY SALES FUNNEL AND I’M HERE TO TAKE YOUR MONEY!” If you’re using a service like this already don’t sweat it — maybe it’s just me. I personally just think when someone creates their own it’s a more authentic, more pleasant user experience.
The WordPress theme I use is Divi and making a landing page is as simple as choosing the “blank page” template. Then, I just use their visual drag-and-drop editor to set up the page. (It also comes with pre-designed landing pages if you want to get fancy about it.)
STEP 2: Integrate a countdown timer
I know you’re probably thinking “Oh no, those cheesy things?” but without them, there’s no real urgency to take action. But here’s the thing… you mustn’t just put a countdown timer that doesn’t really expire the offer.
You need to use one that legitimately offers it for a limited time and if they don’t buy, the page expires.
An affordable option I use and have been pretty happy with is Countdown Dynamite. It’s a simple plugin that integrates with WordPress and is easy as pie to set up. You just turn it “on” on any page where you want it to appear, tell it how long you want the timer to run (e.g. 15 minutes) and then the page redirects to a page of your choice once that timer runs out. For $9 bucks it’s a bargain and definitely gets the job done.
The ONLY thing you need to be aware of is that when your countdown timer runs out, it runs out for YOU too and if you’re working on the page, it’ll tell you time is up and redirect you! 😂Either work fast or just be aware you need to turn it off while working or go into your post to clear cache and restart the timer.
If you’re really serious about it, go for Thrive Ultimatum. I’m a huge fan of the Thrive products, they always exceed my expectations and are obsessively conversion-focused. The price tag with these guys is always been a bit *ouchie* but I usually kick myself for trying to hobble things together cheaply once I finally give in.
Method 2: The Email Offer
The other way to do this is after they’ve signed up for your email list, to make them a limited time offer and put the countdown timer right in the email itself. For that, you’ll need something like Deadline Funnels.
Keep in mind that when people opt-in to your mailing list, they’re MOST engaged in the initial emails you send them. When you send them a welcome email, you can make them a limited, one-time exclusive offer there.
Or, you might set up a welcome sequence where you build interest for your tripwire, warm them up to the idea, maybe offer it first without a timer, and then offer a “last chance at this price” email with a timer.
There are a lot of ways to go about this and I’d experiment a bit… if one method isn’t working, try another! That’s what conversion optimization is all about — testing and tweaking until you get a certain % of people raising their hands for the offer.
Then, once you get that sorted out, it’s just a matter of getting more people to that offer. (Another story for another day!)
I hope you found this helpful! Please let me know if you have any questions in comments. Have fun with tripwire marketing!
Taughnee Stone is an award-winning designer, brand strategist, and location-independent business owner for over 15 years. Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, she now lives in Croatia with her husband, energetic Samoyed, and three bossy cats.