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Landing Page Lessons From Hitch

by Sam Tomlinson
June 3, 2024

Earlier this week, I found myself watching Hitch (which…strangely aged well for the most part) – and I was struck by the particular character’s (Alex Hitchens) “basic principles” shared throughout the film: 

  1. No one wakes up thinking, “Gee, I hope my life doesn’t get better today.”
  2. If you want to connect with someone, you first must understand them AND have a plan  
  3. 90% of communication isn’t the content of what you’re saying
  4. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no
  5. Any person can sweep another person off their feet with the right broom
  6. But none of that happens if you don’t put in the WORK

Each one of those is every bit as applicable to marketing as it is to dating – and it’s most apparent at the point where connection happens: landing pages. 

Now, by definition, a landing page is just the first owned experience a visitor has with your brand. Any page can be a landing page – but most pages are ill-suited to the purpose. What most marketers mean when they say “landing page” (or my preferred, “lander”) is: the first owned experience targeted traffic has with your brand, designed exclusively to achieve a specific outcome. 

Done well, a lander provides the environment for a marketing “meet cute” – a place where a visitor – perhaps hesitant, skeptical, curious or cynical – is swept off their feet and convinced to start a relationship with the brand. That’s the entire purpose of the lander: to create an environment where that connective magic can happen. 

For all of this to occur, we need to go to the “basic principles” from above: 

Principle #1: No One Wakes Up Thinking, “Gee, I hope my life doesn’t get better today” 

Most people aren’t actively trying to make their life worse. They aren’t trying to do more work, pick the wrong service provider, buy poorly-designed/ill-fitting clothes, send their kids to the wrong school, take the wrong class, negatively impact their health and well-being, or make poor financial decisions. 

In fact, it’s the opposite: most people are trying to make their lives better.

No sane person clicks on your ad thinking, “I hope this product is TERRIBLE and not at all what I need” or “I hope this restaurant’s website is downright dreadful” or “I want to see just how bad this plumber is (and I desperately need one of those!) – but I hope he’s horrendous!”

It doesn’t happen. People click on your ad because you’ve piqued their curiosity. You’ve hit on something that resonated with them. But resonance isn’t a choice or a relationship; it’s a response. 

But why aren’t people buying after clicking? 

Well, you (the brand, the advertiser) haven’t convinced your audience that your offer – the sum total of your product/service, positioning, value and price – is greater than the known quantities they have today (money in their pocket, the reputation on their name + the time in their day). This is the fundamental equation of commerce. B2B, B2C, whatever – the value of the variables changes, the equation doesn’t. 

Everything we do from a marketing, sales & customer experience standpoint MUST be directed at tipping this equation in favor of the brand. That’s it.

This is the primary function of a landing page – to provide an environment where people who have shown interest can receive the information they need to recalculate that expression and arrive at a decision. 

It isn’t that they don’t want to buy. It isn’t that they aren’t interested. It’s simply that they have determined that what you’ve offered them is not sufficiently valuable to justify the cost. 

I understand that it probably hurts to read the above statement. But the good news is that none of this is set in stone. The result of that equation can – and will – change IF you create the conditions for it to occur. 

Principle #2: If you want to connect with someone, you first must understand them AND have a plan

Marketing people have a terrible habit of thinking they know what people want instead of actually doing the work to understand what people want – and more importantly – why. If your goal is to create the kind of connection that leads to the above equation being re-balanced in your favor, then you better understand your audience better than they understand themselves. 

In fact, I’d go as far as to say that every successful landing page we’ve ever built has started with way-too-comprehensive research. In 95% of cases, the research done to inform ads + landers is surface-level at best – which results in non-differentiated, plain-as-wonderbread landers. 

Like anything valuable, nuggets of insight aren’t found by scratching the surface; they’re uncovered by mining deeper, by asking the more interesting questions, by going beyond what everyone else does in order to create something they’re unwilling to make. 

Our research includes (at least) four major components: 

  • Audience – it isn’t enough to jot down generic audience attributes (“college-educated millennials interested in sustainability”) – that’s boring. Basic. If you want to create an experience that compels your audience to re-evaluate their priors, you better come with more than that nonsense. Dig deeper. Talk to your audience (surveys, interviews, focus groups, whatever). Ask them for permission to watch as they scroll social and/or their discover feed. Find out their challenges, dreams, pain points and frustrations. And once you have some nuggets, investigate them. Browse those Reddit forums. Visit the publications. Follow the social accounts. Watch the YouTube channels. Immerse yourself in your audience’s bubble. 

    Yes, this is exponentially more difficult than spouting off generic demographics and stereotypical psychographics – but it comes with a payoff: true understanding of your audience comes with the benefit of being able to communicate with them in an authentic, natural way. And that’s something 95%+ of brands don’t have.
  • Competitor – Every brand has competitors. I’ve probably heard, “There’s no one who can compete with us!” 1,000 times. And 1,000 times, I’ve called bullshit. Here’s the hard truth: every brand has competitors (not just one). That competitor may not have feature, brand, scale or financial parity, but they exist. My default assumption for every lander is that (1) each visitor will compare us to at least 1 competitor and (2) that we’ll be held to the highest possible standard when that visitor evaluates our offer. 

    Therefore, it becomes our job to understand EXACTLY what each competitor is offering, how that competitor is positioning that offer, and (most importantly) the optimal way(s) – based on your in-depth understanding of the audience – in which you can respond to that in order to tilt your audience’s decision-making equation in your favor. Back in April, I wrote about counters – and that’s every bit as relevant today as it was then. 
  • Alternative – Not only does every brand have competitors – they also have alternatives. There is a method, a process, a product – however imperfect (in your view) – that your audience segment is using to address the challenge / pain point or achieve the objective right now. If your claim is to have a better way, then it’s imperative that your lander creates that comparison in multiple formats (imagery/visuals, text, charts/stats, reviews, etc.). 

    But beyond the “old” way, there’s another alternative that is often more difficult to overcome: nothing. Change nothing. Breaking inertia is onerous because familiarity and comfort are easy. Change is unknown, painful, difficult – and most people don’t like being uncomfortable. 

    Ask yourself this question: does my lander address this alternative? Is the cost of doing nothing so clear and so obvious to my audience that they leave the lander and think, “Whether it is these people or someone else, I need to make a change!”

    If you truly understand your audience, you’ll also intuitively grasp how to position your offer in a way that overcomes the inertia AND the other way(s) your audience ar
  • Experience – How often have you gone through your ad experience, just as a potential customer/client would? My guess: once. That’s not enough. 

    If you’re curious about all the things we do from a research perspective, I wrote about it here

Principle #3: 90% of communication isn’t the content of what you’re saying

1. The Loading Experience

If a person’s first impression of your brand is that you’re late – you’ve already lost. It does not matter how utterly marvelous your lander is IF the user has already clicked away by the time it’s ready for them. Speed kills more deals every day than bad offers, terrible creative and milquetoast copy, combined. 

2. The Aesthetic

To borrow a phrase from Simon Sinek, people don’t join brands; people join people. Your lander must visually convey to your audience – without a word of copy – that they are in the right place AND that your thing (service, product, whatever) is the kind of thing that people like them do/want/have/use. 

3. Show, Don’t Tell

Far too many landers rely on generic images with differentiated words alone to communicate value. This is back-asswards to how your audience actually absorbs information: images receive the majority of attention; only 10% goes to text. The best landers are the ones that visually show how they improve the lives of their audience. In practical terms, that means two things: (1) understanding what’s actually important to your audience and (2) finding a clear, clever way to showcase that in a static image. My to-this-day favorite image is this one: 

If you’re not in the audience, you won’t get it. But if you’re a shop owner, mechanic, woodworker, etc. – this image tells an entire story. For this audience, one of the biggest pain points is drawers that are unable to handle the weight of heavy tools, dies, and materials – resulting in lost time and non-functional space. This picture doesn’t say “our drawers hold 400 lbs” – it shows an actual large human standing IN the drawer. 

4. The Vibes

This is where unique imagery and content shine. At this point in the internet era, most people have seen most stock images. They know – and this is doubly true for younger, more internet-savvy users. If your users feel that the imagery + aesthetic is fake (stock, staged, airbrushed, whatever), you’re already losing credibility. It doesn’t matter how original, captivating and compelling your copy – it will not save you from bad vibes.

5. Social Proof

The entire point of social proof is to de-risk your offer for your audience. In order to do that, it needs to come from the kind of people or publications your audience is predisposed to trust. Unfortunately, since most brands don’t actually know much about their audience, this section defaults to either (a) random reviews or (b) the largest publications around. 

Case in point: I recently reviewed a brand targeting urban young mothers – and their “social proof” section prominently featured the Daily Mail and Fox News. Anyone see a problem? 

6. The Story

The overwhelming majority of lander visitors don’t read most of the content on your page; at best, they skim. At worst, they breeze through a few headlines, look at a chart, picture or quote, and make a decision. Your lander must communicate a captivating story within these constraints – not hope that you’ll change the visitor’s existing behavioral pattern. 

This reality makes clarity, coherence and focus your best allies: 

  1. Clarity: use standard fonts on an easy-to-ready background (white on black, black/gray on white). 
  2. Coherence: every block should both stand alone AND build on what has come before it. Prioritize things most important to your audience at the top of the page, and assume that the bottom of the page is a place your audience will never visit. 
  3. Focus: remove distractions – pop-ups, fly-ins, social icons, navigational buttons, all of it must go. Like a meet-cute, there is a small but distinct window of opportunity for the magic to happen, and anything that takes attention away from that must be ruthlessly removed.  

None of this is to say that the words aren’t absolutely essential – they are! Marketing is a game of inches; brilliant copy is often the difference between a successful outcome and an unsuccessful one, when the game comes down to the wire. The job of everything else on the lander is to make more games come down to the wire. The job of your copy is to allow you to win more of those games. 

Principle #4: Any person can sweep another person off their feet with the right broom

The internet (especially the DTV-verse) is littered with examples of high-performing landing pages – just like the broom aisle is chock-full of different brooms, all ready to sweep something to somewhere. 

What separates a successful lander from a failure is often the type of page made AND its congruence with the content of the ad(s) that drive to it. 

There are (at least) ~12 different types of landing pages, each one better suited to some audiences/products than others: 

  1. Showroom / Faux Homepage – feels like a homepage without the distractions or other links; centers all attention on the offer using bold imagery and big statements. 
  2. Pros & Cons (i.e. Reasons Why) – follows the formula: [X] Reasons Why [Audience] uses [Product/Service] for [Challenge/Benefit] – usually in a numbered, checklist style. Amazing for an audience that is methodical, rational and hyper-detailed. Less good for the impulse-driven people. 
  3. Little Bighorn – If your audience places massive value on the opinions of others, a Little Bighorn lander may be the right choice. These pages overwhelmingly showcase others – influencers, current customers, celebrities, publications – all with the singular objective of showcasing the product’s ubiquity among the “aspirational peer group” of your audience. The message: if you want to be like these people, you need to do this thing. 
  4. Quiz – for brands with complex products or significant brand-consumer knowledge gaps (wine, cosmetics, home services, education), a quiz is one of the best ways to (1) help your audience zero in on the right product/service AND (2) capture relevant information that can be leveraged later in the relationship to seal the deal. Winc + Jones Road Beauty both do remarkable jobs of leveraging this type of lander.  
  5. Listicle / Advertorial – These typically take the format of a pseudo news story, with the format of either [X] Reasons Why I Chose [Brand] for [Challenge/Purpose/Benefit] or How To Get [Desired Outcome] just like [Person/Celebrity] using [Product/Service]. As a reminder, if you’re using an Advertorial, it must be disclosed on the page. These landers thrive on authenticity, so you’ll have to include some drawbacks/negatives in order to build that credibility. If you know your audience, you should be able to identify the aspects of your product that can be sacrificed (i.e. use higher price as a negative if you know your audience is affluent + not price-sensitive). 
  6. Better Way – This style page takes direct aim at the alternative/incumbent, with a singular focus on why whatever your audience is currently doing is suboptimal. Almost all “better way” pages use a variant of this formula: Solve this [Old Problem] in a [New Way] with [Product/Service] OR The Better Way To [Solve Old Problem] without [Issues of Old Problem] with [New Product/Service]. 
  7. Comparison – This style of lander is commonplace in SaaS and FinTech, less so in many other verticals. It typically takes one of two formats: (1) a Head-to-Head Comparison ([Brand v. Brand]: Which One is Better For [Primary Audience]?) or (2) Take-on-The-World ([Brand] vs. [Everyone]: Why [Brand] Is the #1 Option for [Audience]). These landers typically rely on a combination of feature/benefit charts, third-party credibility and audience-centric framing to demonstrate how the brand is superior to its competitors. Works well for challenger brands in spaces where there are clear well-known competitors (else they can have the unfortunate side effect of adding new competitors to your audience’s consideration set). 
  8. Influencer / Celebrity Testimonial – if you’re running UGC from particularly well-known influencers/celebrities, it’s often valuable to have those individuals prominently featured on your lander – and even for them to help you design that lander. Why? Because their audience is joining them – so the lander should disproportionately feature the influencer/celebrity’s brand over yours. 
  9. Explainer – This one is pretty basic, but a must-use for brands with new or disruptive products. It does exactly what the name implies (explain what the product/service does), usually in a few formats (process diagram/chart, video, step-by-step text). 
  10. Comprehensive Guide – I wish these were used more often outside of technology + consulting. The format is straightforward: an in-depth, article-style lander focused on a specific challenge/pain point. The formula is equally simple: The Comprehensive Guide To [Relevant Task] for [Audience/Role/Challenge]. The challenge with these pages is usually striking the right balance between expertise + accessibility in the content. Most people looking for a comprehensive guide have some baseline understanding, but likely lack knowledge on the nuances/details/finer points. These landers work best with an information-hungry audience AND a product that has a relatively long consideration cycle (i.e. cars, software, homebuying, etc.).  
  11. Transformation (Before-And-After) – These pages are overwhelmingly used in verticals like beauty, fitness, home services and medical, but they have applicability far beyond that. A transformation lander typically relies on image pairs (a before + after) to illustrate the outsized impact of a product/service. The trick to making these pages work is ensuring that the content is both (a) reflective of your target audience’s current situation AND (b) the end-state is appropriately approachable-but-aspirational (i.e. if your audience is people who are mostly healthy, but want to get in better shape / lose those final 10 pounds, don’t show an obese person becoming a Victoria’s Secret model). 
  12. Better Together – This lander takes the “frequently bought together” concept to an entirely new level using the formula: How [Product #1] + [Product #2] Result In [Desired Outcome]. This lander works best for brands with low repurchase rates, as the primary focus of it is to turbocharge up-front revenue. The tradeoff this creates is that higher price = higher barriers to acceptance of the offer – so the page must anticipate and address each concern, while providing abundant social proof/testimonials/risk-reduction elements (i.e. X night free trial, no-questions-asked money back guarantee, etc.) 
  13. The Product Launch / Introduction – Ideal for when you’re introducing a new product to an unaware audience, this lander focuses on making an introduction: Introducing [New Product]: the revolutionary [product/service] designed to address [challenge] for [audience]. 

I’ve personally seen each of these page types perform exceptionally well – but that doesn’t mean you should run to create all of them. Instead, spend your energy understanding your audience – then pick the options best suited to addressing your audience’s particular challenges. 

Remember, the entire point of the landing page is to create an environment where connection between audience + brand can occur, so that the fundamental equation of commerce is rebalanced in favor of the brand.  

5. Principle #5: But none of that happens if you don’t put in the WORK

Landers are not a field of dreams: just because you built it doesn’t mean your audience will convert. 

If nothing else, I hope this issue has opened your eyes to the amount of work – time, money, energy, research – that goes into creating landers that legitimately move the needle for businesses. 

There are no quick fixes or cheat codes or shortcuts to remarkable landers. There’s just the work. 

Steph Curry famously shoots 500 shots a day. Hitch spoke with hundreds (probably thousands) of people to develop and refine his style to the point where he was able to finally get the girl. Why would you think your lander experience would be different? 

Landers aren’t a fire-and-forget missile; they’re a living, breathing, evolving organism just like the people they’re designed to convert. As people change – as their knowledge changes, their priorities change, their peer group changes, their celebrity obsessions change – so too must your lander (and your ad creative, and your offer). 

Remarkable landers are a wonderful way to create an environment where connection between audience + brand can occur. They’re not the only way. But I’d strongly advise anyone who hasn’t legitimately tried to create remarkable landers to do so, especially for paid media traffic. 

Until next time,


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