We’re starving for stories.

We’re dying to know what happens next.

From those nights thousands of years ago flapping our jaws around the fire, to the hypnotizing work of J.J. Abrams and Charles Bukowski, a particular plot device has hooked us all more deeply than any other.

It’s arguably the most powerful tool ever used to keep fiction, film, and poetic audiences impatient, twitchy, and breaking down the doors for more.

And we see clearly now that it was tailor-made for content marketing on the web.

There’s a lot that goes into a great marketing story, but what we’re talking about here is the ancient literary workhorse called …

The cliffhanger

Traditionally, the cliffhanger is a striking event that happens at the end of an episode, chapter, scene, or season of a story. It leaves doubt in the reader’s mind — usually regarding the fate of the protagonist — and all but forces them to come back to see what happens next.

In terms of online content, you want each “scene” to lead your readers deeper and deeper into the movie of your business.

In this media-cluttered world, your blog, emails, social media outposts, and offline activities have to be undeniably good — but that isn’t enough.

You’ll hook readers with a terrific headline … but you’ll get them to read your next piece with the way you wrap it all up.

Every piece of content has to leave them wanting more.

Arthur Conan Doyle put us (and Sherlock Holmes) through the wringer week after week in the pages of The Strand Magazine.

They couldn’t keep enough issues on the stands.

What if you ended each message in your email autoresponder with a fascinating teaser about all the great beneficial content they’re going to get in the next message?

The writers of Dallas (ask your parents) knew exactly what they were doing when they wrote the line “Who shot J.R.?”

Tortured viewers had to wait all summer to find out if the show’s wicked but charismatic main character lived or died.

What if you built mystery, anticipation, and fever around the release of your next product by building something that does so much for customers that they can’t wait to get their hands on it?

Fans of Lost were so impatient for next episodes of the show that they started posting their own scripts online to try and slake their thirst for it.

What if you sold something so valuable, and with such style, that your customers couldn’t help but become creative partners in the marketing of your store?

If you think you’re in the contracting, software, retail, graphic design, copywriting, or dry cleaning business, you’re wrong.

You’re in show business baby.

All the Internet’s a stage, and all the content creators merely players.

No matter what business you’re in, the best story wins. And one element of a great story is to leave ‘em hanging.

So who did shoot J.R.? Find out next season in the comments below …