The Art of Zen Copywriting – Part 1

September 15, 2011 by Dean Rieck
Filed under: Copywriting Tips 

zen copywritingI originally wrote this 2-part post for Copyblogger. But I thought readers here may enjoy it as well.

If you’re like most copywriters, you truly want to help your clients (or help yourself) sell more products and services.

Your instinct will be to write the sort of hard sell copy you’ve seen so much of, because you will assume that’s what always works. But will it? Maybe. Maybe not. The trouble with hard sell is that it’s overused, it can destroy your credibility, and many copywriters just don’t feel comfortable being so aggressive.

So what do you do?

I’d like to show you a different approach to selling that turns conventional wisdom on its head, replacing hard sell with a less aggressive and more natural way to write copy. We’ll call it Zen Copywriting.

But first, let’s look at exactly why hard sell isn’t always the right answer.

The Limitations of Writing Hard Sell Copy

Most of the techniques for hard sell copy come from the world of “direct response” marketing, which is the business I work in. Often, this sort of selling can be highly aggressive. We want to “capture” the attention of our audience, “push” their hot buttons, and “force” them to act immediately.

It’s a good approach. It’s based on sound Behaviorist principles that do, in fact, work. We operate with the functional analogy that copy is a “sales person” speaking to prospective buyers. We want our sales person to coax, urge, persuade, and sell just like someone going door-to-door.

However, this is only an analogy, a way of thinking about what we do. It is not reality. Unlike face-to-face sales, words can’t force anybody to do anything. A car salesman can grab you by the lapel and sit you down in the vehicle he wants to sell. He can, to a certain extent, push you past many of your doubts and objections with an aggressive approach and make a sale. But written words can’t be that forceful.

In copywriting, there is a line beyond which the aggressive approach cannot take you. When you reach this limit, it’s time to think of a different analogy.

Zen Copywriting: The “Passive” Approach to Selling

Let’s reverse our typically aggressive thinking that casts us as the hunter and our prospects as the prey. Instead of thinking “I’m going to capture a sale,” think “I’m going to remove the barriers to buying and allow people to follow their natural inclination to make purchases from me.”

No, I’m not wearing a tie-dyed shirt and hugging trees here. I’m just talking about understanding the modern consumer and writing copy in a way that’s more natural and appealing to a wider segment of your audience.

Consider a few basic principles:

Principle #1: Your readers WANT to buy from you. We live in a highly evolved consumer culture. Shopping and buying is the modern equivalent for the hunting and gathering of our ancestors. People don’t just buy necessities, the majority of purchases today are discretionary. Luxury cars, smart phones, designer clothing, gourmet food, books and magazines for every interest. People are in a daily frenzy to purchase products of every kind, including yours.

Principle #2: You CANNOT force anyone to do anything they don’t want to do. No matter how good your copy might be, it is not endowed with magic powers. For all the huffing and puffing we copywriting gurus do about persuasive communications, the reality is that you can’t force a sale with words. The best you can hope for is to capitalize on an existing need or want and turn it into a buying action.

Principle #3: Selling does not require brilliant copywriting. (Don’t tell my clients this. It will be our little secret.) Since people are natural consumers, we don’t need clever ideas to sell them our products and services. They are actively looking for things to buy, because they want to solve problems and better themselves. Yes, there’s a certain amount of want-making you can do, but you’ll find much more success if you offer items for which there is an established need or want.

Principle #4: You must remove the barriers to buying. If we agree that people naturally consume, that you can’t force a sale, and that clever copy is not a requirement, we must ask ourselves why prospects accept one offer and reject another. What is stopping the natural inclination to buy? What are the barriers to buying? All things being equal, isn’t it reasonable to conclude that if we identify and remove these barriers, our sales will increase? When we take away all the reasons prospects have to say, “No,” what can prospects do but say, “Yes?”

Are you starting to feel excited? Can you see the possibilities here? Stay tuned. In the second part of this post, we’ll look at the benefits of Zen Copywriting and see how to overcome the barriers to buying.

Related posts:

  1. The Art of Zen Copywriting – Part 2
  2. The freelancer’s quick job hunting guide – Part 1
  3. The freelancer’s quick job hunting guide – Part 2

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Smart Comments

5 Comments on The Art of Zen Copywriting – Part 1

  1. Donnie Bryant on Sep 15th, 2011 9:55 am
  2. Outstanding!

    “Instead of thinking ‘I’m going to capture a sale,’ think ‘I’m going to remove the barriers to buying and allow people to follow their natural inclination to make purchases from me.’”

    Couldn’t have said it better myself!

    I also love that you had the guts to say that “selling does not require brilliant copywriting.” It’s true! Most copywriters KNOW that, but don’t like to admit it.

    Great work, Dean!

  3. Terry on Sep 16th, 2011 1:54 pm
  4. Looking forward to part 2..

  5. Judith on Sep 19th, 2011 10:15 am
  6. I have handled sales teams in different industries before and can relate to the analogy you used. But I’ll have to say that some of the best salespeople I know aren’t really aggressive at all. What I noticed was that they were focused on the solution and helped the buyer make the right decision based on their needs. I can see how this would pan out in a face-to-face selling scenario but would like to see how to overcome these barriers using Zen Copywriting.

    I’m really looking forward to the second part of this post, Dean.

  7. Sara Lancaster on Sep 19th, 2011 3:17 pm
  8. I think the barrier (or one of the biggest barriers) is distrust. People buy if they feel secure in the purchase. I guess we all want to know we’ll get our money’s worth. Copy can definitely do some of that work, but not all of it.

    Nice article!

  9. vinodh on Apr 26th, 2012 11:41 am
  10. I accept that selling doesnt require brilliant copyright skiils. But as a programmer I find it difficult to acquire . As said above acquiring the trust of prospects is a difficult one