If you’re like many bloggers, you have (or you’re thinking of developing) products and services to sell to your readers.
Your instinct might 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 bloggers 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.
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.
This sort of selling is often 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. 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 are the modern equivalent of 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 communication, 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? Keep reading, I think you’ll like this.
The benefits of Zen Copywriting
Going beyond the behaviorist approach of hard sell and adopting a barrier-removal mindset presents a host of benefits for the smart blogger writing copy:
- You see your audience as real, individual people, not just faceless targets.
- You start making a genuine effort to help people, rather than just sell stuff to them.
- You decrease your reliance on random copywriting techniques.
- You increase your chances of finding meaningful appeals that hit the real hot buttons.
- You reduce the “perceived risk” your potential customers feel about buying from you.
- You ensure more long term business by avoiding tricks and deceptive ploys.
- You develop a more realistic, practical approach to writing and selling.
- You have a better sense of when to follow copywriting rules, when to break them, and when to make up your own.
Overcoming the barriers to buying
The barriers to buying include everything — physical, emotional, intellectual, and financial — that may stand in the way of your prospective customers responding positively.
Your goal is to ask yourself questions about your copy to identify and remove every conceivable barrier so that absolutely nothing stops the sale.
The identification barrier
All of us have a certain image of ourselves which helps determine how we think and act. Does your copy make your prospect think, “Yes. A person like me would buy this” or maybe “I want to be like people who would buy this, so I’ll buy it, too”?
Does your copy clearly target the prospect you’re aiming for? Does your headline get the attention of your particular prospect? Is your message interesting to your prospect? Does your copy have a distinct personality to which your prospect can relate?
The clarity barrier
Don’t expect to sell something to someone who doesn’t understand what you’re selling or the benefits of accepting your offer.
Is your offer absolutely clear? Does your copy say what you really intend to say? Are all the details about your product or service fully understandable to your prospect? Is your copy easy to scan and easy to understand at a glance? Is it simple, straightforward, and to-the-point?
The product identity barrier
Your product or service should have a distinct identity.
Remove your product from your message and replace it with a competitor’s product. If your copy still makes sense, you have not established identity.
Do you provide a “big idea” for your product or service? Can your prospect instantly grasp your unique selling proposition? Have you proven your superiority? Have you turned all your features into benefits that are meaningful to your prospect?
The involvement barrier
Have you given your prospect a choice to make? Do you encourage involvement with a quiz or checklist? Do you ask your prospect to complete something (like an order form) to accept your offer? Have you offered your prospect something of true personal value? Do you use audio, video, photos, illustrations, or animations to help activate the senses?
The credibility barrier
You may be truthful, but does your prospect actually believe you? You can’t argue a prospect into trusting you. You must remove all doubt with tangible displays of credibility.
On what authority do you make your offer? Do you show how other people have used your product or service? Do you communicate your reputation without chest beating?
Can you show how there’s a trend for using your product? Do you provide testimonials from satisfied customers or experts? Have you featured your guarantee? Do you show who personally backs up the guarantee? Do you make clear any qualifications to your offer? Do you have teeny legal type that might arouse suspicion?
The immediacy barrier
Have you expressed why it’s so important to respond now rather than later? If your offer is really urgent, does your copy make it sound urgent?
Do you tell people what you want them to do in clear, specific terms? Have you painted a “word picture” of how your prospect will immediately benefit by responding? Do you have a deadline? Have you talked about the scarcity of your product (only 100 remaining)? Instead of punishing those who order late, can you reward those who order early?
The acceptability barrier
Have you put yourself into the shoes of your prospects to consider whether your offer is really acceptable to them? Have you made an appeal to your prospect’s emotional needs? Do you also make an appeal to logic? Is your product, offer, and overall presentation “likable?” Does the idea of responding make your prospect feel good?
Have you made an effort to show how desirable your offer is? Does your offer allow prospects to feel that responding is consistent with their self-image, goals, and past actions? Do you give prospects the logical justification they need to make a purchase?
The accessibility barrier
Is there any physical barrier your prospect must overcome to respond?
Is your order button easy to see? Does your web page load quickly? Is your site able to handle the traffic you expect to generate? Are you using popups, scripts, or animations that may cause problems with certain browsers? Are links obvious or do you confuse people with underlines that don’t link to anything? What can someone do if there’s a question about your offer or if something goes wrong?
With hard sell copywriting, you try to beat your prospective customers into submission with line after line of copy. With Zen Copywriting, you offer something of high quality that people want, then focus on making it so easy to buy that people can’t refuse.
Wearing a tie-dyed shirt while you’re writing your copy is optional.
To learn more about how to understand and write copy for today’s buyers, read A copywriter’s guide to consumer psychology at Pro Copy Tips.