The Art of Zen Copywriting for Bloggers

The Art of Zen Copywriting for Bloggers

Reader Comments (58)

  1. I believe that the biggest thing the readers should take away from this post is the need for identity throught the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) and the amount of value that you can give them for the price they need to pay.

    You make an excellent point where you swap your competitors product in your own copy to make sure that they are NOT interchangeable.

    I also like to use the rule of thumb that the customer should walk away from a purchase feeling as if they are stealing from you, because you have offered then so much value in return for them paying a premium price.

  2. ‘You CAN NOT force anyone to do anything they do not want to do’
    The sentence can not deny, not all readers have the same willingness, and not all of us who have the same willingness to support us fully. The best way in the market may be with promotional actions and not with words persuade seduction.

  3. It’s not clear to me that asking for donations will work in the same way. It’s easy when a disaster like Haiti hits, however, I’m simply asking for much less money to do a visibly smaller thing.

  4. Dean, bloggers are in a position to embrace zen copywriting and marketing. If they’ve been doing their job right, then bloggers already have a relationship with their prospects. This means many of the barriers to buying, such as the credibility barrier, no longer exist.

    In fact, oftentimes, a loyal blog reader is probably thinking, “Sell me something already! I’d love to buy something from you.”

    Because a relationship based on trust already exists, bloggers don’t need to pressure, push or force their way to make a sale. Their readers usually only need a gentle nudge.

  5. “Removing the barriers” is a great way to look at it!

    Although I agree that you don’t need ‘brilliant’ copywriting to sell, I do believe you need ‘very good’ copywriting. In other words, on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the best, having a 10 copy isn’t necessary but it’s necessary to have an 8 or 9.

  6. @Gabe, my perspective is that zen copywriting (I call it net vs. harpoon copywriting) needs to be good, but it doesn’t need to be fantastic. The kind of direct response copywriting that Dean has mastered usually needs to snare the customer on the first try. A headline that’s a little off or failure to put a compelling caption on a photo means the difference between failure and success. With this approach, the prospect is enticed to stick around longer. It’s possible you won’t make the sale today, but you’ll keep the relationship so you get another chance tomorrow.

  7. Awesome Post!

    I have had similar debates with members of one of the tribes belong to. There are some that want our members to focus on the hard copy, while others (like me) wish to use more of the tribe building / Zen copy approach. When I launched my first product, I was told that I needed to draw out my sales page more and use more hard copy techniques.

    So far that has not been effective.

    Now I know why.

  8. I agree that “closing” copy doesn’t need to be perfect when taking a content marketing approach. Invoking reciprocity, social proof, and authority with your content plus simply getting people to identify with and like you gets you about 85% of the way (more with some).

    But I do think your copy needs to contain all the *elements* necessary to close the sale (see Copywriting 101 for those elements). And as Dean says, you must remove all the barriers (objections), which usually means providing more information that you might initially think.

  9. This is the sort of copywriting I’m interested in learning. I can’t stand 99% of the copy that’s online today. I feel like if I wrote something like that, I would be offending half of my readers. Looking forward to learning more.

  10. This is tough for me, because I’m used to writing the other stuff. It works though, and I could list a few bloggers that do it exceptionally well.

    People respond to this, especially if it’s how you built your audience. I think the real problems occur when you build an audience with the soft sell and then try to bang them over the head with a straight on copyrighting attack.

    Keeping your message synchronized throughout the sale is important. This makes sense to me, I’ve just got to learn how to implement it effectively.

    Great post, going to bookmark this one.

  11. A lot of marketers put themselves into two different categories: those who love their customers, doing anything to help them succeed, and those who see their customers as helpless fools, giving their money away to whatever “wizard” snares them first.

    For a long time, the second category was dominant because… well… it was more effective. Customers weren’t organized. They didn’t talk to each other. And as such, the only metrics of customer satisfaction information marketers were interested in were lifetime customer value and their refund rate. Nothing else mattered, and it left you free to manipulate your customers in whatever way was most profitable.

    But that’s changing.

    Nowadays, the marketers with the lowest refund rates and highest lifetime customer values are in the first category. This surprises a lot of old-timers, but what’s funny is watching them adjust. Dan Kennedy is actually starting to talk about giving value to your customer and the importance of the relationship.

    I think the change has a lot to do with social media. Regardless of whether or not you really care, you’d better appear to care, or you’ll get eviscerated on blogs, forums, and twitter.

    Michael Masterson is a prime example (look at the “scam” thread):

  12. This is so true… “Principle #2: You CANNOT force anyone to do anything they don’t want to do.”

    This is an ancient principle that I often struggle with…. Thanks for the reminder to add value (vs. FORCE)

    Best, B-

  13. This outline makes a pretty convincing argument for long(er/ish) copy. But more importantly, that you simply must take the time to understand your readers and then “meet them where they are.” The problem with aggressive copy is that it can be overkill which in turn blows your crediblity as a vendor. “Thou doth protest too much.”

    The Internet is such a noisy place that sometimes a “whisper” is far more likely to be “heard” than rows and rows of yellow highlighter, all-caps and exclamation points 😉

    Good post and effective reminder of what are really the fundamentals of effective copywriting.


  14. This sounds good – and would feel like fresh air to write sales letters this way. But does it work? Has anyone tested it? Are there examples of such a split test?

  15. @Darrin When I write copy I don’t think about “should I be aggressive or soft?” I only think about what serves my audience’s purpose in the most meaningful way. That’s all that really matters when you get right down to it. Urgency is usually part of that equation but you temper that with the subject matter and needs of your reader.

  16. Once again, another great article. I’m working on publishing an e-book in the next few months and this was very helpful. I’ll keep all these tips in mind as I start the marketing processing. Thanks!

  17. Thank you for a great post.

    Copyriters too often don’t put themselves in the shoes of the readers and instead try to forge some magic writing potion that will induce herds of brainless consumer zombies to buy their advertised products.

  18. Excellent article! As an Avon sales rep/advisor for almost 10 yrs, I’ve found my customers buy for 3 main reasons: 1) Trust –they trust my judgement & my product, 2) Respect/Beliefs-I respect their opinions/differences/beliefs, 3) Humility/Integrity-in that we’re not always right–don’t know all the answers–& admit it–and also that we strive for the highest ethical standards by doing the right thing, fulfill a duty of care–not only to the customer, but to the community, our collegues and ourselves. The fact that Avon Corp donated $1 Million recently to the Haitian crisis & that .50 off the sale of Skin So Soft products (see corp site) will be used to raise another $1M–is no mistake–Andrea Jung/CEO’s mission continues.

  19. “You see your audience as real, individual people, not just faceless targets.”

    You could write a book on just this fact. Writing one-to-one is one of the most basic laws of copywriting IMHO.

  20. Excellent article! It recognizes that to be successful with any form of social networking today, one must provide high value content and build a relationship with the audience as a pre-requisite to earning a sale.

    Everyone is sick and tired of hard-selling and the traditional interruption-style marketing.

    I have personally found that storytelling is another very effective technique that “pulls” readers into your copy, because it’s an interesting story worth reading. Stories provide a way for readers to learn-by-example and make their own decision to buy (instead of being coerced into buying).

    I really like the approach recommended here, which concentrates on educating and helping buyers across barriers vs. trying to knock the barriers down using more traditional hard-sell techniques.

    Well done!

  21. One thing that I have found is that people, especially now, do not want to be “forced” or coerced in to doing things they really don’t want to do. coming across too forceful turns people off. They have too many other choices. With the way social media has influenced marketing, the consumer is now in control. We have to listen to what they want and let them know that we can provide – – without shouting at them.

  22. Matches:
    You’re right. This article is about selling stuff, not about asking for donations. I refer you to another article on my business website about fundraising appeals:

    Absolutely. So many people think that no one reads long copy now, which isn’t true. You always should provide plenty of information because no matter how much people like or trust you, those little barriers are still there when you want to sell something.

  23. I’ve definitely bought from a web site just because I liked the blogger’s message and wanted to help them in their business. That’s also Gary Vaynerchuk’s philosophy, building a story behind the brand that encourages people to support it.

  24. @Darrin, it’s tricky to split test, since no one I know would be insane enough to risk our carefully nurtured audiences by unleashing hard sell copy on half of them. Note that this is about copywriting for bloggers, as opposed to copywriting for cold traffic from a source like Adwords.

    Although to tell you the truth, I’ve done very nicely with this precise approach with Adwords traffic as well. It’s really just following advice that savvy direct marketers learned a long time ago; advertising simply works better when it doesn’t look like advertising.

    I really like the way Dean blended this lower-key style with the discipline and technique of traditional copywriting. Very zen.

  25. Dean, this is a damn good post.

    My entire career… even when I was still banging on doors to make a living… is based on this exact frame of mind.

    Learning to let clients sell themselves is the most effective way of selling (in my experience) and it doesn’t have to lengthen the sales cycle. You can be just as “aggressive” and still “close hard”. Just in a different way.

    Passive-Aggressive would be a good description.

    One blogger that does a killer job of putting this into practice is Chris Guillebeau over at “The Art of Non-Conformity”.

    Another great example is Robert Greene on his blog, especially his posts for his 50th law book.

    P.S. – About the idea of not needing stellar content to sell something…

    Just like Halbert used to say, it doesn’t matter how you tell a guy his house is on fire. He’s going to be motivated to act.

  26. I can’t see anything in this article that might remotely be related to Zen. I’m a Zen Master and a blogger – so I know what I’m talking about.

    Using the word Zen here is just a gimmick to draw people in. Any writer who feels that he or she has to do that in order to pull readers, lacks either integrity, talent, or courage.

    I’ve seen way better posts by you, Dean. You seem to write much more strongly when you stand on your own ground and don’t try to pretend you’re someone you’re not.

    Zen? Laughable.

  27. I learned a lot today. Thanks for the very useful insight!

    Will this mean that you cannot just put a little aggressiveness on your copies? Or is zen copywriting just one of your approaches?


  28. There is so much good information here in this one article, I am going to have to rewrite my entire site. Are there any examples of business websites who are actually following your principals successfully?

  29. Mary, maybe I don’t get it, but a true Zen Master doesn’t get hung up on definitions and labels right? Outside of the direct experience of reality, Zen is just a concept that’s an illusion like any other concept, once enlightenment comes.

    Or do Zen Masters not need to be enlightened any more? Seriously, I’m not messing with you… I’ve always been puzzled by how dogmatic you are about Zen, when that’s exactly what Zen is NOT about.

    Seems to me a Master would simply laugh at the use of Zen in this article, and move about her day. But again, maybe I’m missing something.

  30. Great post! There is a lot of great tips here and something every copywriter should read. When I write copy the concept of selling is one of the last things I think about. I first think about value and my audience. Enjoyed reading Dean.

  31. Mary, whether you’re right or wrong, please allow me to applaud you for exploding out of the group think. Bowing, bowing…

    I dunno. All the articles here are well written, this one included. And my inclinations are emphatically in sympathy with where Dean is trying to go.

    But, honestly, it is sometimes puzzling why these kind of “dial it back” ideas are still considered news in the copywriting community. I’ve seen sincere and articulate readers try to express their distaste for hard sell in writing forums for over a decade, only to be shouted down by “the experts” again and again and again.

    My sense is that the copywriting community in general is peddling hard to catch with the reality of the Internet, and still doesn’t really grasp where their new found interest in “Zen” is leading them.

    But, I can feel their pain. I’m a hard seller of ideas myself, and it’s taking me a life time to begin to learn that “the harder I try, the behinder I get.”

    The emotional appeal of being the seller can be very, very strong, even when it’s overwhelming obvious that what people, readers, prospects want is to be served, not to be sold.

    Selling is about us, serving is about the shopper. We know it, but it is indeed a challenge to actually really get it.

    Perhaps real Zen would teach us we should be analyzing ourselves, not the readers.

    Whatcha say Mary, have I totally lost touch with my audience, yet again, by trying to sell something they just don’t want?

  32. Dean, I’ve been following you for a while… Kudos on this post, it follows a lot of what you talk about on Pro Copy Tips.

    One thing I’d like to add/ reinforce is… With any business you sell 3 things in this order… Yourself, your place of business… then your product or service.

    If people like you, believe your business is legitimate and perceive they need your product… they will buy from you. Regardless of how long your copy is… it has to do all three without putting up sales resistance to be effective.

    One way to look at it is… Selling something through your site is very similar to selling something in person…

    Can you imagine if an author was to sell his book in a bookstore; and he walked up to people who were looking at his book and his first words were… “With this book you can be a millionaire in 7 days, 1,000 people have already taken action… but ACT NOW because it’s only going to be at this price for another 10 minutes.”

  33. @BrianJUY, I like it. I like it. You’ve suggested a real world pre-launch test that would probably save us and the reader from most of the baloney that might have snuck in to our sales presentation.

    BrianJUY!! With this idea of yours we can be an authentic and convincing trust building writers. Most of our competitors won’t take this action, so we should ACT NOW because sooner or later they will!! 🙂

  34. Dean, thanks for some refreshing thoughts on the subject.

    Although I might be going out on a limb here, so please disregard if you don’t agree, but I am curious about how much further “zen-like” we could go, if we just let go of the whole idea of our products, pain, usp, and just focused on the visitors decision and need for excellence.

    Could it be possible that the focus on our usp instead of the full focus on the clients system (environment of people, policies, relationships, interventions etc) and barriers to change their status quo is still holding us back? what would we need to know and change in our writing for us to stop focusing on our need to sell and our products?

    what happens when we truly and fully let go of our need to sell, and instead just try to help facilitate new decisions, much like you describe, but without any need for problem or usp or products… ?

    there is a woman, that I’m very impressed with that has done a lot of work in this area, sharon drew morgen. She created the model for buying facilitation (R) – and if you’d like to know more about it, look her up. She’s great.
    all the best / Ted

  35. Ted, thanks for the introduction to Sharon Drew Morgen, appreciate it.

    Ok, good question, how much more “zen-like” can we go?
    To me “zen-like” implies shifting our focus, our analysis, from the reader to ourselves.

    So, what kind of sales presentation do we want when we’re the reader/shopper?

    This question is usually dismissed, because on the surface we may be entirely different than our readers. A teenage girl shopping for lipstick would seem to be an entirely different audience than a business manager shopping for engineering software, both of whom may be different from us, on the surface.

    But, both zen and copywriting theory could possibly agree that our most powerful motivators lie below the surface. And, it could be the deeper we go in to human psychology, the more we all are alike.

    The teenage girl, the engineer, and us the copywriter, probably all want to be treated with respect, however different we may be on the surface.

    Most of us may welcome persuasion from close trusted friends, but most of us seem likely to resist persuasion from total strangers on the Net, however clever the total stranger may think their writing is.

    Zen-Like. A shift of focus. From them, to us.

    What do we ourselves want when we’re the readers/shopper?

    Can we engage these questions with the same energy and enthusiasm we typically reserve for analyzing the psychology of our readers?

    Maybe “zen-like” involves giving others the kind of presentations we ourselves would like to receive?

    Not what we’re used to. Not what we’ll put up with. But what we really want.

  36. Last year I decided to shift my professional focus to freelance copywriting, so I’ve been reading (or rereading) a lot on the subject. What impressed me about this blog post is the great organization: you identify major issues (principles) and then you systematically go through a list of concrete ways to deal with them. I am SO tired of seeing 53 Tips for Good Copywriting, all scrambled together! It’s one of the reasons I ended up compiling my own set of worksheets and checklists – so that I can find what I need when I need it. And because I’ve been a teacher even longer than I’ve been a copywriter, I ended up beating the lists into publishable form and offering them for sale (on the VersaQuill site). I’ll be working through your article to see what I can add to it – many thanks!

  37. “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’.”

    Awesome! I have tattooed this on the inside of my eyelids.

  38. What an amazing post.

    I have never been good at copywriting, in fact I flat out suck at it. I have never really sold anything from my blog or to my readership and have no immediate plans to.
    I am however working as an online marketing consultant to offline businesses and copywriting is a skill that would add a lot of value to my offer if I could bring it to the table.

    This post is definitely going in my swipe file! Thank you so much for this!

  39. as a practising Zen Buddhist I have to say, your post is, well, very Zen.

    As an ex-copywriter/editor, this post is very practical

  40. People who train runners advise them to think past the finish line. Their goal is not the line itself but a point they aim for that is beyond the ribbon.

    It strikes me that ‘Zen marketing’ uses the same concept.

    Most of us at one time or other have succumbed to sales manipulation, made a purchase which then sat on the book shelf collecting dust or lost in a file folder on our computer.

    With a Zen approach to marketing, making the sale itself is not the only marker of success, and rightly so. Thinking ‘beyond the sale’ encompasses both the product itself and the marketing of that product. To me, having a relationship with the buyer that goes on long after we’ve put the money into our bank account is the real measure of a successful sale.

  41. Excellent article. Remove the barriers for consumers to buy your product but also make it an experience that they will want to do again and again.

    Not enough is done to capture a customer for the long haul. Most copy I see is just about that instant sale, not about maintaining the consumer as a customer.

  42. It’s a big subject that’s always being debated. You are right you can’t force anybody to buy or do something, without their consent.
    Copywriting is very similar to direct sales yet differs in many of it’s applied techniques.
    We have to imagine the readers objections and remove them without actually hearing what they are. We do this by creating value in the product against price – in other words the reader should always be reminded that the value outweighs the price – so price is not an objection.

    In direct,face to face selling, price is the common objection. It’s what comes to mind and it’s just a diversion away from the product itself and its value.
    So if we talk about price we are as bad as the reader or prospect.
    Value is in the benefits received.
    We have to use a gentle approach as in “Zen Copywriting” and persuade with the offer of high value and lasting benefits.

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