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If Honest Marketing is Possible, Why Are We Sucked Into Cookie-Cutter Copywriting?

Recently I came across several blog posts, articles, podcasts, and videos talking about “being honest” and “finding you inner voice” in content creation and marketing communication.

It’s actually refreshing to find posts like these, because many online marketers have a reputation for being sleazy, manipulative, and only after a quick buck.

And it’s true – there are people online who are all of those things. They give everyone a sour taste in their mouths, and they give those of us who are trying to build honest online businesses a bad rap. But despite their sleazy tactics and “buy it now!” marketing copy, it’s all too easy to fall into using that same kind of hype in our own marketing.

Why do we do this? If we want to build trusting, honest, profitable relationships with our clients, why aren’t we doing more of it? Why are most of us still stuck in cutting and pasting sleazy copy from some cookie-cutter templates, then feel “yuck” about it but keep doing it anyway? How can we get off the hamster wheel?

It’s Time to Own Our Vulnerability

To write content that is honest and truthful, we need to own up to our vulnerability – be human, show some emotions (in a constructive way), and be passionate to make meaningful connections.

Putting ourselves out there in such a “straight up” manner requires that we have complete trust in ourselves and our message.

When we take the leap to be raw and upfront, parts of us freak out. We have all been hurt from saying what we mean. We have been rejected for giving voice to what’s true for us. We have been told to shut up. We have been ridiculed for “TMI.”

Those experiences make us feel unsafe to speak our mind, so we hide behind “other people’s stuff” in our content and marketing so we don’t feel the “rejection” when things don’t work.

Our subconscious mind uses fears to keep us from doing things that we *know* we need to do to progress our businesses, leading to what most identify as “self-sabotaging behaviors.”

The key to breaking the cycle of sleazy, cookie-cutter copywriting is to examine these fears and over come them. Or at the very least, to know when they occur, and when they’re interfering with your ability to produce honest marketing!

Exploring the Fear Factor

Fear is part of our human nature. Back in the caveman days, it kicked in when we felt unsafe and was therefore a very handy thing to prevent us from being eaten by the saber-tooth tiger.

However, in the modern days when the feeling of “unsafe” mostly comes from mental and emotional triggers, rather than the physical environment (i.e. we won’t die), fear can hold us back from taking actions that our subconscious mind interprets as “risky” or “unsafe” – such as putting ourselves out there and risk being rejected.

These sorts of unsafe fears are often rooted in experiences from our childhood. For example, a child who touches a hot stove learns not to touch a hot stove again. In the same way, we learn about emotional or mental fears based on how others reaction to our childhood selves.

In order to overcome these fears, we have to get a handle on what they are and how they come about. Below are 6 primary fears I have identified to cause us to sabotage ourselves when we try to put all of ourselves honestly into our communications.

We may not be exhibiting the “extreme” version of these fears. But trust me: we all have them and they do rear their ugly heads as we strive to create authentic, honest relationships with our subscribers.

The Fear of Inadequacy (Not Being Good Enough)

The fear of not being good enough comes from struggling to live up to other people’s expectations as a child. At some point, someone in authority told us or made us believe that we weren’t good enough. This fear can block us from taking risks if we think we won’t be good enough to handle the challenge.

Those driven by this fear tend to stay in the background, as it feels very uncomfortable to step fully into their gifts and messages. This fear can manifest as self-deprecation and self-effacement wherein they diminish their abilities and accomplishments.

Our belief that our own voice isn’t good enough can cause us to think what comes from others (i.e “gurus”) are always better than what we have within ourselves. This fear also makes us hide behind templates and checklists, so if something doesn’t work we don’t have to own up to the failure, which can be interpreted as evidence that we are indeed not good enough (which can be the most scary of all!)

I work with many coaches who hold themselves back from being fully “out there” because of this fear. Some feel they need to take that one more training, or have more certifications or acronyms after their names, before they can claim their expertise and work with clients. This fear has tremendously delayed their progress and the growth of their businesses.

Some would buy a lot of “done-for-you” content without considering how to add their own voice and adapt these materials to support their big message. I have worked with clients who got completely sidetracked by doing the busywork of implementing other people’s stuff but completely abandoned the reason they went into business in the first place!

The Fear of Losing Control

This fear comes from experiencing alternating periods of abuse and neglect in childhood. This fear blocks us from self-acceptance and makes us self-critical.

This fear can be very difficult to recognize from the outside. Those driven by this fear may appear that they “have it all together.” They tend to have tightly managed behaviors, routines and environment, creating the illusion that they are taking charge.

This need for complete control over the environment and outcomes of our actions can hold us back from being honest in our relationships with others – whether it’s personal or business.

Being open and vulnerable in a relationship means two-way communication. Since we can’t control what others may say or do in reaction to our content, putting ourselves out there can mean relinquishing control over how we are perceived.

I have seen people giving up on opportunities to share their opinions because they feel that they could not control the comments and feedback posted in response to their content. As a lot of us have learned from the Audience Business Masterclass, guest posting and commenting is an essential part of the audience business building process and this fear can definitely slow down our progress.

The Fear of Change

The fear of not being prepared for changes comes from feeling unprepared for a sudden major change that happened in childhood. This fear can make us resist doing things differently, even if logically we understand why it’s a change for the better.

Those driven by this fear can be very stubborn and set on the way they do things. They are afraid that change will result in disaster.

Standing up for your vision can mean breaking out of the mold and doing things differently. It can mean deviating from the status quo (or what you have been told to be “proven” systems). This can be scary because even if things are not working perfectly, we are surviving, and change introduces the possibility that we will not survive. This means that our caveman brain is gonna fight this one!

Many people I have worked with don’t even know they have this fear because their perspective is so dead-set on one way of doing things. Having someone who plays devil’s advocate and challenge our perspectives can help us cultivate awareness to our resistance – and this is the first step of making positive changes.

The Fear of Not Having Enough

The fear of not having enough comes from being given stuff instead of love in childhood. This fear can block us from contentment and compassion. This drive to have more and more blocks us from feeling much compassion or empathy for others since the focus is on amassing for ourselves.

Those driven by this fear struggle to acquire more of what they seek as an attempt to fill a hole that can never be filled. It is never enough and losing whatever they are seeking (money, attention, love etc.) can be devastating and therefore to be avoided at all costs.

Obviously, the lack of compassion can make it challenging for us to communicate to our audience in a relatable manner. It can hold us back from creating deeper personal connections because of the focus we put on what we want to amass.

This fear also make us stick with the “tried-and true” because what we have achieved so far (with the cookie-cutter stuff) may not be all that we want but that voice in our head may be saying, “What if I don’t follow those ‘templates’ and I lose what I already have?”

The Fear of Being Vulnerable

This fear comes from being criticized or ridiculed in childhood. It can block us from fully opening up and relating to others. It can push us to act as if we know it all, can do it all or bear it all.

Those driven by this fear may avoid asking legitimate questions for fear of looking like they don’t know something. This fear can manifest as arrogance or as becoming “small” so as not to be seen as a way to avoid criticism or ridicule.

To avoid being scrutinized and criticized, we may hide behind exaggerated claims, big words and jargons to “puff up” to avoid being criticized. We stay aloof and avoid connecting deeply so not to be “hurt” – and that is the opposite of building a trusting relationships!

I don’t know about you, but I have definitely seen my share of these “puffing up” behaviors in those bold red headlines and yellow highlighted sales pages. These pages also tend to diminish the readers in an attempt to put the seller on a pedestal.

How do you feel about such copy? They may get you to buy because they pulled the “fear of not good enough” trigger, but do you feel good about it? Do you feel they are making a connection with you? Are they making you buy out of trust?

The Fear of Missing Out

This fear comes from feeling particularly disappointed after not being allowed to do something as a child. This fear results in the feeling that “the grass is always greener” over there and often manifests as impatience.

More and more of us are driven by this fear in this age of instant gratification. We can compare everything and everyone, and this comparison trap makes us not want to miss out on anything that others have. The internet allows us to look around as much as we want. Unfortunately, if we are spending all our time looking at what others have, or what others are doing, we are not focusing on where we want to be heading.

This fear can make us think, “Everyone is following this formula or that template. If I don’t, I am going to miss out.” “Everyone is saying these things, I better do so as well so I don’t lose my customers.” (Hmm, if everyone thinks this way, and sticks to the “what is” even though nobody believes in it… isn’t that twisted?!)

To help my clients get refocused on their goals instead of being afraid of missing out, I put them on three “diets” – the social media diet, the newsletter diet and the group program diet so they can dig out of the comparison trap and start to find their true voice for their actions and communications.

How To Overcome Your Fears

Now that we’ve talked about the six fears that are holding you back from developing honest copywriting – and honest relationships – let’s talk about how to overcome your fears.

First of all, we need to acknowledge that it’s ok, and even human, to have fears. This is not the time to beat yourself up.

Next, you want to cultivate awareness and be intentional in your business and marketing activities. When choosing a certain marketing strategy, be sure that it fuels your big picture, reinforce your uniqueness and is true to how you roll. If you are tempted to use tactics not aligned with your value and how you want to express yourself, then it’s time to see if one or more of these fears are kicking in.

When you know how to identify your fears, they no long have a grip on you. When you become more aware, you cannot do things that don’t serve you.

Below is a 5-minute process to help you deal with your fear from a different perspective. You will be able to address it and move onto doing what you need to do without having one foot on the gas and one foot on the break.

Step #1: Visualize It

Visualize your fear in your body. Where is it? What color is it? What shape is it? What is the texture? Is it big or small? Does it make a sound? Does it move?

(Once, I had a fear that looked like a blue Sponge Bob. Go for it – if it’s something ridiculous, that’s even better because you won’t be able to take it seriously!)

Step #2: Objectify It

See if you can take it out of your body and hold it in your hands. Examine it, see if it shows or tells you anything. By doing steps 1 and 2, you are taking the fear out of your body and identifying it as something outside of you, so you can deal with it from an objective perspective instead of taking it personally.

Step #3: Name It

Now look at this fear – either outside or inside of your body, and say 3 times (aloud or in your head): “This is just my fear of ________.” Naming it heightens the awareness that your feelings and emotions are being triggered by the fear, which is now no longer part of you.

Step #4: Frame It

With this fear as an object that is separate from you, look at it again and declare 3 times: “I am NOT my fear.” Framing your fear allows you to deal with it from an objective perspective.

Step #5: Have a Chat With It

Then ask the fear: “What do you want to tell me?” Listen. Then ask: “What do you want me to do, and why?” The fear may tell you to do things that it *thinks* will protect you from harm (or at least, something that worked in the past but no longer does) yet does not serve you or what you want to achieve.

Thank your fear, tell it that it’s been heard and you appreciate the concern. But you are a “big boy/girl” now (a lot of our fears came from our childhood) and you are going to go ahead and take the action.

Step #6: Tame It

Repeat your empowering mantra* 3 times, aloud or in your head.

* You will need to come up with an empowering mantra that works for you. You can have multiple mantras based on the different fears you experience. Here are a few examples:

For the Fear of Inadequacy: I know enough and I am good enough as I am right now.

For the Fear of Change: I am confident in my ability to ride the wave of change.

For the Fear of Being Vulnerable: I find strength in my vulnerability. Living my truth frees me from the opinion of others.

Being Honest Doesn’t Mean It’s Easy… But It’s Worth It

Putting your ideas, content and products out there means you will face rejection. “Unsubscribes,” “un-likes,” and “un-follows” are par for the course. But these are good signs  – they indicate you are actually standing up for something that matters!

When your content is honest and personal, you are being vulnerable with your audience in order to establish a relationship with them. And when you care about someone, and want them to understand you, any rejection of that message is going to hurt.

But it doesn’t mean you have to deny the feeling, or hide away from that type of marketing. Because the truth is that no matter how honest you are, some people just won’t connect with you – and that’s ok.  You want to focus on the connections you do make with your readers, and grow those connections into a set of relationships that sustains and grows your business.

There are days when sitting down at the computer and writing your guts out hurts. Lean into it, write, then hit “publish” anyway. That’s what being different from sleazy marketers and turning pro is all about.

Which of the fears listed here is holding you back from being honest and truthful, and fully express yourself in your content and marketing? How does this fear manifest itself in your business? Share your insights and experience in the comments below… I will write back. 😉

About Ling Wong

Ling is an Intuitive Brainiac. Through her unique blend of Business + Marketing coaching with a Mindset + Psychic Twist, she helps the highly creative, intuitive, multi-talented and multi-passionate maverick solo-entrepreneurs distill ALL their big ideas into ONE cohesive Message, nail the WORDS that sell and design a Plan to cut the busywork and do what matters, through her intuitive yet rigorous iterative process born out of her Harvard Design School training and 10 years of experience in the online marketing industry. Find Ling and grab her free “How to Find YOUR Winning Formula” Training Series here.


  1. Jesse Webb says:

    Thank you for breaking this down so thoroughly, Ling! I identified most with the fears of not being enough and of being vulnerable and really like the affirmation you shared: “I find strength in my vulnerability. Living my truth frees me from the opinion of others.” YES! This is exactly what I desire. 🙂 Thanks for a great post!

  2. Hello after reading your post I got so excited I wrote my thoughts to Firepole Marketing. totally forgot to give credit to where credit is do . So to remedy this I thought I would copy what i said there here as well.

    nicholas g
    nicholas garcia
    Mar 1, 04:20

    hello Danny, I have been receiving your news letter / email for some time now . And for me it has always been a positive experience. I read the post, ” If Honest Marketing is Possible, Why Are We Sucked into Cookie Cutter Copy Writing?” The light bulb went off in my head. Like I was seeing this I mean really seeing this for the first time. The words them self aren’t new I have used them myself coming to me for advice. Not to mention the times I have sat myself down parroting a sermon on how fear is holding me back .

    Reading the post I realized I had no place to hide.. All those fears that I had convinced myself were completely under control in reality control me. What I think was key was she not only just defined the fears but direct me to the root of the fear. That in itself can be quite painful. Most of us have those early memories hidden safely away to where we don’t even see it.T stop it it is very important to address the root of the problem. Everything else is cosmetic covering it up. She claimed the end result honest copy writing.

    We are living in an age of information. At times more than we can digest all at once. Every area of our lives is becoming saturated with input. I especially notice it in advertising. I know it has been with us from the beginning of time some one with a pitch. Radio made it bigger and TV bigger yet.Now the computer has taken us to a new level. Every where we look there are Ads…

    Ads…Ads… Like a nagging wife we are learning to tune it out. Competition is tough. That is why I agree with what was being said about Honest y and being genuine when writing good copy. thanks for sharing that with me. nick

    On Sat, Feb 28, 2015 at 10:08 AM, Danny @ Firepole Marketing wrote:

    1. ling | ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Thank you Nicholas – I am glad it resonates and give you a new perspective on fears and mindset. Often times, for those of us who has gone through our share of “personal development”, it is easy to toss around “fears” as a reason that we are not doing something. But then some people use “fears” as a handy excuse to stay stuck, instead of going deeper and actually do the work to create breakthroughs.

  3. Oliviah says:

    This is GREAT! I was totally inspired by the idea that unsuscribes, unlikes, and unfollows are an indication that you’re standing up for something important! Awesome!

  4. Monika says:

    I’ve been searching for examples around the world of what i am doing home (in Poland). So thank you very much! For me its like a proof that honest (and I mean really honest in every way not just saying its honest) obviously work.

  5. Olubunmi Uko says:

    Whao! Thank you so much for this mind blowing and life changing message. Network marketing is indeed a life changing business where there are no boundaries, no limitations and no business secrets. Thumbs up

  6. Vince says:

    Ling, This is great. Just what I have been trying to tell people on my blog. I will be posting it and a link to this page. Hope it helps!


  7. Virginia says:

    WOW ! This article is applicable to fears you have in any area of your life. Great job with the explanations and fixes. I like the image of taking the fear out of your body and holding it. That way you truly separate it. It is a shame that we too often cater to these fears rather than having more belief in our true capabilities – and proving it.

    1. ling | ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      hi Virginia,
      Glad to hear that the process is helpful! Yes, we can use the same mindset and process to deal with fears in any ares of our lives – this is just one example. When we realize that we are not defined by our fears, we have to power to work through them.

  8. ling | ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Calvin, I would put a lot of your POV and personality in your content so it’s not just a list of facts but with your interpretation stemming from your own experience and superpowers. This post may be helpful:
    The term curated content comes to mind. People don’t need more facts, they need information that is relevant to them. So understand what YOUR ideal clients need, and cater them with highly relevant content.
    Of course, don’t let the fears of not being good enough or that of being criticized hold you back!

  9. Calvin says:

    Hi Ling,
    This was an excellent post that really identifies so many of the struggles that us beginners are facing in starting our online presence. Being apart of academic communities especially scares me off of putting out resources that aren’t vetted by Ph.D’s. Do you have any advice on how to position a mental health resource and compete with so many university profs who are also writing and publishing a wealth of resources?

    1. ling | ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Calvin, I would put a lot of your POV and personality in your content so it’s not just a list of facts but with your interpretation stemming from your own experience and superpowers. This post may be helpful:
      The term curated content comes to mind. People don’t need more facts, they need information that is relevant to them. So understand what YOUR ideal clients need, and cater them with highly relevant content.
      Of course, don’t let the fears of not being good enough or that of being criticized hold you back!

  10. LindaSprinkle says:

    Nice article. It’s very well written and clear. I liked the way you showed where the fears come from. I’m going to try some of your suggestions, since, like everyone else out there, fear rears its ugly head often in my life. Thanks for posting.

  11. Saraswati says:

    Brilliant article, thanks so much for the insight. I normally don’t comment, but this was so helpful and heartwarming. Will bookmark it. Thanks a lot again!

      1. Saraswati says:

        Everything? I liked both identifying where the problems lie and then a very hands-on-no-froo-froo approach to doing something about them. So thanks one more time.

  12. Razwana Wahid ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Ling, I was literally just talking about this with a friend this morning! She mentioned how she has a separate Twitter account for business and personal use.

    The one for business is more, well, business-y! The personal one is where the truth is out. I was fascinated as to why the two are separated since her business centres around her personality and personal brand.

    She talked about how she’s concerned about how her corporate clients would perceive her if they found out she was talking about drinking wine or watching certain (not x-rated) tv shows).

    As a copywriter, I’m a believer of being strategic with personal branding, and not just slapping your personal life all over your website and social media updates. But the fear factor is massive.

    Great guidelines in this post.

    1. ling | ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Thank you Razwana! Having our personality in our business is so important for solo-entrepreneurs because it really helps us stand out and set us apart from our competition. We also need to “draw the line” in our “business-related” profiles on “personal” vs “private” so we are sharing our personality and opinions to make deep connection with our audience without “dumping it all out.” Our personal story is valuable in the business context only when they are relevant to our audience – providing value and/or inspiration.

  13. says:

    Hi Ling,

    This is an awesome and very much needed (timely) post. I identified with ALL of 6 primary fear situations. Really, and specific childhood memories showed up for each one! So, you can imagine how many procrastination tactics my little fearful self is using to hold me back from even thinking I have enough to share my gifts as a service to the world ! Thank you for writing such a transformational blog. The 5 minute process – doing a parts integration with my fearful self filled me with so much awareness and compassion for me that I cried. All she wants is to have a friend (mentor) to show her the way, so she can tap into her own inner guidance system, bravery, strength, and resourcefulness. (See, she’s already getting brave – I posted this heart-centred message online for the world to read! 🙂

    1. ling | ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      hi Joanne,
      I am so glad this post helps you cultivate awareness on what is holding you back and to hear that you have already taken the first step to dialogue with your fears! I am sure the process will continue to unfold and bring you more clarity.

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