Perfect Copy for an Imperfect World

Personal shortcomings are the ultimate sensitive subject. For mailers of the self-help ilk, however, they also can mean big bucks – provided the copy approaches the subject with a certain amount of delicacy. Below are five copy tips that will make your self-help prospects feel respected, eager to grow, and in turn, motivated to buy.

  1. Encourage self-identification.

    “Hey, that’s me!” According to direct-marketing consultant and copywriter Lee Marc Stein, this mantra will greatly increase response in a direct-mail campaign. And in the self-help sector, one that relies solely on prospects identifying with a product on a personal level, getting them to say that phrase out loud is the first step toward making a sale. Stein says the copy must showcase an insight into – and make a connection with – the customer’s psyche by posing situations he might find himself in.

    He uses the example of a letter selling Nightingale-Conant’s audio program “Conversation Power.” (Nightingale-Conant is a producer and publisher of personal-development products.) In the letter, you read, “What do you do when you go to a gathering where you don’t know anyone in the crowd, and find yourself awkwardly standing alone with no one to talk to? How do you cope with a crusty waiter or an ego-tripping government bureaucrat …?” If readers have had the experience of dealing with any of those potential circumstances, Stein says, you’ll hear those three magic words.

  2. Add a postscript, posthaste.

    The P.S. is a classic direct-mail copy addition that moves prospects to act by giving them one last push. However, it also can be used to nurture particular feelings toward your product or offer. An example in the publishing sector would be this P.S. from a mailing for The Economist, a magazine that makes an art of flattering its prospects: “P.S. As mentioned earlier, this invitation is non-transferable … If you decide not to accept my offer, please do not pass it along to anyone else.” By implying that its offer is limited only to a special group of people, The Economist positions it as exclusive and, thus, projects that status on the person receiving it.

    For self-help mailers, a P.S. can be used to evoke feelings of self-worth and individuality. In a piece promoting Nightingale-Conant’s “Leadership Mastery Plan,” the P.S. reads: “These free gifts provide you with a step-by-step plan for developing your own unique brand of leadership mastery, along with the inspiration to follow through!” By using the word “developing,” the copy suggests that these skills are ones the reader already has – they just need to be honed. Likewise, the word “unique” gives the reader a feeling of personal ownership toward the product, even before making the purchase.

  3. Use stories to build rapport.

    In the last issue of Copywriting Insider, Gary Scott shared some great insights into why stories are such powerful marketing tools. Stories are especially important when writing self-help copy. They give you the perfect way to connect with your reader without making her feel uncomfortable about her shortcomings. Remember, the key to a good story is a sympathetic character who has a worthwhile goal … and a story about the positive changes a self-help product has made in someone’s life definitely fills the bill.

  4. Promote a feeling of belonging.

    The self-help industry is as large as it is because there are so many individuals out there looking to make positive changes. But because the desire to buy a self-help product may stir up your reader’s feelings of insecurity, you want to remind him that he is not alone in wanting to overcome his particular problem – that he is, in fact, in very good company. Buying the self-help product in question, then, will give him a sense of belonging.

  5. Help them picture their success.

    Don’t forget to paint a vivid picture of what life will be like after your reader has made the positive changes your copy is selling. And always keep in mind that when you are selling a self-help product, what you are selling is change – not a book or a CD or any other “thing.”

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Published: October 3, 2007

1 Response to “Perfect Copy for an Imperfect World”

  1. Concise and clarifying. I understand this niche better now.

    Jiivanii DentJanuary 30, 2014 at 8:37 pm


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