Five Tactics to Study From Self-Help Controls

Companies like Nightingale-Conant, The Teaching Company, Learning Strategies and even AWAI know that to sell self-help products, you truly must follow the core rules of direct marketing: 1) sell benefits, not features; and 2) the prospect comes first.

These two rules are universal in copywriting. But when it comes to self-help products, they run a little deeper. As a copywriter, you must go beyond the surface benefits and touch on the implied benefits. Those are the deeper benefits that speak to your reader’s core desires. When Krista Jones was interviewed by Copywriting Insider two weeks ago, she called them the benefits that “nobody really wants to say out loud.”

People who purchase self-help products tend to be optimistic and in search of new ways to make their lives better. In this case, putting your prospect first means respecting this worldview and writing to his hopes rather than his fears.

What’s Working Today?

Going beyond these two fundamental rules, analysis of the controls in this sector yields a few other similarities:

  • Copy that emphasizes individual success and empowerment. Anecdotes and personal stories from people who have used the product can play a powerful role in your promotion. Work with your client to get in contact with some happy customers and work their stories into your copy.
  • Long-copy formats are the norm, such as magalogs, bookalogs, report-style self-mailers, envelope efforts with multi-page letters, and envelope-within-an-envelope packages. Remember, self-help benefits are big and in many ways intangible. It takes time and space to relay these benefits to your reader.
  • Audiences skew to older demographics, especially baby boomers. So when working with a designer, recommend larger, serif typefaces for easier reading.
  • A careful balance between over-promising and building desire for the anticipated results that might be gained from using the product. Honesty with your self-help readers is crucial. It prevents returns and builds a healthy relationship between your client and your client’s prospect. That makes future purchases more likely and can help your client’s long-term success.
  • The use of powerful stories to inspire and motivate prospects.

    For example, Nightingale-Conant often uses storytelling to support its communication goals. In a mailing for Anthony Robbins’ “Unlimited Power,” the story actually begins on the outer envelope and continues in the eyebrow of the sales letter.

    The story begins with the captivating line, “The General figured he had nothing to lose,” which is displayed in a larger font than the rest of the envelope copy to help it stand out like a headline.

    Four paragraphs of the story follow, with the last paragraph bearing underlined text that cuts off at just the right moment of truth and tension: “Using the very same technique that would make him a millionaire before his 29th birthday [continued inside].”

    The letter eyebrow picks up the last sentence of the story from the outer and finishes it. Now that the prospect is primed with a motivational tale, he is ready to be challenged, as well as rewarded, with the information that Robbins is the hero in the story.

    To be successful crafting direct-response copy for the self-help sector, think of it as if you’re taking the prospect to church … tell him a story, evoke emotion, remind him of a problem he might be facing, make him part of the answer, and then move him to act.

The bottom line is, self-help prospects respond better to engaging stories, hopeful copy, and honest promises. Treat them with respect and enjoy more success as a self-help copywriter.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »


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Published: September 30, 2008

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