Welcome to the Talon Mailing & Marketing August 2019 Newsletter.
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Your Direct Mail Sales With a Johnson Box
Some marketers have A/B tested direct mail
with a Johnson Box, and saw a 220% increase compared to the control
Most integrated marketers understand there’s a lot about
direct mail that seems counterintuitive. First of all, the medium itself
still continues to outperform most digital tactics. And it’s a technique
that’s been around for 60 years, that still works as well now as it did
back in the day.
We’re talking about the Johnson Box, a graphic preview on the outside of
the envelope that gives recipients a tantalizing hint of what’s inside.
The copywriter who developed it, Frank Johnson, was (in)famous for
writing direct mail letters that ran to four pages, which is probably
why he needed to intrigue his audience. Some marketers have A/B tested
direct mail with a Johnson Box, and saw a 220% increase compared to the
Besides giving you tips on how to use a Johnson Box to boost your open
rates, we’ll also run through best practices for its email equivalent,
Johnson Box Best Practices
Preview Text is the Internet Equivalent of a Johnson Box
- Create an actual high-contrast box on the outside of the envelope.
- Use copy to pique the reader’s interest.
- Johnson Boxes work particularly well with a typical #10 envelope,
but experiment with other formats, too. Check with your mail vendor for
other best practices.
- Johnson Boxes can also be used on the actual letter: it’s a great
way to draw attention to the offer or important points.
Preview text (also called a preheader) is the little snippet of text
that follows the subject line of an email in most email programs. The
overall effect is very similar to a Johnson Box – and like a Johnson
Box, it can greatly influence your open rates.
Preheader Text Best Practices
- While character counts vary by email client, your best bet is to
keep it under 50 characters.
- Focus your key messages in the first 30 characters (because:
- Don’t just use this text as a continuation of the subject line:
preview text can also be a branding tool or function as a CTA.
- If you repeat the text of the subject line, readers may think it’s
an error and then assume that you are an untrustworthy or suspicious
- Be playful but keep the text faithful to the content of your email.
Otherwise, you risk losing your reader’s trust.
- Make sure you preview the text – and the rest of your email, too. It
really doesn’t take much to lose your credibility, and it’s so fast and
easy to double-check your work. (Same goes for direct mail…and
brochures, websites, and all your other communications!)
Tips for Better Direct Mail
By Beth Negus Viveiros, Chiefmarketer.com
“With the oversaturation of electronic channels... everyone is getting
back on the direct mail bandwagon"
If you’re looking for a multichannel lift, consider adding direct mail
to your marketing mix.
Here are seven tips for getting noticed in the mailbox:
“People don’t throw out the mail—everyone is trying to find a way to use
it as part of a multichannel campaign,” says John Sisson, president, HBT
Marketers who are utilizing direct mail are getting more clever about
who they mail to, says Sisson. “Acquisition is happening more
effectively, because data has gotten better—marketers are building
models based on their own best clients and overlaying data to create
segments of the folks who are the best fit based on response or lifetime
“As we become more and more addicted to smart phones, it can be a nice
departure to look at mail,” says Grant Johnson, chief measurable
marketing officer, Responsory, noting etailers like Amazon are turning
to direct mail to create awareness and response around key times like
the holidays. And while Starbucks loyalty program is heavily powered by
its mobile app, the company still sends physical cards to members at
certain status levels, to make them feel special.
“With the oversaturation of electronic channels, better production
capabilities and rise in automation, everyone is getting back on the
direct mail bandwagon and trying it in different ways,” says Johnson.
“From a haptic standpoint, direct mail is more memorable, because you’re
able to immerse yourself in the content because its tactile,” agrees
Lianne Wade, vice president, marketing, Universal Wilde, noting that new
tactics such as UV inks, lenticular printing and 3-D pop-ups are
offering new creative opportunities.
1. Make it multichannel:
Direct mail works well when it tied to other triggers, such as an email
alerting recipients to watch their physical mailbox, and then another
email after the direct mail piece drops, all with alignment in the call
to action to drive people to the same place.
“Think about what you are trying to sell and who is your customer,” says
Wade. “What is the value of your relationship and how does it fit into
other channels? We’ve had success sending warm-up emails to let people
know a package is coming, so they’ll pay attention [when it arrives].”
“Sending one direct mail piece is not a campaign—you want to have
multiple touches to engage [prospects,] because you know your audience
isn’t paying attention to just one channel,” says Sisson.
2. Be on target:
Segment your audience to make sure your message is on target, and use
personalization, but make sure you get it right. “I once got a mailing
for ‘John R. Sisson,’ which is great, except that my middle name is
Edward. Maybe I was in the right segment, but they showed me upfront
that their data wasn’t good.
“People expect personalization today, and if your data is bad, that can
do more damage than benefit,” adds Wade.
3. It’s about the customer:
Your creative should be about the customer and not the company. Customers
want the focus on communications to be on them and not what you’re
selling, says Sisson.
4. Try different formats:
Test different package sizes, colors and textures. “If [your mailing] is a
number 10 envelope and white with a window, then it’s just like
everything else,” says Sisson. Copy changes are also easy and essential
to test, notes Johnson, and can help create effective control packages.
5. Know your vertical:
Different markets respond to different types of creative approaches. In
financial marketing, for example, “official” looking mailers get more
opens than anything looking promotional. Know what your audience wants
6. Make it measurable:
Having a way to track response—such as a URL, QR code, dedicated 800
number or some other form of personalization.
7. Get the data right:
“Make sure your data is pristine and that you’re targeting the right
people,” says Johnson. “The list is the most important thing.” A digital
test before you roll out a direct mail initiative can help insure that
you’re targeting the right demographic with the right product, to see if
there is a true affinity.
Secret to Getting Direct-Mail Prospects to Reply Immediately
By Robert W. Bly, VIP
Follow these tips, and you'll soon see replies
flooding your mail box.
An effective direct-mail package doesn’t just ask for
a response; it makes readers feel they’d be making a mistake by not
responding. It also creates a sense of urgency, or gives a compelling
reason why a response is required today, not tomorrow or next week.
It boldly asks for the order or some other response, such as a request
for information. The focal point at that stage becomes the reply
element: the part of the package the reader mails back to the advertiser
to place an order or request more information. This is usually a reply
card in the case of lead generation or an order form and reply envelope
in the case of one-step marketing.
In the digital age, many marketers wonder whether they even need a paper
reply element. After all, why not just provide a URL to a form the
prospects can fill out online or a QR code they can scan with their
Here’s why: Having a paper response element, even if it isn’t used, is a
visual indicator that the mailer has an offer for the recipient and a
response is required to get it. The response form can be a traditional
reply card or just a 4-by-9-inch slip with the response URL and
toll-free phone number printed in large, bold type. The separate reply
element in effect says, “This is direct response mail, and we would
appreciate a reply from you.” This increases overall response, both from
people who use the reply element and from those who prefer to respond by
phone or online.
Given that I strongly advise you to include a reply element in your DM
package, let’s explore some basic rules that apply to all types of reply
1. Easy to fill out
The reply form should be clear, never confusing. Tell the reader what to
do in simple 1-2-3 language. The form should be designed so that anyone
can follow your directions without assistance. If the form is
complicated, unclear, or difficult to complete, people will throw it
For a one-step promotion, make it crystal clear how much should be added
for sales tax, shipping, and postage. If the recipient isn’t sure,
they’ll throw out the form rather than ask for help. Complex order forms
can lose orders for you!
2. A clean design
The design should be simple, clean, and uncluttered. Don’t try to cram
too much into a limited space. If you have a lot of information, use a
larger form. A cluttered design turns readers off. And you don’t want an
order form that repels potential customers.
3. Enough room to fill out the form
This rule seems obvious, but I see it ignored in hundreds of mailings
every year. I’m sure you’ve been frustrated by forms that ask for your
full name and then give you a quarter-inch of space to write it or that
force you to cram your address, apartment number, city, state, zip code,
and phone number on a single line.
When designing your order form, give the reader plenty of room to write.
A good test is to fill out your reply card or order blank yourself. Do
you find yourself writing in tiny, cramped letters to make it all fit?
If so, rework it to give your prospects more breathing room.
4. Fewer steps
The less work the reader has to do to complete your order form and get
it in the mail to you, the better. Remember, the more time it takes to
fill out a form, the less likely people are to bother.
There are a number of things you can do to make it easier for them. A
self-addressed, postage-paid business reply envelope saves readers the
trouble of addressing and stamping their own envelopes. A toll-free
phone number and URL printed on the order blank gives people the option
of phoning in their order or going online rather than mailing in the
If you’re mailing to businesspeople, tell them they can attach their
business card to the reply form, eliminating the need to fill in their
name, company, address, and phone number. Better still, if you use an
envelope with a transparent window, the mailing label can be affixed to
the reply form (which shows through the window) rather than the outer
envelope. Then readers won’t need to fill in their name and address on
the reply card because you’ve already done it for them.
5. Headline your offer
The first sentence of the reply form should be a headline that restates
the offer and rekindles the reader’s desire to take advantage of it.
Here are some examples:
YES, I would like to receive a complimentary information kit about the
Thomas Securities Investment Trust.
American Museum of Natural History
YES, I accept your invitation to become an Associate Member of the
American Museum of Natural History at the low introductory rate of . . .
GBC Binding Machines
YES, show me how SureBind will make my Plastic Binding System even
better . . .
6. Short sales pitch
In the most concise language possible, your reply form should restate
the nature and terms of the offer and highlight the key benefits
stressed in the letter and brochure. You want to summarize your whole
sales pitch in a few sentences so the reader can get the essence of your
story just by reading the reply form.
Although it’s important to be concise, it’s even more important to be
complete. Don’t leave out information the reader must have to make a
proper response. For example, if your minimum order is $100, the form
should specify that: “Minimum order -- $100.” Otherwise, you’ll have a
lot of explaining to do to people who send you checks for $25 or $50 or
This article was an excerpt is from Robert W. Bly’s book The
Direct Mail Revolution: How to Create Profitable Direct Mail Campaigns
in a Digital World. Buy it now from
Barnes & Noble |
Apple Books |
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Boost Your Direct Mail Sales With a Johnson Box
Seven Tips for Better Direct Mail
The Secret to Getting Direct-Mail Prospects to Reply Immediately
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