Anatomy of a Control: Just What the Doctor Ordered
An innovative format and prospect-focused slant have made the Johns Hopkins White Papers bookalog control the picture of direct mail health
By Tracy A. Gill
For more than 100 years, the name Johns Hopkins has been synonymous with quality healthcare and education. One of the nation's best hospitals and research centers, it routinely is recognized with the medical industry's top honors. With a reputation like that, it certainly makes sense to sit back and let your credentials sell your product. And for years, that's exactly how Johns Hopkins sold its condition-focused whitepaper continuity program, with an institutional and highly technical #10 envelope control that leaned heavily on the authority of the renowned institution. But in 2003, when the medical publisher moved to a prospect-focused, benefit-oriented bookalog format, its direct mail program got a new lease on life.
Anatomy of a Bookalog
Compared to its predecessor, the main components of which were an eight-page letter and a color brochure, the bookalog control is a more robust package, both in terms of content and impact in the mailbox.
At 5-1/2" x 8-1/2" and 36 pages, with a heavy stock cover and table of contents, the self-mailer reads more like a whitepaper than a direct mail package, with each of the 13 titles having its own "chapter." In keeping with this informational format, the offer--a free 30-day preview of as many white papers as the prospect would like--takes a back seat to the content, appearing in a square, red burst on the front cover, as a line item on the table of contents and just a few times throughout the rest of the piece. The first interior spread also includes a bound-in half sheet that reiterates the offer with the headline, "Yours for 30-day FREE PREVIEW," and shows the front covers of all 13 whitepapers to help readers make that immediate connection between the content, product and offer.
These elements each work together to allow the prospect to quickly find her own health issues and see a complete sell of a product that's relevant to her, a major selling point for this program because prospects only purchase the whitepapers that relate to their own health concerns, explains Barbara Harrison, proprietor of Mount Kisco, N.Y.-based Barbara Harrison Copy and Creative Services, and copywriter of this package.
Not only does this chapter format allow prospects to choose their own path, but it also helps make what would otherwise be an overwhelming amount of information accessible. It might seem a simpler solution would be to just have less content, as in the original eight-page letter, but not for this audience.
As Stuart Jordan, chief operating officer for University Health Publishing,
explains, when Johns Hopkins first tested the bookalog in 2003, it had one fewer titleHeart Attack Prevention was added in 2004and four fewer pages. To fit the 12 titles into the 32-page folio, the decision was made to keep some titles down to one page. "We tried to be intelligent based on our sales history," states Jordan. "After we ran the first one, we did a lot of analysis looking at relative performance of the products that got one page versus two pages. ... In every case, the two-page featurings did better than the one-page."
So when adding a title in 2004 meant going up four pages in size, the natural next step was to expand some one-page titles onto a second page. This also allowed for the addition of more visuals, which mainly are diagrams lifted from the reports, an element that Harrison credits with enhancing both the credibility and the readability of the material.
Harrison and designer Ron Bortz also worked to incorporate more visual interest into the spreads, not a simple task in a two-color medical booklet where each product looks exactly the same, save for the title on the cover.
To this end, colored bursts--some square and some round--were added to most spreads to reiterate the offer and drive prospects to the order form, and bullet points were employed to break up what would otherwise be very dense medical information. Harrison and Bortz took that one step further by adding design elements to the bullets as well. Within each spread, font sizes and weights of certain words were varied to draw attention to key words and phrases, and force prospects to do more than just glance at the page. "It's a very careful manipulation of the reader's eye," asserts Harrison.
Each spread also includes a section of blocked-out text highlighting one
element from Johns Hopkins history that relates to the whitepaper it is featured with. For example, on page 27, in the entry on prostate health, a small, lavender box reads:
Did you know?... Johns Hopkins researchers mapped the first specific prostate cancer gene to chromosome 1, in 1996.
According to Harrison, these "visual islands" serve as both a reward for looking through the package and a way to introduce important and relevant
information that is different from what it is embedded in.
Another key component of this package is the reply device, which is perfed to the inside back cover of the bookalog. Like the softness with which the "free" aspect of the offer is peddled throughout the packageappearing a few times but never as the overwhelming messagethe format of the order form is the result of experience.
"We've actually done a bunch of testing, not just in this format, but in general, with the presentation of the offer and the impact it has on both gross response and pay up," explains Jordan. "We can increase the gross but decrease the net if we hype 'free' too much."
To this end, the reply form is labeled a "Free Preview Request," not simply a "free" offer, and prospects are given only one response channelmail. The
address panel on the reverse of the reply form means that it already is personalized with their information, so all they have to do is check off which reports they would like to receive, and return the form in the included BRE. This combination seems to strike just the right balance between making it easy and private for prospects to respond, without encouraging them to select more reports than they actually need, which tends to result in low payout levels.
"There's a natural restraint in people when they are checking things not to be too greedy," Harrison asserts.
Prescribing the Right Tone
In addition to meticulously planned presentation and visuals, special attention also was paid to the copy, which Harrison carefully crafted to "reach out to the reader and make this accessible and human ... to let her know that even though we are talking about this highly technical information, this is for [her], the reader, and not her doctor."
This attention to the reader's needs starts right on the front cover, with the teaser:
Are Statin Drugs for Everyone? Doctors claim the new Heart Attack Prevention Diet could work just as well without the side effects.
This cover treatment is the result of testing that revealed that disease- and condition-specific teasers outpulled a more anonymous, institutional design that featured only the Johns Hopkins seal and a list of whitepaper topics
positioned on a fake Post-it note.
On the interior, the effort works to maintain the attention garnered by the cover through the use of intentionally non-technical copy. Subheads such as, "Relief for 'Oh my aching back!,'" and "New ways to live a fuller, more comfortable life," greet readers in the table of contents, while headlines such as, "How NOT to have a heart attack," and "Good news for your gut," guide them through the piece. This language, attests Harrison, was a way to create "very real, very tangible benefits for every single book."
Another tactic the package employs to lead readers is the inclusion of content about Johns Hopkins and the whitepapers in general, such as a listing of advisory board members, a timeline of Johns Hopkins "firsts," and the "Top 10 Reasons to try the 2005 White Papers."
These special pages were staggered throughout the package not only as a way to break up the flow of the sell and include additional elements of interest to the reader, but also to add a layer of credibility and expertise so essential for this audience, which Jordan describes as 50-plus, consumers of health information.
The bookalog format itself also has proven an effective tool for reaching this target. As Jordan explains: "One of [our] challenges is that you can't target people with diabetes, you can't target people with arthritis ... there just aren't that many lists. The beauty of this product is that we are selling the collection and giving people the opportunity to select the information they need. The format allows us to prospect in a broader environment ... in the larger, consumer, 50-plus arena. Beyond other health newsletters, we can promote to lists that meet the general demographic profile."
This desire to reach out to the broadest possible audience also played into the decision to use the topic of Statin drugs on the cover because not only is it the newest title, but it also has a very broad appeal, asserts Harrison. "Since Statin drugs are so widely taken and so widely discussed ... it is as close to a universal health concern as we could get with this audience."
A Healthy Prognosis
While a few detailssuch as the cover treatment and page counthave changed, and the content is updated yearly to reflect the new editions of each whitepaper, this bookalog has proven its mettle, testing against other bookalogs, a larger magalog format and traditional envelope packages ... and coming out a winner each time.
Looking forward, Jordan sees a number of areas within the bookalog format that he plans to continue testing, such as product positioning; the introduction of additional promotional elements; use of the front, bound-in flap; and cover treatments, which prior testing has shown to be an ongoing
requirement to maintain the format.
"One of the things you see as you look at the piece is [all] the possible testing opportunities that exist within the format," he muses. "There's a lot of that hidden level of question and opportunity in this format, and the more we work with it, the more we'll learn about how to optimize it."