Writing High Impact Marketing Letters Using a "Johnson Box"
Sixty years ago, a direct mail copywriter named Frank H. Johnson was looking for a way to increase the impact of his sales letters. He decided that instead of forcing readers to wade through a mass of copy before making the offer, he would highlight the offer in a centered rectangular box placed at the very top of the letter above the salutation.
The results were terrific, and the "Johnson Box" has been going strong ever since. And no surprise. The box stands out at the top of the letter, and the eye goes right to the headline floating within it. I have seen claims that adding a Johnson Box to a plain letter can shoot response rates up by 40 percent. (This seems a little steep to me, but I know from personal experience that a Johnson Box can work wonders.)
Here are some tips you can use for putting a Johnson Box to work the right way:
1. Put the right content in the box. What should you include there? The offer. The main product benefit. The phone number to call or the URL to visit. The expiration date of the offer. The guarantee. Mix and match these as appropriate.
2. Use it in the right kind of letter. If you're writing a non personalized letter that's going out bulk rate in a window envelope using teaser copy, a Johnson Box will fit right in-- after all, it's part of the "classic package" format. (Don't scoff at it. It still works!) But if you're writing a first class letter, in a close-faced envelope riding first class, the Johnson Box will look cheap and out of place.
3. Make it the right size. If you're mailing an 8-1/2" x 11" letter (folded twice down to 3-5/8") you want the Johnson Box and AT LEAST the salutation line to appear above the fold. 2" deep by 3-1/2" wide is reasonable, but there's no firm rule here.
4. Use an appropriate box shape. You can make the box out of asterisks or use a fine-ruled line. For added impact, throw a screened-back second color inside the box. It's also perfectly fine to omit the actual ruled line and simply run a bold headline and subheadline at the top of the letter.
5. Use a box in the body of the letter. There's no law that says you can't throw your guarantee into a small box somewhere within the letter. Or a few testimonials. Or a short excerpt from a glowing product review.
6. Show your fulfillment piece in a box or at the top of your letter. If you're offering a report, guide, white paper, executive summary, whatever, use a photo of it at the top of the letter and use call-outs to highlight benefits. Making the fulfillment piece "real" with a photo can really help your lead generation efforts! For an example of a fulfillment piece photo with call-outs, check out a letter I wrote at:
7. Include a Johnson Box with only the top and bottom lines, and without the sides in an e-mail, for extra impact. It will make the sentence stand out.
8. In an e-mail, the Johnson box should fit easily into the reader's auto-preview box. You don't want to make people start scrolling in order to see it.
9. Use a box at the top of a seminar or Webinar invitation. The top of the letter or e-mail is the perfect place for a box that tells the reader: What/When/Where/Why they should attend.
The take-away message this month? If you want to boost direct mail response rates, sometimes it makes sense to think inside the box.
Ivan Levison is a freelance direct response copywriter who works for such companies as Bank of America, Fireman's Fund, Intel and Microsoft. Levison writes direct mail sales letters, e-mails and ads. For a free subscription to his monthly e-mail newsletter for marketers, visit his Web site at www.levison.com. He can be reached at (415) 461-0672 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.