Anatomy Lesson: The Evolution of Direct Marketing

Who remembers the days before email marketing became ubiquitous? Those of us who have been in business for more than 20 years likely remember—with a mix of nostalgia and annoyance—when direct mail packages were THE way to communicate and test your company’s direct marketing message.

Anatomy of a direct mail package

If you ever created one of those direct mail packages, you may remember that there are specific areas to put key information to ensure the biggest marketing impact. Let’s dissect them:direct-mail-anatomy-chart


  1. Envelope: As the first impression, this is the part that determines if the reader looks any further.
  2. Johnson Box: The first part of the letter a reader looks at, putting a teaser here gets them to keep reading.
  3. First paragraph: This is where you say what you’re offering—keep it short and sweet, and about your reader.
  4. P.S.: If the reader looks to see who the letter is from, they’ll likely stop to read this too—it’s a good spot to restate your big benefit.
  5. Response device: This part makes it obvious that you want the reader to do something—and hopefully makes it easy for them to do it.
  6. Brochure: The informational guts of your mailing, this is where you show the reader HOW you can do what you said you could in the first paragraph (it can be some other type of collateral besides a brochure).

Anatomy of an email

Times have changed and technology has advanced, but those same parts exist in today’s email marketing—they’ve just evolved a little:parts of a digital marketing email


  1. From name and subject line: This is your new first impression—use your name and an attention-grabbing subject to get the reader to click.
  2. Preheader: This descendent of the Johnson box is your opportunity to tease the reader with a little preview of what’s to come.
  3. Content: People don’t want to read a lengthy email, so treat all of your body copy like a first paragraph, and keep your offer short and to the point.
  4. P.S.: Now more of secondary call to action than a literal postscript, this is a reward for reading to the bottom of your email. Give the reader an opportunity to dive deeper, boosting engagement with your content.
  5. Buttons and links: Programming your calls to action into clickable content makes it super-easy for readers to follow through.
  6. Attachments: While the brochure may have been the guts of a direct mail package, attachments are more like the appendix: not always necessary. If you want to provide more information about your offer, you can attach it…otherwise, you can use modern-day tools like marketing automation to craft follow-up messages, helping to build engagement over time.

Resurgence of Direct Marketing

While email has largely replaced direct mail as the direct marketing method of choice, there is still a place in your marketing toolbox for a well-crafted direct mail package. In fact, direct mail is making a comeback for a variety of reasons. While your prospects’ virtual inboxes get flooded every day, there’s a lot more room in their real mail boxes. And there’s something to be said for the novelty and the tactile experience of opening a package—you just don’t get that with an email. Of course, you can always use the two together for the best of both worlds!

Jason Janoski

Jason Janoski



  1. Peter T. Britton on at 1:07 pm


    With almost 30 years as a DM copywriter, this article brings back so many memories – I love the Johnson Box!

    Here’s a little trick I use – to amazing result. On the email, take the PS at put it at the top of the email. I usually start it with something like, “I know it’s odd to see the PS at the top of a letter, but this news is so important, it simply can’t wait. ”

    Click-through rates double when I use this for my clients.

    (I call it the PS – Power Start.)

    Give it a whirl…

    Peter T. Britton

  2. Jason Janoski on at 1:16 pm

    Thanks Peter–love hearing about any tips that have worked for others! We’ll definitely give it a shot. -Jason

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