Email Design Tips from the Good Ol’ Fashioned Letter

Postal mail isn’t doing so hot these days. Handwritten letters are becoming a thing of the past.

But does that mean features of a physical letter should be discarded as well? For example, the Johnson Box that Frank Johnson created in 1941, which is a brief synopsis of what to expect in the letter. And what about the postscript?

Just because physical mail is being replaced doesn’t mean the tactics should be. We’ll take a look at the Johnson box and postscript in action, studies on how they’ve performed and what you should try with your email.

The Johnson Box

The Johnson Box appears at the top of a letter (or email) and gives the reader a quick description of the contents they’re about to read. The idea is to get them excited enough to keep reading.

If you’re interested, click here to see how it looks on a postal letter!

Take a look at the Apple Castle’s Johnson box:

Apple Castle talks about the product they’ll be promoting, ordering information and the reader can find out why this business was in the news.

One study found that including the Johnson Box yielded a 220 percent lift in the number of leads than the control version.

Tips for creating a Johnson Box:

  • Keep the text short, less than 200 characters
  • Communicate your purpose without being redundant
  • To have the text appear in the snippet, leave out the box outline

The Postscript

On the opposite end of the email, we find the postscript. The P.S. can be anything: a reminder, a kind thought, a request, etc.

Here are a few examples:

Sesame Street invites kids to their site to play games:

Indigo Wild teases readers about their upcoming catalog:

Habitually Chic makes connects with their readers by making it more personal:

In MarketingSherpa’s case study “12 Top Email Copywriting Tips to Raise Funds,” it talks about how putting a ‘p.s.’ at the end along with a call to donate is a smart move.

P.S. Here are some tips for you to try:

  • Attach a link to your site; they might want to visit while you’re fresh on their mind
  • Emphasize your main point one last time
  • Create a sense of urgency so the reader is compelled to take action immediately

Johnson Box in the Postscript?

Now it’s time to run a split test. We know that both the Johnson Box and P.S. can drive more engagement, so what about combining them?

What if at the end of your message, you include a P.S. that explains what to expect in the NEXT email? Set up a split test and try it! Let us know your results!

Have you tried using a postscript or Johnson box in your emails? Do you think they’re effective?


  1. Denise Fay

    4/25/2012 8:27 am

    Hi Crystal,

    What a timely article. I was interviewed today on radio about email etiquette and one of the questions that I was asked was about the value of the PS or post script.

    I said that it is a great little tool and is the second most read item on a letter. So your article validates my opinion which is great and your examples are fantastic, I wish I had read them before the interview!.

    I love the way you combine postal mail with email; after all they are two forms of communication that are very similar. I grieve the end of postal mail – I used to love getting letters in the post. The opening of the envelope, taking out the folded pieces of paper. I’m all nostalgic now!

    Lovely article – I wasn’t aware of the term Johnson Box and yet I used it my own ezines last year. I’ll test a bit more in my next email.

    Thanks for a really useful article.
    Take care

  2. Eric

    4/25/2012 10:01 am

    snail mail certainly has it’s uses – not sure if I agree w/ your first sentence. look at the comments on a similar post.

    Youngins might favor e-mail more these days but older people who make hiring and purchasing decisions still like mail and hand written/addressed mail.

    just saying…

  3. Crystal Gouldey

    4/25/2012 3:31 pm

    Denise – That’s too funny! At least now if the topic comes up again you’ll have a good resource to point them to. I feel your pain regarding postal mail; I remember running down my parents’ driveway excited for mail from my friends!

    Eric – You’re right, snail mail does have its uses. In fact, our customer support staff uses snail mail daily to send postcards to customers. However, it is becoming less common, which is why I referenced the USPS announcement that they were shutting down stores and consolidating.

  4. Billie A Williams (@BillieAWilliams)

    4/27/2012 1:30 pm

    I just started using the PS in my emails and posts that I blog and it is showing that that one strategy is quite effective. I’m going to have to incorporate the Johnson box next and see what happens.Thanks for some great tips.
    Billie A Williams

  5. Stella2012

    9/27/2012 9:22 pm

    Nice article. tried Johnson box. Works well