Ted Kikoler on Reply Card Design

With a total of 30 years of industrial, retail advertising, and direct-mail experience, Ted Kikoler is one of the most successful graphic designers in the world. He has designed packages for such companies as Citibank, TIME, Fidelity, the Wall Street Journal, Hume Publishing, Johnson & Johnson, Lever, Verlag Norman Rentrop (Germany), and Nightingale-Conant and is known for increasing response rates – sometimes as much as 100% – without changing a word of copy.

You may remember that we did an in-depth interview with Ted in two parts. [Read part 1 and part 2 of the interview.]

Today, he offers this advice when asked about reply cards …

“I have to admit I like YES/NO replies [as opposed to the traditional reply cards that only offer the option of choosing YES.] But, from learning the hard way, I’ve found that they only work in one place: when mailing to existing customers/subscribers – to people you already have a relationship with. And, it’s important that the mailing look low-key … not over-designed.

“The reason it works (as best as I can tell) is this: (1) The person receives the mailing from an organization he has a relationship with. (2) Chances are, he sees the order card first. If not, the beginning of the letter should state that the writer is expecting a reply, regardless of their reply. (3) Seeing the NO option tells the reader, ‘They’re EXPECTING a reply from me.’ (4) It awakens tension and he feels forced to read it.

“My philosophy is: The only thing design has to do is force people to read the copy. Because the copy does the selling, not the design. The YES/NO option is a powerful way to force more people to read the copy. And that’s what you want. But, as I said, it works best to people whom you already have a relationship with.

“Even better than YES/NO is the YES/NO/MAYBE option (developed by my good friend John Francis Tighe). Essentially, it’s two YESes and one NO.

“In both of these, you could get a lot of NOs, but you will (if done right) get more YESes.”

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: May 26, 2003

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