Taking Innovation to the MAXIs
Attending this year’s sold-out Bridge to Integrated Marketing and Fundraising Conference (“Bridge”) was refreshing on every level — educational sessions, exhibitors, etc. But then there was the moment we had all been waiting for (drumroll, please): the MAXI Awards. The MAXIs honor the best-of-the-best formats and packages that not only wowed a panel of preconference judges, but also had accompanying significant return on investment in order to compete. In other words, a MAXI award winner is not just another pretty face — it has brains, as well.
So what kind of direct-marketing trends made their mark on the MAXIs this year?
The first winning strategic use of a “sound card” that got my attention was back in the 2008 presidential campaign. I attended a presentation by Blue State Digital of “campaign lessons learned,” and although the focus was digital, as in e-mail, BSD revealed a direct-mail piece that really piqued the interest of the audience. It was a “voice chip” card with a 15- to 20-second speech by then presidential candidate Barack Obama. (That mailing won Package of the Year in FundRaising Success’ 2009 Gold Awards for Fundraising Excellence.)
Post-event, a bit of additional research revealed a very expensive product, but I kept it on the forefront on my list of innovative applications. Fast-forward to the 2011 MAXI Awards, and it was not surprising that a sound card incorporated into the Roaring Crowd Tube Mailer for the Washington Wizards, produced by Silver Marketing Inc., won a 2011 MAXI Big Idea platinum award for its success.
So it again wasn’t surprising when at the 2013 awards, the St. Labre Indian School Singing Christmas Card took high honors, winning the Big Idea platinum designation. It also won gold in the Nonprofit Renewal category. The format also won accolades for its envelope — light blue, invitation size with a handwritten font and a return address label.
Political, commercial and nonprofit applications … these examples demonstrate the effectiveness of engaging multiple senses. The sound card is a trend worth keeping in your quiver of ideas for special segments.
And if you haven’t heard about the multisensory audio/video chip, now is the time to dig and learn about the power of this application, as it’s piquing a lot of interest in the commercial market. Think about it — a 2.4-inch LCD video screen embedded within a 5-inch by 7-inch greeting card or market mailer. Hit the play button, and the 15-minute audio/visual will astound you. As a mailer, handout or bound insert, no matter what form it comes in, keep your eye on this product.
Digital not only has arrived, but it’s a winner
Of course, I expected the Digital Media category to be robust and growing, and it didn’t disappoint given the number of winners — 12 in all compared to 2012 when there were just four. Even though this was a campaign year, the winners in this category were not heavily political but instead represented a healthy cross-section of the fundraising industry with most awards going to the environmental segment.
The National Audubon Society’s Online Gift Catalog had the most stunning images and was awarded silver for Nonprofit Sales. The Renewal Series of the National Museum of the American Indian and The Trustees of Reservations earned bronze designations for their results. In the Year-End Email Series — Nonprofit Special Appeal awards, the Environmental Defense Fund took the silver, and bronze went to Compassion & Choices. The most interesting application was the City of Hope “I Am a Cancer Survivor” Patient Conversion Campaign, winning gold for Nonprofit Acquisition/Prospecting.
Pretty pictures + affordable mailers = high ROI
The Direct Mail Acquisition/Prospecting Category winners included formats from the simplest PETA postcard to the more sublime Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum with oversized inserts. Museums ruled this category with engaging visuals.
One silver winner — Doolittle Raid 70th Anniversary from World War II Veterans Committee — included a USPS Priority Mail return envelope. Although USPS Priority envelopes are free from the post office, users still must apply a custom address label, and of course, there’s the postage, which can range from $5.60 to $6.95 for packages weighing less than a pound, and the BRE processing fee. Keep an eye on the use of Priority envelopes. If it fits your strategy, consider folding them before inserting to add extra heft to the package. In fact, folding any return envelope is a technique that I’ve seen used often to convey a look of hand insertion.
Getting attention in the mailbox starts with the envelope, but the diversity of formats in the Nonprofit Renewal Category proved that although a 9-inch by 12-inch envelope does get noticed, the traditional letter-size formats also can be formidable. Gold was awarded to the manila 9-inch by 12-inch Amnesty International USA Leadership Group dossier folder with full-size map, repositionable note, case studies, membership card and lift note with handwriting font. The Human Rights Campaign took silver with a standard No. 10 window outer envelope and three greeting cards with to/from stickers. The compelling insert within this format was the Holiday Buying for Workplace Equality Insert — simple four panels is a great example of a mission-focused keepsake sized perfectly for a wallet.
Bumpy mail gets the hail
Nonprofit Special Appeal gold went to Amnesty International USA for its USA Bracelet Appeal that included a plastic bracelet that looks like barbed wire. The case studies were compelling, but the bumpy bracelet helped the open rate immensely. Other highlights in this category include the opaque outer envelope and $1 bill insert technique used by the American Conservative Union. It’s been seen before but continues to win.
Defenders of Wildlife’s Pen/Petition package was another example of a winning format that included overseas-produced premiums. A paper plate folded and delivering the Project Bread Thanksgiving Appeal Test is a great example of the unusual formats that are USPS-approved for mailing at letter rates. The copy effect/official mail format continues to be a winner. It’s often seen in renewal series, but in this case the “memorandum” copy won silver for the League of Women Voters. The most interesting total package in this category included a copy of a 1958 historic letter from Jackie Robinson — a National Museum of African American History and Culture format winning silver.
Unique applications rock the political mail
A quick review of the Direct Mail — Political Mail winners revealed fabulous creative: photo inserts with personalized notes, yard signs, maps and notes with handwritten-font updates, birthday cards, and clear envelopes with, again, the popular USPS Priority Mail return envelopes. Although the photo inserts as a technique was a constant theme in this category, it was the unique applications that deserve the most applause.
Some tried-and-true tactics never disappoint
The Workhorse Acquisition Category included gift coupons (a bounce-back feature), a shipping label, a survey and, by far the most endearing, a photo insert of a donkey. Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue was awarded silver for its invitation-style format — five stamps on the outer envelope, handwritten-font addressed return envelope, circled copy, and an old typewriter font — all tried-and-true techniques for many successful fundraiser initiatives that if applied in the right combination can be compelling.
Cheers to all the MAXI winners for their creativity, cost-effectiveness and ROI for their organizations. You are an inspiration!