Mailing list ULine catalog

213: Your Mailing List is Too Big

Almost a decade ago, I ordered a series of uniquely-sized boxes from ULINE. If you’re not familiar with the company, it sells an incredible variety of shipping and industrial supplies. Their catalog holds 788 pages and weighs 2.2 pounds.

And I’m still getting them, even though I haven’t purchased anything from them since then.

When I went to FedEx Office to weigh the catalog, the manager told me something like, “Tell ‘em I get six or seven copies of these at a time. A complete waste.”

I can’t imagine the expense of mailing these catalogs, but it doesn’t surprise me that they haven’t weeded me or the five extra FedEx Office managers from their list. I’ve worked for auctioneers using lists they started in the 90’s and “cleaned up” a decade ago. You know—because people who bought something during the Clinton or Bush administrations are still on the hunt.

I get it: those past customers were hard to acquire. You built that list ten or twenty bidders at a time. You pitch that list in your proposals—that you’ve got thousands of bidders at your disposal. But you and I both know that few on your mailing list register for each auction. So, why pay $.80 to $3.00 per person to reach people who aren’t coming to your auction? When you consider that you can upload that list to Facebook and reach that same audience for a penny apiece and then email them for no pennies apiece, it doesn’t make sense to make a huge impression to uninterested people.

That doesn’t mean you necessarily throw direct mail out altogether. You just have to be smart about it—efficient at it. Here are several suggestions for making the most out of your mailing list.

Don’t mail to anyone who hasn’t registered to bid in the last 18 months.

There are exceptions, but most people who were searching for an asset 18 months ago—but not recently—either have satiated that need or now want something different. There are exceptions like specific collectible categories or commercial equipment. On occasion, even some real estate categories have people who repeatedly buy the same type of property on irregular cycles. You can cover these exceptions with email blasts and Facebook ads or both.

Mail to runner-up bidders first.

The people with the greatest desire for what you sell are the people who didn’t get what they wanted last time. Also, they’ve already proven comfort with the auction method. Think of it in terms of a restaurant: the hungriest people order the most food.

Mail only to big hitters and/or frequent bidders.

MVPs want to feel like MVPs. The cost of advertising inefficiently is offset by purchase history. You can also pull just those who’ve registered at multiple auctions, spent a certain dollar threshold, or bought more than once. This list requires semi-annual analysis to discover new MVPs and retire former ones. If that sounds tedious, consider outsourcing the spreadsheet comparison to a gig work site like Fiverr or PeoplePerHour.

Mail a postcard to your big list and the brochure or catalog only to your best prospects.

I know auctioneers who still mail more than 10,000 copies of 6-, 8-, or 12-page brochures per auction. With the budget required for that, I could reach half a million prospects on Facebook and still have budget for a decent postcard campaign. An alternative compromise is to mail the full brochure or catalog to your repeat buyers, big-spend buyers, or potential sellers and then a high-impact postcard to the balance of your full database.

I’ve been subscribing to a local auction company’s mailing list for more than a decade and still get every sale bill—even though I’ve never bought anything in any of their auctions. I laugh because they obtained that list from one of my clients and forgot to change the unique file name of the list, which shows in the list-name code above my address. I relish the fact that they’ve spent hundreds of dollars marketing to someone who has worked for their competitor (and that the inside of every single piece has been printed upside down). I’m thankful they still mail to me, because that junk mail has continued to remind me to finish this article that I started almost two years ago. It’s safe to assume they won’t stop wasting their sellers’ money anytime soon. Hopefully, I don’t have to assume the same of you.

PS: While writing this article, I received all five of these on the same day from the same advertiser with the same contents.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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