Know Your MTBF

“If your purchase history file goes back far enough to include the expected date that some of your products will wear out or fail, you can give your customers an incentive to replace their old purchases with new models that you carry,” says Bill Singleton, president of Algonquin, IL-based consultancy Singleton Marketing.

In other words, if you know a product’s MTBF–mean time between failure, or the average life span of a product—and you capture the model numbers and purchase dates in your customer files, you can use that information to contact customers with timely offers.

Let’s say you sell household appliances such as refrigerators, freezers, washers, and dryers. They usually fail between 12 and 18 years after purchase. You can extract the names and addresses of the people who bought those items in that time range, update them by running them against the National Change of Address (NCOA) file, and mail them a percentage-off offer to replace those aging appliances with new units.

“This idea might seem farfetched,” Singleton says, “but consider that the 2000 Census noted that 54.1% of people over five years of age lived in the same house five years ago, 79.1% in the same county, and 88.7% in the same state. The chances of your reconnecting with the original purchaser of that appliance are good, and for an item with a shorter MTBF your chances of reaching the purchaser with your offer are even better.”