Strategic marketing in a long tail economy

           The Long Tail economy — it sounds so Silicon Valley, Web 2.0, business jargony. Is that really something the grounded, no-nonsense, dirt-on-our-boots Grand Valley community needs to be concerned with? Could be.

            Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, introduced the term “The Long Tail” in 2004 to define the ability the Internet gives businesses to sell a viable volume of hard-to-find items to specifically interested customers. This model is in stark contrast to traditional sales strategies that center on selling large amounts of mainstream products to just a few clients (80 percent of the business to 20 percent of the clients). In Anderson’s book, The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More (2006), Amazon and Netflix are highlighted for their ability to get more than 25 percent, and trending toward 50 percent, of their business from little, niche, onesie-twosie, independent-type products that are not available in mass-market retailers like Borders, Barnes & Noble, or Blockbuster. Matthew Breman of Cranium 360 urges us on, saying “In a Long Tail economy, there is plenty of room for unique products or services that have real value to take hold, grow, and become profitable.”

            If this concept was trendy eight years ago, why am I rehashing it now? Times are changing. Interest in using technology to communicate with customers has finally reached a tipping point in the Grand Valley. Blackberries and iPhones seem ubiquitous. In 2010 when the iPad was launched, media reports ranked Grand Junction second in the U.S. with the largest concentration of iPads. In addition we love Facebook; over the past 12 months Grand Junction trends third in the state of Colorado for Facebook search volume. Blogs, interactive websites, Twitter, LinkedIn, or whatever, businesses in the Grand Valley are getting engaged with the tools that drive the modern Long Tail economy.

            Great — right? If your product is a nanocomposite coating, custom bicycle frame, authentic Native American flute, or handmade collage, you can throw up a website and sell to hundreds of customers all over the world — right? Well, yes, that’s true, but it is not that simple.

            Selling hard-to-find items to specifically interested customers requires a very deliberate and carefully crafted branding strategy. In creating a brand — your brand being every way in which you come into contact with your customer — start with a clear picture of how you want your customer to perceive your business. In most cases, successful Long Tail products are driven by purveyors who have created a deep reputation as knowledge leaders/expert practitioners in their fields. Think about how to this get done: lectures, blogs, forums, classes, whatever is applicable to become a leader in that community.

            A brand needs an image, a feel, and an attitude. It is a lot more than a logo; it is a manifestation of your culture. It is everything from the product, packaging, fonts, and colors to when and how the phone is answered. It is a look and feel that is consistent in everything the business does.

            An image and perception are critical as you begin talking with your target customer. Find them, go to them, and speak to them. Attend conferences, comment on blog posts, connect using social media, or whatever works for you — just start talking. These conversations are going to be absolutely critical to making sure that your product is top-of-mind when your customers make their buying decisions.

            Last step is your “storefront.” Where would your target customer look for products like yours? Independent retailers, trade magazines, referrals from trusted friends, or searching online … it all depends on where that client is most likely to look. Where customers are looking is where you need your products to be.

            In many instances, Long Tail ventures will need to have a strong presence on the web. Andrew BE of Elegant Technologies is well studied in internet micro-niche marketing. BE explains that search engine algorithms have adapted to Long Tail thinking, which means that they are more specific, more pertinent. When consumers are looking for products or services, they no longer search for them in two to three keyword phrases; it’s gotten bigger and more specific. BE comments that “It’s not just finding a weight-loss solution anymore … these days, it’s a weight-loss program tailored for a 35-year-old computer scientist who plays golf on the weekends.” Businesses operating in the Long Tail need to be optimized so that their communications and their presence are ideally positioned to meet the special needs of their specific customer.

            Matthew Breman reminds us, “If you have a unique product or service of value, there are plenty of opportunities to find an audience that is willing to not only listen to you but also spend.” So the challenge becomes locating and recognizing distinct target customers in the Long Tail without killing ourselves by spending too much time and money to reach them. The way to do this is to be strategic so that every step you take is part of a cohesive Long Tail branding strategy.