The Long Tail—A Short User Guide

The long tail has been here forever. Seth Godin ended his blog post about the topic with the following: “The question isn’t, “Is this real?” The question is: “What are you doing about it?” Since I aim to please, I sat right away trying to help the readers answering this question: What should I do about the long tail?

So what is this long tail? Simply put, more and more things we buy cost nearly zero to store. Storing songs on iTune or even slim Netflix DVDs cost almost nothing. In addition, e-commerce created a distribution channel which can “store” unlimited variety that can be reached within seconds. This is the long tail: a world in which Korean kids’ movies on Netflix can generate more revenue than a full-blown video store in downtown Manhattan.

So what to do about the tail? Like everything in life, it has good and bad, both for consumers and the ones making the products that create the long tail. If I need to ask Seth’s question in one word it will be targeting. Here is why…

If you are an author of a book you watch the long tail in disbelief. During the last 10 years the number of new books published in the US tripled. In addition, Amazon made it a fair game for all of them to get sold. Who will read your book? If you just published a great BI or CRM software—congratulations. There are hundreds of potential competitors in each category. If you write a Facebook application you will compete with more than 5000 other applications. Yuk…

What should you do? Target! Think of a small enough group that has a common problem, interest or goal and write for them and only for them. If you did a good job, you will have a bestseller, perhaps not on a national scale but in your group. If you created a bestseller you can charge more, you can become a celebrity in this group, and you can be found by like minded people easily. In addition, your cost of sales will be much lower.

Think of these two books, both written by anonymous authors: “Great Food—100 Recipes From Around the World” vs. “Exotic Persian Food for Beginners”: which one will sell more? The first one will get lost among the 65,000 cookbooks in Amazon. Promoting it will require national ads and a PR campaign. The latter will be found easily among only 3 exotic Persian cookbooks on Amazon or 60 Persian cookbooks overall and can be promoted easily to a more targeted market. By the way, there are 700,000 Iranian Americans in the US and, most probably, 10 times more people interested in Persian food. Still, only 0.1% of the cookbooks are targeting this segment…

Consumers enjoy the long tail but often are confused by it. What if you are the one needing a CRM software and you are faced with 300 choices? The answer is again: targeting, but in reverse. There is no way you can evaluate 300 different CRM packages or even 30. Going with a popular choice may not be a good idea as well. The most popular choice may not be the best fit for your business needs. So how do you target in reverse? Find 10 businesses that are the same size and in the same industry and ask them what they use, why, and how it helped their business. Chances are good that you just got your top 3 list to choose from.

Yes, this is me again with targeting and segmenting. I may convince you in the end…

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The Long Tail—A Short User Guide

2 thoughts on “The Long Tail—A Short User Guide

  1. Winald says:

    Gadi, targeting and segmenting … couldn’t agree more on this. Remember the good ol’ times of the Roman senate 2000 years back: Divide et Impera … Divide and Conquer. The Romans targeted and segmented Europe and Middle East. Luckily, your looking from the positive angle …

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