The Long Tail Approach to Marketing

Business Practices Jun 9, 2006

So, this morning a very interesting yet obvious suggestion came in on the HitTail site: long tail approach to marketing. Yes, obvious. Did I think to specifically frame this site in those terms? No! Is it worth it? Most certainly, yes! Many, many folks will be researching exactly this, once the long tail concept becomes even more mainstream.

Chris mentions that he identifies the long tail in the curve that maps sales against demand. Even products that have sold very little (one unit) have SOME demand, and there are many, many of them that constitute the tail. Since his fateful article in Wired, people have been writing him to tell them how they see the long tail applying everywhere, well beyond business. But marketing is perhaps the most obvious next step, and the struggle to understand how to take advantage of the long tail effect is apparently starting to occur, as the suggestion in HitTail reveals.

So, to take advantage of the long tail in marketing, you have to think in terms of terms. In other words: long tail keywords. Which do you target and why? And how do you do it intelligently, so it doesn’t become a full time job? Because just as demand for products is nearly infinite in Chris’ model, the combination of terms that describe ONLY YOUR product or service are likewise nearly infinite… leading many to blog without a clue.

Blogging without a clue (great subject for another post), while useful for floating a few test balloons, doesn’t help you zero in on what’s working best. The best way to take advantage of the long tail in marketing is to blog WITH A CLUE. Sure, you can pull just any one of your “small” keywords out of your analytics, but it’s not very efficient. Why?

First off, you’re going to have to wade through the same whole long list of keywords every time. The ones you have already considered don’t get filtered out. It becomes impossible to manage the big picture: what HAVE I already written about, and what new things MIGHT I write about? In this sense, HitTail becomes more than just a timesaver. It becomes an expert advisor, discounting everything you already considered, and bringing potentially new and lucrative ideas to your attention.

How in the world is this connected to the long tail concept? And how is this marketing? Well, to quote a business guru who has been around the block a little longer then Chris, the recently departed Peter Drucker, “The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.”

Think about that for awhile. Think deeply on it. The “Search”, a privilege reserved for the very few in the past–research librarians, information brokers, etc. — is now available to all. An “understanding” of the customer is magically embedded into the search terms they are performing. As marketers, we are reverse-engineering their research procedure, and attempting to put ourselves directly in their path… with the right message… at the right time… to fulfill a need or desire that they just attempted to articulate.

Well, to get into the path of these researchers, you have to look at the RE in research. It implies they are searching again? What did they search on last time? Was it something similar? Did they find you before, and were they perhaps trying to tell you something merely by the act of searching? Of course, the answer is yes. And this ties into concepts by another business guru hero of mine: Edwards Deming, the father of TQM (total quality management). Demming is often contributed with helping to rebuild Japan’s economy after WWII by teaching how to listen to the customers and employees, and working it back into the product. This resulted in transforming such products as the Honda Civic from junk to premium quality. More recently, the process is attributed with Harley Davidson’s textbook comeback. Try thinking about long tail marketing being a very similar process, but the information being provided to you is coming in through “search” instead of the suggestion box.

HitTail is in great part about corralling them back using the very information they provided to you the first time, but in more intelligent and strategic ways. It will be the truly enlightened marketing department that internalizes this message and puts it to work in everything they do.

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