Selling to the Long Tail: Why It’s Time to Move Past Theory and into the Playing Field

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By now, the concept of “the Long Tail” has been beaten directly into the skull of everyone in the marketing department. Chris Anderson’s book of the same name has become required reading for everyone who is selling anything. So now that everyone has seen the chart, it’s time to move beyond the theory and put this idea into practice.

We all know that the mess of humanity we used to call ‘the audience’ is rapidly splintering and the Internet has only sped the process. What hasn’t been grasped by many agencies and advertisers huge opportunities to be found down the middle and lower ends of the Long Tail.

One of the outcomes of this new economy is there will be far fewer huge blockbusters but far more success stories. Or as Anderson put it in the subtitle of his book, we’ll be selling less of more.

Video blogs like Ask A Ninja and Rocketboom are earning hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising revenues working on shoestring budgets with audiences that the major networks wouldn’t even notice.

The combination of cheap bandwidth, low cost equipment and software that can do for a few dollars what it used to take thousands and enough creative people who feel liberated from the mass market economics of the previous century are making this all possible.

The mainstream media isn’t immune to this phenomenon. If you have children between the ages of 4 and 14 then you’ve probably spent long hours suffering repeat viewings of High School Musical. If you don’t have children in that age span, you probably have never heard of it. Yet despite this, High School Musical was the number one-selling CD and DVD last year.

In the age of big media, the number one CD would have been ubiquitous. The songs would have been on the radio around the clock. But the marketing minds at Disney knew their audience very well and targeted pre-teens where they are – on the Disney Channel and on Disney Radio and through the even more powerful pre-teen underground grapevine. By the time the High School Musical live show reaches your town, every pre-teen has had the songs and dance moves drilled into their heads not only by Disney but also by their peers. The rest of the audience is irrelevant.

There’s a lesson to be drawn here. It’s now taken as gospel that with the exception of large internationally known brands likes Budweiser and Coke, big event advertising (think the Super Bowl or Thursday night prime television) is no longer the ticket to brand awareness. But where do we go from there?

With the splintering of the once monolithic mass media into hundreds of cable channels, 12 and 24-screen movie theaters and millions of blogs, podcasts and video blogs, the audience has also splintered into millions of small communities who each in their own ways can find and support the kind of content they want.

Since bandwidth and the underlying technologies are so inexpensive, artists and creators no longer feel the pressure to justify their work in terms of the number of eyeballs who will see it. For most bloggers, podcasters and video bloggers, reaching a few people is enough and if costs have to be met it’s easy enough to find just enough advertisers or just put out a Paypal link.

For advertisers and marketers, it means you don’t have to worry anymore about reaching the largest audience possible since with the narrowcasting of the media and Internet, you can more easily find just the people who would be inclined to give you a look.

It’s important to understand we are in the post-blockbuster era. With hundreds of cable channels and infinite shelf space on the Internet, there’s no scarcity of content to fill it. Some of it might appeal to you, or your customers. And the rest might make no sense to you at all. But you can be sure there’s someone watching Ask A Ninja and if you are selling nunchuks, you better take notice.

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