I'm a fan of The Long Tail. As alert readers of this blog may remember, I've been interested in Chris Anderson's ideas long before the book was published.
Increasingly, I'm convinced that the thesis Anderson writes about in the Long Tail is critically important for marketing and public relations success. This is an important idea. All marketers and PR pros should read The Long Tail and reflect on what it means for the way that we deploy marketing programs and do our outbound PR and media relations.
In his book, Anderson shows "how the future of commerce and culture isn't hits, the high-volume head of a traditional demand curve, but what used to be regarded as misses—the endlessly Long Tail of that same curve." Anderson shows that the old 80/20 rule-of-thumb -- that businesses should focus resources on the best-selling products because the top 20 percent of each category will be responsible for 80 percent of revenue -- is no longer true when the inefficiencies of distribution are removed. For example, the corner bookstore can only shelve 10,000 or 20,000 books, so naturally it will concentrate on the best sellers. However, Amazon stocks millions of titles, many which only sell a copy or two per quarter. Amazon is successful because it sells to the Long Tail of demand and millions of books are sold as a result.
Anderson says that the business implications of The Long Tail are profound. There's much money to be made by creating and distributing at the long end of the tail. Yes, hits are still important. But as successful businesses like Amazon (books), iTunes (music downloads) Netflix (DVD rental), and others have shown, there’s money to be made beyond Harry Potter, Green Day and Pirates of the Caribbean.
So what about marketing and PR?
There's no doubt that there is a Long Tail "market" for web content created by organizations of all kinds -– such as corporations, non-profits, churches, schools, individuals, rock bands -- and used to reach buyers directly. As marketers begin to understand that the web is a place to reach lots and lots of micro-markets with Long Tail messages, the way that we create web content changes dramatically.
Instead of a one-size-fits-all web site with a mass-market message, we need to think about micro-sites, purpose-built landing pages, and just right content aimed at many different constituents.
In advertising, it's not about the masses. It's about niches.
Instead of generic banner ads designed to trick people with neon color or wacky movement, we need to be thinking about the keywords and phrases that our buyers are using and deploy a bunch of micro-campaigns using Google AdWords and Yahoo Search Marketing to drive the buyers to landing pages replete with the content that they seek.
In PR, it's not about clip books. It's about reaching our buyers.
Instead of spending tens of thousands of dollars a month on a media relations program that tries to convince a handful of reporters at select magazines, newspapers, and TV stations to write about us, we should be targeting the plugged-in bloggers, online news sites, micro-publications, public speakers, analysts, and consultants that reach the targeted audiences that are looking for what we have to offer.
With news releases, it's not about reaching a handful of journalists. It's about being found on Google and Yahoo and vertical sites and RSS feeds.
Instead of writing press releases only when we have "big news" and that only reach a handful of journalists, we should be writing news releases that highlight the ideas and stories that we are expert in and distributing them directly to our buyers directly. We should be issuing news releases so that our stories are found on the news search engines and vertical content sites.
To succeed in Long Tail PR we need to adopt different criteria for success.
In the book world, everyone says: "If I can only get on Oprah, I'll be a success." Sure, I'd like to be on Oprah too. But she doesn't reach my niche, so what good would it do? Instead of focusing countless hours on a potential blockbuster of a TV appearance, wouldn't it be a better strategy to have lots of people reviewing your book in smaller publications that reach the specific audiences that buy books like yours? Oprah is a long shot. But right now bloggers would love to hear from you. Oprah must get 100 books a day. Bloggers run to their mailbox to see what interesting things might be in there. (I know from experience that this is true…).
Sure it would be great to have our business profiled in Fortune Magazine or BusinessWeek. But instead of putting all of our public relations efforts into that one potential PR blockbuster (a mention in the major business press) wouldn't it be better to have a dozen of the most influential bloggers and analysts tell our story directly to the niche markets that are looking for what we have to offer? Yes? Then we need to convince our CEOs and management teams that influential blog mentions in vital niche markets are even more important than that business magazine "hit" that people seem to crave.
For marketers, it's not about seeing your company on TV. It's about your buyers seeing your company on the web.
Companies with large budgets can't wait to spend the big bucks on slick TV advertisements. It's like commissioning artwork. TV ads make marketing people at larger companies feel good. But broadcast advertisements from what Seth Godin calls "the television-industrial-complex" don’t work so well anymore. When we had 3 networks and no cable it was different. In the Long Tail, YouTube, TiVo, 500-channel world, big bucks on TV ads are like commissioning your portrait to be painted in the nineteenth century: It might make you feel good, but did it bring any money in?
Instead of deploying huge budgets for dumbed down TV commercials that purport to speak to the masses (and therefore appeal to nobody), we need to think about the messages that our niche audiences wait to hear. Why not target ten thousand phrases on Google AdWords and Yahoo Search Marketing to your niche audiences and tell them a story about your product that is created especially for them?
Instead of spending a million dollars on a huge direct mail campaign that virtually nobody will open, why not hire a team of journalism graduates to start a series of blogs that shows the market that you understand what they are thinking? Or why not establish a Wiki that brings together the people in a neglected niche?
Once marketers and PR people tune their brains to think in the Long Tail, they begin to see opportunity for being more effective at delivering their organization’s message.
Stay tuned. I'll be writing about this critically important idea often in the future.