Three Ways to Ride the Long Tail

What Marketers Should Know About Reach, Niches and Big Media in the New Landscape

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One of this summer's hottest beach reads is "The Long Tail" by Chris Anderson. By now you probably already know the book's thesis: The future of creating demand lies not at the head of the curve (e.g., the most popular hits created by Big Media) but rather down the "Long Tail" of niches.
Steve Rubel
Steve Rubel Credit: JC Bourcart

Through rich anecdotes and examples, Anderson does a wonderful job documenting the Long Tail's impact on media and marketing. He makes plain how the blogosphere and online communities are creating an environment where a thousand points of light can outshine the largest of media. However, where the book falls short is in giving marketers a playbook. Here are three ways marketers can thrive in a Long Tail world.

Rethink reach
Reach metrics are the currency of the advertising community. We're obsessed with eyeballs, gross ratings points and page views. But in a Long Tail world, reach has entirely new meaning. Many niche sites, for example, can't hold a candle to the traffic at the head of the media curve. However, what they do have going for them is credibility. If your brand is mentioned five times on a site that your 20 most influential customers trust, that's gold. Word of mouth will only ripple from there.
Chris Anderson's 'The Long Tail' falls short in giving marketers a playbook.
Chris Anderson's 'The Long Tail' falls short in giving marketers a playbook.

Fund niches
In the last few years, some niches have crystallized nicely. For example, it's easy to find thriving communities obsessed with BlackBerries and other gadgetry. The same goes for political blogs. Whether you're a Lefty or a Righty, you have a home. However, sometimes the Long Tail doesn't flow down into the niches you care about most. Marketers should play a role in funding the development of communities that give these birds of a feather places to flock together.

Demand more from media
Big Media has done a nice job adapting in the Long Tail environment -- editorially. For example, news sites regularly link to blog posts, photos or videos uploaded by citizens. However, where they're just getting started is in the sales side of the house. The Washington Post took a big step recently when it launched a blog ad network. Demand that your media partners help you find ways to build your brand through niches like the Post does.

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Steve Rubel is a marketing strategist and blogger. He is senior VP in Edelman's Me2Revolution practice.
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