For years I've teased my cousin that she was born with a long tail, like a monkey. I even produced the (Photoshop) photo of the hairy appendage. Now that she's 13, she doesn't accept the tail story anymore though her younger brother is still convinced he originally had three eyes - again thanks to my addition with Photoshop.
In recent years, the Long Tail has become part of e-Industry's standard vocabulary. The term comes from an article by Wired magazine Editor Chris Anderson, which he turned into the 2006 book: "The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More."
Do you remember your old statistics classes? If so, the term Normal Distribution may ring a bell. (Math pun intended - the Normal Distribution is commonly referred to as the bell curve because of the shape of the graph.) There were other distributions such as the Pareto Distribution - now called the Long Tail. (Math fans should visit mathworld.wolfram.com for more.)
Yes, some of the concept of the Long Tail is based on mathematics, but don't let that turn you off. (Grumbling digression - Why do some people think it is acceptable or even cute to brag about their ineptitude in math? They don't brag that they can't write their names, tie their shoes or find Ohio on a map, yet they will giggle that "I could never do math" when a simple calculation is needed. They see this as somehow not only OK, but cute. It drives me crazy.)
To understand the business implications of the Long Tail, let's start with an example. If you look at the top-selling record albums of all time, "The Eagles Greatest Hits" tops the charts with more than 28 million records sold, followed by Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and Pink Floyd's "The Wall."
These albums, and most of the records following them in the top-selling list, are from the '70s and early '80s. None are from today. Is that because the music is worse today? Maybe. But more people listen to more music than ever and mobile devices like iPods let them listen everywhere.
But they are listening to different things. If you graphed record sales back then, you would mark huge points for the top sellers and then have a substantial drop-off for low-selling records.
Today you will not find those few mega-hits selling millions of copies. But you have millions of artists selling a much lower quantity of their music. The idea behind the Long Tail is that the total of those millions of artists selling a handful of tunes is greater than the total of the biggest sellers. You see it with music, books, TV shows, Web sites and so on.
Anderson quoted an Amazon.com employee's description of the Long Tail as follows: "We sold more books today that didn't sell at all yesterday than we sold today of all the books that did sell yesterday." So the volume of best sellers is dwarfed by the volume of millions of small sellers.
So what does this mean for your business? If you are in a virtual business it means that you can "stock" millions of SKUs and the volume of sales, though maybe only a few for each item, may meet or surpass the sales volume of your best sellers. It's obviously not as easy to do in the brick and mortar world where stocking that many different products would be impractical.
John Ettore, writer for "Working with Words," says, "For business people, generally, it means they can use search optimization and other tactics to serve one or a number of smaller, more widely scattered markets rather than always having to target larger mass markets near their physical location. That allows you to cater to smaller niches and still make it profitable."
I always get a kick out of seeing a sale of a "Parking for Slovenian Grandmothers only" sign or an "I love Armenian Girls" T-shirt come through from my ClevelandPeople.com Web site. That's the Long Tail.
You may have abandoned the thought of selling your products/services to certain markets seeing them as a niche and too small to matter. The Long Tail would suggest that identifying and targeting some of those fringe markets for your business may pay off. The old joke about "making it up in volume" is becoming a reality.
Red Herring magazine quotes a study stating there are 746.9 million Internet users worldwide. That's three quarters of a billion potential customers. An eCompany will want to add to their offerings. A traditional company may want to add an e-component. Be creative and find ways to reach those masses. For example, a CPA firm, hardware store or any number of types of businesses could produce e-books on topics within their expertise for sale on the Web and enjoy a nice passive income stream.
And if your business does not offer products or services that are name-brand best sellers, you can cater to the millions in the Long Tail who prefer goods focused to meet their needs. As Chris Anderson says, "A small number times a very big number equals a big number!"
Cleveland should embrace the Long Tail concept as well. We are an increasingly diverse population. Smart businesses will offer products and services that cater to our personal tastes - however small our community may be. The idea of the melting pot is over. We are more of a patchwork quilt; all part of the same thing, but retaining and celebrating our diversity. (Think Little Italy, Chinatown, etc.)
While institutions that cater to the masses are fantastic, we should not miss out on opportunities for lesser-ticket items that could piggyback on blockbusters. Tourists should be offered dozens of buying opportunities as they travel down East Ninth Street to the Rock Hall and Science Center. Many people will buy a few of something (Long Tail) on their way to their mega-hit destination.
Along with Cleveland Browns Dawg noses, someone could sell Cleveland Long Tails. I'd buy one.
Entreprenerd Dan Hanson (firstname.lastname@example.org
) thinks a long tail might make a bold new fashion statement. The third eye probably won't catch on.