Monday, November 13, 2006

A Short Tale about The Long Tail

I picked up a copy of Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail this weekend for my son, only because the local bookstore didn’t have any more substantive marketing books available. (Yes, there is irony here: I purchased a book about unlimited choice because my choices were limited.) There was only time to a scan a few chapters before I gave it to him, so I can’t tell if the book gives any advice to marketers for how to deal with the phenomenon it describes. (More irony: a good search mechanism would have answered my question more efficiently, but all the book could offer was an old-fashioned table of contents and perhaps an index.)

Of course, the question I really care about is how the Long Tail relates to Customer Experience Management. As it happens, the book does mention “slots” in the physical sense of shelf space filled with products. This is slightly different from but definitely related to the way we at Client X Client use “slots” to describe opportunities to present a message to a customer. Both uses of the term agree that the number of slots is virtually infinite, but the focus of the Long Tail seems to be on helping customers find the products they want, while the crux of Customer Experience Management is choosing messages and other experience components without the customer necessarily making any effort. That is, while Long Tail marketing is presumably about better search tools, niche information sources and specialized communities, Customer Experience Management is about tailoring all marketing and operational activities to customer needs. (Or, more precisely, about treating customers so they act in ways that meet business needs.)

Long Tail economics do expand the options available for customer experiences, and of course they may require changes in the business models of particular companies. But it doesn’t seem they change anything fundamental about how we analyze and optimize the customer experience. I’ll let you know if reading the rest of the book changes my mind.


James Taylor said...

I think there is an opportunity to mix the Long Tail focus with the Customer Experience one. If we apply the principles of using customers' behavior to help other customers find what they want then we can automate our customer treatment decisions appropriately both to cope with more choice and to improve the experience. Check out my post "Hits and Niches".

David Raab said...

Hi James,

My son didn't remember to bring the book home for Thanksgiving so I still haven't read the rest of it. But your excellent post gives enough detail that now I probably don't need to. One concern I do have is whether predictive analytics can be precise enough to find the handful of people who are interested in a low-demand long tail products. I should think that special methods would be needed, since such low quantities would register as "noise" with conventional statistical techniques.