Leveraging the ‘Long Tail’

You can find everything out there on the Long Tail” ~ (Chris Anderson, 2004)

The idea is that, while a small number of products make up a large quantity of sales, there are many products in relatively low demand that don’t sell well on their own, but which together can outsell the more popular products.” (Danny Bradbury, 2005)

The two quotes above both help to explain the key concepts of the “Long Tail” as popularised by Chris Anderson back in 2004. Many businesses are awakening to the fact that with decreased production, distribution and support costs, selling niche market products is becoming not merely viable as a business model but profitable. ‘Stuff On My Cat‘ demonstrates some of the characteristics and best practices of ‘Long Tail Businesses’. In short, Stuff On My Cat is a site where users can upload pictures of their cats with stuff on them (toys, clothes, etc). It was started in 2005 and has since started selling related products (books of some of the photos submitted, clothes and other articles with pictures on them, etc). It sells only niche products but with decreased costs making business viable, it has found its place targeting a little segment of the ‘long tail’.

If you want to take business away from established competitors who ignore the Long Tail, you need to service the Long Tail, but doing so is going to cost you, and you can mitigate these costs by creating a market. In a market the service provider for one of your customers is another customer, not you. The key to getting customers to serve each other’s needs, is to create an environment where both sides of each transaction are serving their own self-interest.” (Francisco Gutierrez, 2005) SOMC is a clever example of the creation of a market served by its users since the products SOMC sells are partially created by users (based on the photos submitted by the users). This means those same users are likely to be interested in buying the products because they feel a sense of ownership and because they are similar/relevant to the users’ interests. In this case the self-interest driving users includes the sense of importance and benevolence that arises from contributing and helping other users.

The image above has been created to apply specifically to software and services, but the principles apply to Web 2.0 applications as well. SOMC exemplifies these.

  • Democratising the tools of production – in the case of SOMC, the tools of production are cameras and an internet connection, which these days are so prolific many or most people have access to them.
  • Democratising distribution – SOMC products are sold both over the internet and in physical stores, making them available to everyone with internet access and many people without it. SOMC also employs a form of viral marketing to attract more users – it includes links below each image that help them to immediately share the image with their friends through email, Facebook, Myspace, Digg and many others.
  • Connecting consumers and producers – since most of the people who would be interested in buying SOMC products would be those who know about the site, all SOMC has to do to connect them with the supply of products is make sure visitors to the site are aware of its online store. Once it’s done that, almost the entire market has been reached.
  • Democratising monetisation – SOMC not only sells its products, it sells targeted advertising space.

SOMC has studied its users and has a clear profile of the ‘typical user’ accessing their site (young, caucasian and female) and how many unique visitors they get a month (about 130 000). They have published these (and other) user statistics and that they are willing to sell advertising space on their site to attract businesses who are looking to target that demographic.

The site has a detailed FAQ section and a forum where users can find the answers to their problems on their own. Also, the process for submitting content is automated. All of these factors leverage customer self-service to decrease support costs and so help to make the site a viable business but the site also provides contact details for user who haven’t found the solution through the channels above.

SOMC depends substantially on the ‘wisdom of the crowds’ to moderate content and verify content submission. Users can ‘flag’ inappropriate content (abuse reporting) to bring it to the attention of (and possibly deletion by) SOMC staff. In addition to this, only registered users can submit photos – this helps to protect against robots and other automated submission software. SOMC also uses wisdom of the crowds to rate content – users can assign a ‘five star’ rating number to an image.

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3 Responses to “Leveraging the ‘Long Tail’”

  1. amielazim Says:

    That’s a very unique way of leveraging the long tail. It’s basically under Zazzle.com and it prints customized t-shirts and other products as well.Rod actually used Zazzle as his example and there are some interesting stuff to read about. Anyways, that’s a great way to prevent users from abusing the system, having some sort of user moderation to flag inappropriate content. Personally, it’s a good way to prevent t-shirts that discriminates someone. What is your views on SOMC’s future? Will they be expanding into something more? Perhaps, different types of animals?

    Thanks for the informative blog.

    • jrsketcher Says:

      Thanks for commenting!

      Actually, SOMC already has a sister site called ‘Stuff on my mutt’. SOMM already has merchandise out (I think this includes a book) and seems to be a popular website.

  2. Catherine Says:

    Jennifer,

    You’ve got a great example here, I hadn’t thought so far into the process to integrate the ‘wisdom of the crowds’ pattern with the long tail as far as creating forums for questions by users, answered by users (everything customer run!). It’s also interesting to hear how SOMC leverages the long tail further by providing advert space for the niche market. A good read.

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