Forget About The Long Tail And Focus On The Long Road

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In a recent episode of my Podcast, Six Pixels of Separation – The Twist Image Podcast, I blurted out something. It was unintentional, but got a lot of attention… and it got me thinking. I was talking about the power of content online and the challenges Marketers are facing because our core business has been built around creating campaigns not ongoing content and conversations. I spouted out something like, "you don’t really need to be thinking about The Long Tail just yet. Focus on The Long Road."

The crux of Chris Anderson‘s book, The Long Tail (Chris is also the Editor-In-Chief at Wired Magazine), is that because of the Internet there now exists a new economy. This economy exists because of the unlimited space for inventory online. There’s no longer a need to worry about dollars per square foot, and the old adage "for every pot there is a top" rings true. For every obscure product, there is, at least, one customer. The Web embraces this. There is a "long tail" of products and services in deep and rich niches that are not the "hits" of the world.

Content also has a long tail that is deep and rich. The Long Tail of content is a culmination of everything you create for the Web – text, images, video, audio – it stays there. It’s locked in the search engine cache. It is your brand. Anderson says it best: "your brand isn’t what you say it is, it’s what Google says it is." So, while Marketers think they’re being all cool and hip in throwing out lines like, "you need to be thinking about The Long Tail because we’re about to reach a Tipping Point, and if you don’t have a Purple Cow you’ll never be able to transform from Good To Great in a world where there may not be Life After The 30-Second Spot," I’d argue that the real focus needs to be on creating enough valuable content for your Consumers that there is a Long Tail of content effect. And, to get there, the first thing you need to realize is that it is The Long Road.

The Long Road – it will take a long time to create compelling content and engage your Consumer in unique brand experiences before you receive any true value from The Long Tail. Marketers are going to have to spend a lot of time developing, nurturing and not infuriating online communities to build trust and interest. That’s The Long Road. It’s a commitment to yourself and to your Consumers. It’s that "faith-based initiative" as Avinash Kaushik calls it. The Marketer needs to have faith that by creating value for their Consumers – by empowering and powering them – that the true ROI will be their loyalty.

The Long Tail is perfect for those who have been online and adding value for years. Ask Chris Anderson, he’ll tell you that half of Wired Magazine’s online traffic is to the archives of content – not the homepage. The older the content, the more value it has to Google.

So while The Long Tail is still all abuzz in the buzz word index, if you’re Marketing and you’re thinking about the Digital Marketing channels, start thinking about The Long Road and your commitment to making it work.


  1. Hey Mitch, as a blogger newbie and an artist / marketer of my art I am finding that consistency to provide that tail is very important. Also, I am thinking about the overall message that I want to project over the long road. If people are doing a lot of archival searching because they like your current content do we need to stay consistent in our message? This may be an issue with me as I find my art and my business constantly evolving, and even changing at certain points. I would even offer up that at certain points people may change their minds and have a different view of certain topics. I wonder sometimes if this leads people to want to be “safe” in their approach rather than saying things that they know might be controversial, for the long tail might come back to whip them in the long road.

  2. I think evolution is fine. Take a look at some of my earlier Blog postings .
    I hope people put out there how they’re thinking without fear. If anything, it’s a great opportunity to post something new about how your thoughts have changed, adapted, etc…
    Remember, The Long Road is just the time it takes to build your own conversations and community… nothing more. It’s the overall commitment to the channel.

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