Jack Trout Challenges "The Long Tail" Author Chris Anderson

I’ve long since finished reading both Marketing Warfare and The Long Tail and had plenty of time to reflect on both books.  I’ve even reached out to both Jack Trout and Al Reis (the authors of Marketing Warfare) for their perspective on The Long Tail.  They both had differing views.  Al Reis called The Long Tail an important book. He suggested that “while Marketing Warfare deals primarily with strategic issues, there are many new tactical ideas that emerge from time to time. And the long tail is one of those important tactical ideas.” On the other hand, Jack Trout had doubts about the numbers used to support The Long Tail, citing a recent article in the Wall Street journal.
Yesterday Errol Smith (who produces Jack Trout Radio) posted a comment on the Metrics Driven Marketing Blog about Jack Trout’s radio interview of Chris Anderson (the author of The Long Tail).  Talk about a fascinating interview!  In the interview Jack Trout seems to be a bit more accepting of The Long Tail than he was in my original correspondence with him.  Of course he may have just wanted to be cordial to his guest.   Still, by listening to the two authors discussing their views I have crystallized many of my conclusions.  To me, it’s not really a question of The Long Tail being right or wrong. It’s more a question of how important the emergence of a “long tail” sector is to the overall economic landscape.  While in some industries it has very little impact, in my industry – software – it is extremely important.
As Jack Trout points out in many of his books on strategy: proper marketing situation analysis is an important part of shaping marketing strategy.  Because of the Internet, consumers have more choices than ever.  This is starting to shape their expectations. For example, I can rarely buy a marketing book in Barnes and Noble anymore, since most of the books are too main stream.  However, at Amazon there are hundreds of marketing books that I would like to buy.  In software, buyers no longer want mega-products that can do everything.  If they have a problem, they Google for a solution and download a couple free trials of “perfect fit solutions.”  Research indicates that this is the case for buyers ranging from an individual consumer up to a large enterprise buyer.  For a marketer, this offers an opportunity for a very fast conversion from trial-to-purchase and also a clean digital trail for tracking ROI.  Contrast this against the major challenge facing all marketers – getting attention in a world of extreme advertising clutter.  A good software strategy in a long tail world suggests breaking mega products into many micro products and finding all opportunities to market these micro products to active seekers.  Each product is an onramp to acquire new customers and an up sell for existing customers.
I completely agree with Jack Trout’s insight in the interview that “the long tail” can be an important place for market research.  By using Google Adwords to reach all active seekers of a specific product, marketers can identify vertical segments where a product is getting the most traction.  With this research, a company can define a relevant value proposition for the product in that segment and concentrate advertising funds to build awareness and demand within that segment.  Obviously it is important for the segment to offer enough headroom for growth and for the company to have a competitive advantage within the segment.
Overall both books are extremely important for shaping marketing strategy.  If you haven’t read them yet, I highly suggest doing so.

2 thoughts on “Jack Trout Challenges "The Long Tail" Author Chris Anderson

  1. Trout is about brand. Maybe he’s about category. The long tail is about inventory and artifact cultures. Trout is about hits. Long tail is post hit. They fit together.

    SaaS is the same market where you brand, but that market is post hit. It’s about mass customization if you are providing functionality.

    User interfaces and mass customization have long tail characteristics. You are selling an inventory of functionality, so they have use frequencies, and those frequencies look like a long tail.