Product Manager: Don’t Step On Your Long Tail…!

by drjim on August 30, 2010

Just Because You Have A Big Tail Doesn't Mean You Know How To Use It…

Just Because You Have A Big Tail Doesn’t Mean You Know How To Use It…

If you want to sell a lot of your product, where is the best place to try to sell it? Would it be better to go to a crowed market where there are lots of people but also lots of other product managers with similar products? Or would it be better to go into a dark alley where there are fewer people, but also fewer competing product managers? If you can answer this question, than you’ve got that “long tail” thing down cold…

The Way That Things Used To Be…

Back in the day (whenever that used to be), product managers used to only have to worry about having one product and then trying to get everyone to buy it. Sorta like Henry Ford and his “You can have your car in any color, as long as it’s black” type of thinking.

Then things started to change. Instead of only being able to buy blue jeans, now customers could get boot cut, stone washed, acid washed, vintage, etc. What’s interesting about this development is that not everyone wants boot cut jeans. However, the folks who do want them are willing to pay more for them

Enter The Long Tail

A guy by the name of Chris Anderson (no relation) wrote a book called The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More in which he put forth a bold idea: maybe product managers could be more successful if they sold fewer products at higher prices…? At the time it sounded radical, but now it seems like everyone is trying to do it.

However, there are some problems with this approach. Specifically, it turns out that when you allow the market for your product to shrink this much, things can get very expensive very quickly. Additionally, the long tail approach to marketing your product doesn’t work for every product (a commodity really is a commodity).

The Long Tail’s Best Friend: The Internet

If you do have a product that is a good fit for long tail marketing, then you’re going to need a way to get the word out about it. Say hello to your new best friend: Mr. Internet.

Your ultimate goal here is to be able to define a unique spot in the market for your product. You want to make sure that your potential customers view your product as being unique and unavailable from any other vendor.

This is where the Internet comes in. The way that your customers are going to learn about your product is generally by the time-honored method that works the best: word of mouth. This is how they are going to get over the general nervousness about buying your non-mass marketed product.

As long as they can find out about your product online they’ll come to you. If you do a good job of making sure that you have testimonials and that they can find reviews of your product by other people who have bought it, then they will feel confidant in buying it themselves.

What All Of This Means For You

Long tail marketing is here to stay – it’s got a cool name and so of course we’ll be keeping it around. What you need to do as a product manager is to determine if it is the right marketing solution for your product.

If it is, then you’re going to have to find ways to leverage the Internet in order to help your potential customers not only find out about your product, but also become comfortable purchasing it. Since you’ll now be dealing with a much smaller market, word of mouth will become very important to your product’s success.

The long tail can be scary for a product manager – I mean who wants to create a smaller market for their product? However, if you do it correctly, then you’ll discover that your customers are willing to pay top dollar for your product and that’s enough to make any product manager happy…

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: What types of products do you thing are well situated for long tail marketing?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

If your product is illegal and you do a really good job of marketing it, then you’re going to be going to jail…

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