"The hierarchy of attention has inverted – credibility now rises from below. MTV and Tower Records no longer decide who win. You do." – from "The Rise and Fall of the Hit" by Chris Anderson, Wired magazine, July, 2006
Chris Anderson's book, "The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More", is finally out. Anderson, the editor-in-chief of Wired (my favorite magazine), maintains a popular blog about the journey of researching the book. The article cited above is based on it, and it's brilliant. As I like to think about emerging trends in a historical context, here is my favorite excerpt:
- "Before you shed too many tears for the declining hit, remember that the era of the blockbuster was an anomaly. Before the Industrial Revolution, culture was mostly local – niches were geographic. The economy was agrarian, which distributed populations as broadly as the land. Distance divided people, giving rise to such diversity as regional accents and folk music, and the lack of rapid transportation and communications limited the mixing of cultures and the propagation of ideas and trends."
When I came up with our company name, Bazaarvoice, I was inspired by The Cluetrain Manifesto and thinking about how word of mouth has always been the most powerful form of marketing. Human nature hasn't changed; it isn't like we all woke up last year thinking, "We need to communicate with each other more". What has changed is the ease of communicating in a globally-connected sense. This has profound implications for word of mouth and is driving an explosion in consumer-generated content. As Anderson writes, "the Internet's peer-to-peer architecture is optimized for a symmetrical traffic load, with as many senders as receivers and data transmissions spread out over geography and time". For all of the wonder of the Internet, it may be the most wondrous medium of all due to its power to connect people like we used to be connected locally (before the advent of the one-way, controlled broadcast medium).
I would recommend that you read Anderson's article (I can't recommend his book yet as I haven't read it) and think about how it will change your business. Here is how I think "the long tail" changes the world of retail and eCommerce:
- More personalized products
- More niche eCommerce opportunities with established and start-up businesses capitalizing on them
- Stay tuned for The Home Depot, Gap, and many other giants launching more direct-channel-only brands
- Talk about a niche – check out Black Socks, which offers sockscriptions and won the Customer Experience Council's prestigious Copernican award last year
- The "green" or "eco-friendly" niche is going to be huge and almost all large retailers will capitalize on this, especially after An Inconvenient Truth comes out, which is sure to be remembered as the most impactful documentary to date
- Faster product cycle times due to better and more accessible information from customers about what they like and don't like about the product
- Product reviews will play a big role here; we are already seeing our clients make some pretty profound merchandising decisions based on our word of mouth analytics
- Better customer service
- Store reviews and customer reviews will also play a big role here
- With more choice, tighter community, and a greater demand for niches, personalized service will become an even more important differentiator
- Better multichannel integration
- Buy online and pick up in store initiatives are just the beginning; REI is a good example (30% of all online purchases are picked up in their stores)
- Retailers will have to leverage their use of channels to provide a better overall customer experience or risk losing them to niche businesses
- Customer-centric, multichannel database and analytics opportunities will be a huge area of opportunity and frustration; RFID will only make this more complex
- More private-label brands
- JCPenney's ana line is a good recent example but there are many, many others
- This bullet may be redundant with the second bullet as the reason these private labels are being launched is a combination of profit margin motives as well as focusing on attractive niches for revenue growth and differentiation
- An entire discipline will evolve on creating products that drive word of mouth
- I enjoyed Bryan Eisenberg's article on ClickZ this week and think that he and Roy Williams are on the right track here; Bryan cites three triggers – architectural, kinetic, and generous – and provides examples from our client's product reviews of these triggers driving five-star product satisfaction and word of mouth
- This will lead to much tighter communication between retailers and their suppliers with product reviews being one of the most important sources of data for these conversations (obviously returns and sales being the two longest-adopted sources)
- Members of the rapidly growing Word of Mouth Marketing Association will play a big role in this evolution
What am I missing from this list? And how do you think it will change your business?
Two other important notes that are relevant to this post:
- In this same issue of Wired, I was happy to see "The Power of Peer Production" named as one of the six trends driving the global economy, by Chris Anderson no less.
- Speaking of hits, Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg's new book, "Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?", is out and has already been named to the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestsellers list. Here is the praise I wrote for the book when Bryan was nice enough to give me a preview copy:
"The Web is a democratizing force as the world's largest global brain. It educates everyone on the pros and cons of every product, service, and even person. An educated person doesn't react well to the traditional art of manipulation that some marketers attempt to employ in their campaigns. As a matter of fact, it makes them angry and defensive … like a cat backed into a corner. No one understands this new world of marketing better than the Eisenbergs. Waiting For Your Cat to Bark? is the marketing manifesto of our generation. Read it, weep, and then go do something about it."