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The Long Tail for Heavy Business?

I was with
Paul [whose digital footprint is miniscule, he’s practically invisible. Get
about more man!] the other night and we were trying to work through what ‘marketing
as conversation’ meant to marketers. It’s tricky. The implications seem to be that the Long Tail  marks the end of
traditional marketing for many companies in the ‘digital eocnomy’ and therefore puts formal
marketers out of work as ‘advocates’, ‘evangelists’ and filters for niche
products become the marketers of the future. 

But as much
as I’m a fully bought in club-class member of the Long Tail appreciation
society, I often struggle to see how this sea change in the structure of the economy applies to some of the businesses I
deal with day-in day-out. 

Let’s start
with Builders Merchants [I’ve got lots of other examples which I may use in
later posts, depending on the response from this one]. Nothing glamorous about Builders
Merchants. They facilitate direct sales
of things like drainage for developers as well as maintaining stocks on the
ground to cover for missing, broken, stolen or smaller items. And sure, product ranges across a whole tract
of different types of ‘heavy’ products [drainage, cement – ‘heavy’ building products] have broadened out and information about who is
selling what is more open and transparent which works to suppress margins as merchants compete aginst each other to get the trade [though most information / dealing is done over the phone rather than online –  virtual merchants stores are a rarity for ‘heavy goods’].

The internet is allowing near perfect information but the nature of the industry means that the stock by it’s nature is bricks and mortar and consequently stock management is quite constrained.  Physical geography and
the pricing and competitive structure means that economies of scale tend to
reduce the number of suppliers – the economics of the Head are really tough and there are few benefits in the Long Tail to offer any profit hope . The Long Tail is very short. And actually, where you might expect
merchants to build up relationships with their customers and develop these
customers into the overall offering builders don’t ‘do’ chit chat, and
specifiers don’t do much small talk either even less online, so price becomes
the predominant factor pushing toward a concentration of suppliers.

So what is
the learning? Can the Long Tail help us
here? Are older, traditional businesses
just further down the line toward a ‘marketing as conversation’ solution to a
Long Tail issue… or does a different business model apply with it’s own
concomitant marketing solution? It would seem to me that it’s the latter but I kind of talked myself into a situation with Paul wherby I hinted at the former and now I need to work out if that’s really the case :-/

Disclaimer:
anything expressed in this blog is my own personal opinion and not necessarily
that of my employer. Any dumb ass stuff
is mine and mine alone.

1 Comment
  1. Excellent questions. I haven’t been doing much on the LT outside of media and entertainment on the blog (by agreement with my publisher) but will have a chapter on it in the book. Basically, in any industry where you can have centralized storage (warehouses, direct from factory, etc) or distributed fufillment (eBay, etc) you can extend the LT into heavy goods. There’s also the case of customized versions, mfg’d on demand (Dell model), which is another way of getting at niches in physical goods while avoiding shelf space issues.

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