Watching the Long Tail

As a fledgling media planner in the mid-1990s, one of the business concepts I had the toughest time understanding was how to determine the appropriate number of media vehicles to use for a given media plan. I never understood why many of my colleagues thought it more efficient to use, say, one or two large magazines in place of 10-12 more niche-oriented ones. Given the choice between going broad or rolling up niche interests, I usually chose the latter, and I could make qualitative and quantitative arguments in favor of that approach.

From a numbers perspective, using more vehicles tended to extend reach, but it was the qualitative argument that really got me going. I thought that addressing a larger group of niche interests would allow the client to communicate more meaningfully with the people who were dedicated to those particular interests. In other words, a sports fan might not notice your ad running in Sports Illustrated, but had a better chance of noticing you if you ran an ad in a NASCAR publication and a magazine specific to fantasy football. I had a theory that the tinier the niche, the more dedicated its followers would be to that niche.



Those arguments tended to fall on deaf ears. Rollups of niche interests required more work for the agency--more reps to speak to, more schedules to keep track of, etc. Why use 10 different magazines when one would do? I began to understand in my first few weeks of media school that many saw media planning as almost solely a numbers game.

When the Web hit, I saw this problem magnified tenfold. The largest Web sites tended to the ones benefiting the most from advertising dollars because they could attract blue-chip advertising clients by virtue of the fact that they were among the biggest. Why roll up 10, 20 or 200 Web sites when one could buy ads on a portal and reach just as many people?

It's hard work to maintain a Web buy. Something like a magazine buy takes five minutes to execute with a space reservation and an insertion order. A Web buy requires much more effort, with maintenance work (optimization, technical support, reporting, etc.) at every step along the way while the media activity is running. So it's even more time-consuming to do rollup buys of niche sites on the Web than it is to do the same thing with magazines or newspapers.

To an extent, ad servers helped us get a handle on most of the work that was required to place ads on a number of Web sites simultaneously. But ad servers help us only with getting our message across. They help us less with interactivity and dialogue with customers.

Which begs the question--what tools exist to help us manage conversations in many different places at once?

It is this aspect of the job that paralyzes most companies that want to market online through communities and conversation. Here at Underscore, we've been building our own tools on an ad-hoc basis.

Most of these tools are based on search and search feeds, such that we can identify conversations of importance as they occur, monitor them and participate in them if it makes sense. Surprisingly, subscribing to custom searches via RSS is a great way to get specific conversations of importance to show up on your radar. A good RSS reader that can categorize feeds can thus help keep tabs on subjects, brands and people that are important to you and your clients.

In using some of these tools, I've been fantasizing about the days when marketers will be able to use them on a daily basis to participate in dialogues with customers. I could post a comment on my blog about a problem I'm having with, for instance, finding parts for my Dodge pickup. Within a few minutes, that comment might show up on the marketing dashboards of customer service reps at a number of different parts companies, and each could show up in my blog comments with an answer to my problem.

A conversational marketing dashboard is a tool many marketers don't realize they need yet, and it's a huge opportunity for companies who might bring such technology to the marketplace. (Hint, hint.)

Next story loading loading..