A Long Tale of Long Tails

If you stopped by today’s blog, expecting your weekly dose of marketing wisdom, you may have come to the wrong place.

Normally, our blogs are written weeks in advance. They lie, in queue, on our website, waiting for their pre-appointed launch-date and drip out with the annoying frequency of a leaky faucet in the middle of the night. Instead, this blog was written the Sunday before its release. Inspired by an event that had nothing to do with brand or marketing. Perhaps.
I was standing in the kitchen, having just returned from the Sunday morning exile of my office, where I had sat, for hours, surfing the web: a little time on Twitter, reading the designedly terse ramblings of friends, and of people I admire, and of people I have chanced upon and found pithy (@dcurmudgeon, for example); a little time in dutiful wiki-straction, refreshing my now-faded college understanding of classical western ethics; and a little time reading newspapers of the world, in hopes of building a less parochial worldview, only to find myself redirected to a brilliantly written New York Times obituary for John Fairfax. And as I stared into the fridge, bored and un-hungry, my eyes drifted upward to the miscellanea that collects on top of refrigerators, perhaps worldwide.

Here, were two small gift bags. One, I knew, contained a gag gift we had bought for a couple who failed to show at our annual Holiday party, but the other was a mystery to me. And when I looked inside, I found a hostess gift – why are they never called “host” gifts? – comprising two small items: a pack of fifty 4×4 snowman napkins and a gift box of six wine charms.

Being a marketing guy, I wondered, “Who would buy wine charms in the first week of December, when their price was at its peak?” And then I realized, “I was trained, by parents who had lived through the Great Depression, never to buy anything at full price.”

Our minds have a way of traveling several paths at once, an operation known as “parallel processing” in the computer world. Part of my attention followed to the fact that I have often scoured post-seasonal sales bins, scarfing up radically reduced merchandise with a long shelf-life, knowing these finds would be wonderful hostess gifts or stocking-stuffers in less than twelve months. Another part wondered, in Seinfeldian terms, if these charms were re-gifts. And a third part pointed out that my own Amazon wish list contains, in addition to several books I have almost bought, several sets of wine charms.

There are multiple ironies, here. But the one that stuck, for me, was fact that I play both ends of what we marketers call “the long tail.” On the one hand, I help to shorten the long tail by taking post-seasonal items out of store inventories; and on the other, I won’t hesitate to surf the web for hours, in search of some obscure item no longer manufactured, or an out-of-print hardbound book.

So, there we have it – a bit of marketing for the few who will have read this far. And in the interest of creating web dialogue, I’ll make a deal with you (who are still reading). Email us with your perspective on the long tail, and, if your email is first to arrive, I’ll send you this nifty set of wine charms.