Last week, I attended Columbia Business School’s Brite Conference 2010. “Brite” stands for brands, innovation and technology, and the event is sponsored annually by the school’s Center on Global Brand Leadership.

The two-day happening gave me enough material for quite a while, but let me start here.

There was a real mix of speakers.  On the first day, one of these presenters was… read the rest of this post here on my other blog, Marketing Observations Grown Daily

I don’t really understand it. One way or the other, I often write about women who are smart, accomplished and savvy. I don’t consider this to be any big deal: some women are all these things and some aren’t. Just like men. So why do companies still talk down to women in weird ways that they use with men?windup-woman-stephanie-fierman.jpg

There’s an article in Friday’s Wall Street Journal highlighting the efforts of UK beer makers to attract women. To me, this is a fairly basic marketing exercise: Determine the needs of your target. Build product, messaging and pricing to suit. Sell into channel.  The (grossly generalized) End.  But too often, it doesn’t seen to work that way.

Coors UK says that its mission is to “create a world where women love beer as much as they love shoes.” That should make a marketer cringe. How does Coors know that all women love shoes (they don’t)? And even if they did, what is it about the buying criteria women apply to a fashion purchase (that can be expensive and is seen by the world day in and day out on her feet) that beer makers think they can really learn from here? And do you only want (‘airhead’ is the subtle implication) women who can’t live without… heels? How about wanting to create a world where women love beer as much as they love exchange-traded funds? Or as much as they love criminal law? Climbing teelphone polls? Hmmm. Not sexy.

Later in the article, a bartender in London says that few women have tried Guinness Red (a line extension intended to appeal to the gals) because of its low awareness, and that it would help if “advertising could help explain that it’s (Red) like a watered-down Guinness.”

stephanie-fierman-pink-power-tool.jpgNo no, please don’t go to the bother of making a product for little ol’ me – just give me a man’s product weakened and drained of whatever made it special in the first place. And ask your salesman to describe it to me that way. I’ll be fine.

Peroni seems to be on to something, given that 30% of its drinkers are women – over 2x the industry average. The beer’s upcoming campaign ties the product to Italian culture, a near-universally appealing concept of leisure and enjoyment.

News flash: women are not tiny men. We do however have and spend tons of money.  What if we stopped thinking of making our power tools pink in order to sell them to the babes?

So I was sitting in a meeting just a few days ago, and someone I like and respect said something about “the long tail.”  A couple people sort of nodded, and I thought, “Oh my, are people still talking about that?”

You see, I am and always have been… a long tail doubter.  It’s true.  I’ve never said it out loud because the book was so very popular and the concept was picked up everywhere and it spread like wildfire, so I just kept my doubts to myself.  For two years.  Until now.

But first, a bit of history to catch us up to the present day.

Chris Anderson, editor of Wired magazine, made a huge splash with The Long Tail, which was first published by the magazine in 2004 and then as a book in 2006.  In a nutshell, the long tail theory says that the abundance and ease of choice on the Internet has shifted sales potential from a small number of mainstream “hits” (at the front of the demand curve) toward a near-endless number of lesser-known choices at the tail.  The term refers to the orange section of the demand curve shown here:

stephanie-fierman-long-tail-curve.jpg

Furthermore, because retail economics restrict stores to carrying only the best-selling products, items that have already been created and have either lost their mojo or were never popular in the mainstream in the first place are pushed out – along with their sunk costs.  But lo the Internet, with its infinite “shelf space” makes every product discoverable and ready to be purchased.  The book has become something of a holy document in the Internet community where companies (“from Amazon to iTunes,” says Anderson on his website) want to find a way to sell old songs, movies, videos, ringtones, on-demand books and television shows from their infinite Web warehouses.  Case studies flew up everywhere. 

Personally, I thought it was bunk.  Or rather, I thought the concept vastly overdramatized the effect of a small minority of “committed seekers” dedicated enough to something (comic books, that lost Marvin Gaye song, Civil War spoons…) to search for and purchase a category’s flotsam and jetsam.

When I looked around, in fact, it seemed that the rest of us were doing quite the opposite.  The New York Times’ Most Blogged, Most Emailed and Most Searched lists.  Top TV Shows, Top Music, Top Movies on iTunes.   Amazon.com’s influential Sales Rank, and its Bestsellers list (updated hourly).  The Netflix Top 10.  To me, the Internet appeared to be herding users more aggressively toward blockbusters, not away from them.

Like I said:  I kept this then un-hip and un-scientific opinion to myself.

Now there’s a professor at Harvard Business School who has researched the long tail. Based on sales data for online video rentals and songs, Professor Anita Elberse verifies my gut: not only do hits continue to be just as important online as they are online, but the Web is actually magnifying attention on the winners.

Elberse also discusses what she and others view as an incorrect subjective assumption that Anderson made when building the long tail, which is the idea that people want to go their own way.  They don’t want to listen/watch/read what everyone else does, and would rather wander down an untrodden hallway of the Web and find an otherwise discarded gem.  Who is he kidding?  Elberse cites additional research showing how intensely social people really are: how we like sharing experiences with others and that the mere fact that others like something makes us like it even more. 

And confirmation has come from another interesting source, as well.  Neil Howe, widely considered to be the expert on Millenials, draws a broad distinction between Gen X and this new influential group – the generation driving the most development and change on the Web. Among other things, while Boomers and Gen X “individuated,” born-in-the-80s Millenials gravitate toward the social:  chat rooms, instant messaging, Facebook.  They enjoy being with each other, forming friendships and shared preferences.  Rather than acting independently, Millenials who spend time customizing content on the Web do so for the purpose of sharing it with others (hello, YouTube). 

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                                         (Click on the graphic for a larger view)

Howe says it is and will be “the most connected generation in world history,” and that their preferences will only solidify the popularity of mainstream, popular brands and products.
Finally, Elberse and The Wall Street Journal‘s Lee Gomes also believe that the Internet/tech community unconsciously may have wanted to back the theory because it flattered its citizenry.  Long tail strength would fortify the value of new digital assets created outside the walls of institutional, cultural power (let’s build a pet robot in my garage, shoot a video for YouTube and get rich!).  And bloggers drank the Kool-Aid, they say, because the long tail promises an audience for just about any goofy comment out there.  This is all probably true, but it’s a little sketchy so I’m not going to dwell here.

But I am very, very happy that some respectable people with significant research refute the long tail theory.  Because – while I may not be a Millenial – I do like company.


If you enjoyed this post and wish there was so much more… Check out my daily blog at www.stephaniefiermanmarketingdaily.com. Thank you!


Readers know that I’m partial to a couple cartoonists and I like to share their work now and then.  On www.stephaniefiermanmarketingdaily.com, it’s David JonesAdland and here, it’s Tom Fishburne’s Brand Camp

With every newspaper and marketing trade I read, I’ve been having the below thought… Tom’s gone ahead and put it into words (and pictures).  Enjoy!

stephanie-fierman-consumers-dilemma-tom-fishburne.jpg 

Retail Cooperatives Move Online
Data cooperatives that track catalog purchase behavior have been around for decades.  Catalog retailers join the cooperative, submit their own anonymous but detailed purchase data and then can use the aggregated data to make targeting decisions.  Now this concept has jumped to the web, which could be very exciting.  An online cooperative called aCerno acts as a clearinghouse for retailers to share data collected from web transactions. “The system would allow an online retailer to contribute information, such as a cookie tied to a customer who bought a lawn mower. Another co-op member could then use that data to show the person an ad for a related product, like gardening supplies, with the supplier getting a cut.”


Online Video-Sharing Site Usage is Huge

43% of female and 53% of male adult Internet users visited an online video-sharing content site in 2007, and the %s in all age ranges soared.  Check this article for interesting and detailed stats.


Top 10 Viral Videos of 2007
Here are Jack Myers’ picks.  The #1 most popular video had 20 million views on YouTube and needs no introduction.  On a personal note, I did not do so well with geography in elementary school myself, so this video makes me feel a lot better.


Taser Home Shopping Parties a “Stunning” Success
The Tupperware party idea has finally jumped the shark.  Proof positive that you can apply a high-pressure ponzi scheme to just about anything!


Match the Medium to what People Actually do with It
This is an article detailing some of Rupert Murdoch’s thinking re. the future of the Wall Street Journal and, of course, he’s a genius.  His simple point of view is that – in a multi-media, multi-channel, multi-screen world – each channel’s content should be based on the interest and needs of its users.  For example:  perhaps the long, long, long stories on the cover of the Wall Street Journal each day would be better off in the weekend edition, when readers could actually find the time to read them.  The WSJ shouldn’t be ESPN, but maybe a simply sports score chart would be useful to traveling businesspeople who might get yesterday’s scores by picking up the newspaper left outside her hotel room. 

This is the process that Time magazine must pursue if it is going to survive.  Forget about the past.  (1) Put index cards up on a bulletin board that say Website / Mobile Web / Mobile Text / Print.  (2) Decide who uses each, when and for what.  (3) Execute mercilessly.  This is the process that the Variety franchise pursued when I was at Reed Elsevier:  Variety online is best for quick visits and breaking news.  Daily Variety is great for finding out what you missed yesterday, with just enough context.  Weekly Variety offers long-form articles and a discussion of trends. 


The Trading Up Phenomenon is Recession-Proof
This is an article in The New York Times (01.20.08) that tries to tie the idea that consumers are reigning in spending at the moment to an overall “decline” of the idea that consumers who are not truly wealthy “trade up” to luxury brands when they have discretionary cash.  This blogger has discussed her interest in this concept before, and recommends Michael Silverstein’s and Neil Fiske’s book on the topic Trading Up: The New American Luxury.  Like Silverstein, who’s quoted in this article, I think the author of this article is way off track.  The whole point is that middle- to upper-middle class people trade down when they are low on funds, and up when they are flush.  “The trading up phenomenon is quite recession-proof,” Mr. Silverstein says.