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No Mercy / No Malice: The Long Tail Has New Life

7 April 2017

by

No Mercy No Malice

The Long Tail Has New Life

Of the top 100 CPG brands, 90% lost share and two-thirds lost revenue in 2015. These declines are in the face of overall category growth. The big brands have smart people, executing well — I work with a bunch of them. However, they are pushing a rock up a hill, as disposable income wants special, not big.

While the short tail dominates in tech, with more spoils going to fewer firms (like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google), in consumer the long tail has new life. Estée Lauder and L’Oréal commanded a 53% share of the luxury skincare market in Q1 2015. In Q1 2016 it dropped to 50%. Note: a 300-basis-point drop in the consumer goods sector is a source of panic.

We are in the age of the artisan, where consumers are only a few searches and reviews away from discovering the specific product that matches their exact needs, foregoing the need to defer to the traditional brand. Why pick lame Dannon, when you can feast on that Kefir yoghurt from Brooklyn that Beyonce likes. Why trust your pores to Nivea, when there is JeJu Sparkling Mud Foam Cleanser.

What do successful long-tail brands have in common? A few things:

Fast. A nimble supply chain that has its ear to the ground and can get shit to shelf in a third of the time of the traditional players. In the time that bigger brands coordinate their launches with retail partners, obsess over the supporting print campaign, and make sure the self-anointed keepers of the brand and legal sign off, long-tail brands have launched several products.

Exited the suicide pact. Long-tail brands are typically found in growth channels. In beauty, these are Amazon, Ulta, and Sephora. The biggest challenge facing the iconic brands of today is the erosion of their distribution.

Discoverable where consumers are now hunting. Simply put, long-tail brands are really, really good at Instagram. A brand’s engagement and reach on Instagram (measured by absolute likes and comments) relative to sector is a forward-looking indicator of growth. The correlation between beauty brands’ performance on Instagram and revenue growth is strong. Millward Brown and Ipsos have built big businesses measuring brand equity and ad effectiveness. They will come under pressure as brands can, instead of paying $600K/year, begin looking at their Instagram activity instead.

Search / Consumer Friendly Merchandising. I know, snooze. But as I tell my students, it’s the boring stuff that will make you rich. Rogaine cedes share to products that have the term “minoxidil” in the title, as search algorithms like you to keep it real (that is, simple). In addition, as Google helps cut through the bullshit of weak brands that are charging a premium for no real reason, consumers cut to the chase with a brand that speaks to the specific need / indication, like MyChelle Fruit Enzyme Cleanser.

Empathy

em·pa·thy
/’empəTHē/
noun

  1. The capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing.

Great leaders have tremendous empathy, or at least the ability to fake it. Your capacity to put yourself in the shoes of people, and commit to helping them achieve their (unique) goals is key to establishing loyalty. The most effective CEOs have a cadre of people who follow them from firm to firm, as 1) people believe the person is a winner and will create value, and 2) they will benefit directly from the value creation, as she gets / understands / cares for me.

One of the mistakes I made as a young leader was believing that the goal was to just be fucking awesome and let people share in the fruits of this inevitable awesomeness. Without regular evidence of, and investment in, understanding the people who work with you, you won’t get to awesomeville. Success is in the agency of others who believe in you, and in your regard for them and what’s important to them.

People with brain trauma and children whose development is stunted register lower levels of empathy. As a species we are weaker and slower than a lot of our competitors. Our developed brain is our competitive differentiation. It follows then that our empathy is what makes us more human.

This week I learned a (casual) friend has cancer, and the images from Syria have put me in a bit of an angry / depressed funk. My friend is young and has access to the best care, so he’ll likely be fine. I wonder if it’s empathy you feel when friends are sick, or just plain terror as you realize it could / might / will someday be you. The recent research that 60% of cancers are unpredictable and random creates a level of unease that, regardless of how often you eat beets, you may still get colon cancer. The images from Syria do feel more like empathy and just plain disappointment in our species and system. We live in a world that sees urgency / priority in our ability to cue every episode of Modern Family on our phones, but still can’t figure out a way to convince people they shouldn’t gas children with sarin.

There is a silver lining. The explosion in images distributed on social media platforms has led to more empathy, which should make us less likely to gas children, or at least inspire us to hunt down those who do these things. Images of our friends’ and strangers’ children on social media make us feel closer to each other. It’s common knowledge that countries that trade with one another are less likely to go to war with one another. As deaths from violence continue to decrease (and they are decreasing), I believe we will discover that one of the causes for the decrease is more people feeling closer to… more people.

As we contemplate a world with no jobs due to robots that can do everything, it’s clear we own one domain. It’s impossible to outsource empathy. As we grow older, and register more love and disappointment, we become more empathic. However, it takes more than that.

“I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it.”

— Maya Angelou

It’s a comforting thought; we are all born with big hearts and, as we grow older, summon the strength to use them.

Life is so rich,
Scott

  • Walter Leistiko

    Success is in the agency of others who believe in you, and in your regard for them and what’s important to them.LOVE THAT !!!

  • George Freney

    The long tail is a really interesting space, particularly when location is overlaid onto it. Brands and retailers that want to take advantage of the long tail in bricks and mortar stores need an effective way of making sure they are present in those types of searches.

  • Ncube

    On Empathy.. hear, hear!!

  • Sonia

    And the good news is that Empathy and Compassion are skills that you can learn and develop throughout your life with meditation or other mindful practices – this is proven by recent neuroscientific studies of meditation.

  • Kristin Kohler Burrows

    Let’s hope we are finally entering a time where “how you do something” is as important, if not more important, than what you do to drive long-term value. Cheers to empathy and humility.

  • Nick

    Nice read. Good Job.