What’s Hot; What’s Not – Marketing for a New Generation

Old marketing avenues...going the way of the dodo?

In a world where the tools of communication have become more ubiquitous than the automobile, change happens faster than ever before. Businesses are forced to focus on their agility, and marketers face a challenge that will likely turn that industry on its collective head.

Whether you’re aware of it or not, we’re in the midst of the biggest cultural paradigm shift not only of our time, but probably ever. When people refer to America’s youth as the MySpace generation, you know something’s up. So what’s really going on here? How can businesses embrace the sweeping changes that are riding the coattails of the information generation?

Bartender, gimme an old idea…with a twist

Rock 'n roll shotIt’s no secret that youth has typically served as the greatest catalyst for cutural change over the past fifty or so years. Look at rock ‘n roll in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Youth has always defined cool, but in previous iterations, did youth really define new, cutting-edge industries?

In the past, I think young people with fresh ideas and unorthodox lifestyles have been forced to adapt their habits and beliefs to a world that wasn’t set up to accommodate them. It’s the square peg/round hole effect, and this attempt to reconcile two irreconcilable polar opposites often ends in depression, anger, and the idea of jaded youth.

Thanks to the massive cultural infiltration of communication tools, things have begun to change – probably a lot more than any of us originally anticipated! Vehicles like MySpace (and more generally, the internet) and cell phones have become so widespread that they are spinning off industries right and left to cater to the long tail of our society.

For years, youth has literally defined itself in niches, and now?

The niches are king.

Stay cool or get the hell out of the way

I mentioned long tail earlier, and I want to take a second to talk about the effects of this paradigm shift on “new” marketing.

If you’re not on the long tail, you’re mainstream. Big business is mainstream. To put it another way, big business ain’t cool. I’m not going to suggest that big business is going anywhere because there’s absolutely no cultural appeal there, but I am going to suggest that in the years ahead, people just won’t care. That is, unless these businesses can align themselves with the long tail…

Old media is a perfect example of what the long tail isn’t. MySpace, on the other hand, is a prime example of a long tail company. It’s so long tail, in fact, that it caters to the ultimate niche – the individual.

So, why would Rupert Murdoch, the head of a multimedia giant (NewsCorp), want to buy MySpace?

Because he recognized that, without the long tail, he was screwed.

With that in mind, what is the biggest challenge that marketers will face in the years ahead?

Creating a marriage between the short tail upon which businsses were founded and the long tail upon which their future survival will be dependent.

All of the market’s interest currently lies in the realm of the long tail. My generation has been beaten over the head with the messages of the short tail for so long that we have literally become deaf to them. If you can’t market to the long tail, then you can’t convert anyone in my age group. It’s that simple.

To put it another way…

If you’re not cool, we’re not listening.

The freedom of the long tail (or why don’t you get a job?)

One long tail industry that has had a significant cultural impact in the last three years is poker. I have friends, all of whom have different backgrounds and skills, who seriously consider the pursuit of poker as a primary source of income.

Although it seems a bit too risky to me, my friends could all make very good arguments to the contrary.

First and foremost, the poker industry has become huge. Before what I call the “poker boom,” poker was a niche pastime for those who played the game. Outside of Vegas, there wasn’t a huge industry revolving around it, and generally speaking, it was reserved for dark, smoky rooms in the basements of hundred year old brick buildings.

Second, this is yet another example of a long tail industry in a 2.0 world. I said earlier that the niches were king, and the growing popularity of poker serves as evidence of that fact.

When niches see industries develop around them, they become more than just niches.

They become viable business opportunities.

Welcome to the world of the long tail, where the unorthodox may not be so unorthodox after all, old timer ;-)

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11 comments… read them below or add one

Nick June 13, 2006

Great post, and great insight on the long tail. I have a question though.

In today’s modern world with all this “niche is king” stuff, how do big corporations compete? Working for one myself, I can see that they definitely can’t turn the wheels fast enough to serve niches, let alone individuals. In other words, how can they hope to make the jump from large-scale mass marketing to small scale appeal, or is it even necessary?


Chris P. June 13, 2006

Personally, I think in certain industries, big corporations are hopeless due to their lack of mobility, as you mentioned. However, in many of those industries, their ability to serve niches is of little or no concern because those corporations are essentially cogs that serve our “necessities.”

We’re watching them pass from the glorious realm of innovation into the world of the mundane.

As I mentioned in the post, though, these companies have a different goal – to align themselves with the long tail. They don’t necessarily have to serve the long tail with a new product or in a new way – they just need to be identified with it. People will still need necessity items no matter how niche-ified the marketplace becomes.


Andrew Zipp June 13, 2006

This is just a bunch of buzzwords strung together, using the same ‘the sky is falling’ tone that sells business books.

I don’t think you’re really grasping what ‘the long tail’ means. I’m pretty sure that it refers to the ability of online stores to maintain vast inventories, and sell a lot of low volume products, instead of focusing on a few select high volume “best seller” products.

So Amazon and Netflix make a lot of money selling books and movies you can’t buy at the mall. I don’t really see how that applies to MySpace.

And outdoor advertising works. Teenagers that are willing to add a commercial product to their friend’s list are not the only people that buy shit.


Mike June 13, 2006

I’ve NEVER bought anything due to a billboard or a full page newspaper ad. Never. In fact, I avoid most of those products and the companies beacuse of their stupidity in treating me like I’m that stupid.

My only question about this post is this – what the hell does ” ubiquitous ” mean ?


Brian Clark June 13, 2006

Andrew, yes, you grasp the official definition of “long tail.”

But I’m worried you’re missing the future for the trees.


Lelia Katherine Thomas June 14, 2006

I hate MySpace in an unbelievable way, because anything that promotes the widespread usage of “ur” and other such bastardizations of the English language…I simply cannot like it. So I am gladly uncool and will remain as such. We won’t even speak of the “design.”

And, while I’d like to see us harm big corporations a bit (put them back into a state of semi-normality and do away with the oligarchy), they won’t be going away with this generation, and I don’t see how you can believe that.

This generation likes brand name jeans, MP3 players, products, etc. That’s certainly not falling in line with niche/small business. They like fast food; they like anything fast and easy to get via “super stores,” like Wal-Mart or Target. They support those big corporations in one breath and other big corporations, both domestic and international, in their purchases from them. You likely do as well. It’s hard not to.

It’s not that I don’t understand and agree with your ideas of how some business is changing, but the basics of life aren’t going anywhere. Neither are many of the “got to have its” that teens push.


J0sh June 14, 2006

Nick: “…how can they hope to make the jump from large-scale mass marketing to small scale appeal, or is it even necessary?”

basically I’d be reapeting what Chris said, but I’ll have to add…

…Large corps buy up. For instance, if you have noticed in the past Yahoo! has been concentrating on buying sites that support a vast people network or community i.e., flickr and various other sites. Best example Yahoo partnering with Six Apart! (Uh Oh?) Where as Google is going more into the office/business space with calendar, analytics and that new excel type thing.

… btw Interesting post.


Chris P. June 14, 2006

Leila, I thought (perhaps incorrectly) that I made it clear that both corporations and necessities were here to stay.

The point of the post was that in order to reach this new, young, and ad-deaf audience, large corporations (and everybody, for that matter) will need to find a way to identify themselves with the long tail.

In an on-demand, personalized world, messages aimed at a mass audience become less and less effective. Companies who practice this kind of tactic cannot hope to engender any sort of “audience love,” which I think is a key component of sales and marketing for the younger crowd.


Andrew Z June 14, 2006

I get it that social networking sites and blogs have the -potential- to sell, but we haven’t really seen it happen yet. The probably the closest I’ve seen is the band Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, who have managed to sell a respectable number of CDs on their own through online hype. But then again, they haven’t really achieved any mainstream success yet. And it’s one thing to promote an entertainment product that people feel they have a personal connection to, and another thing altogether to sell soap that way.

So saying that billboards have suddenly stopped working, or that they’ve never worked, is a bit silly. They don’t sell the kind of high end consumer goods where part of owning them is liking the commercials, and feeling like you’re part of that image. Cars, jeans, perfumes, that sort of thing, is all selling mostly the image, and are the kind of commercials that you remember and can admit to being influenced by. The kind of products that could probably benefit from a MySpace page or a blog or something.

Outdoor advertising is usually selling shit that you can buy right away with very little commitment. Like this hotel or restaurant or outlet mall is at the next exit. Or ads for radio stations, which you can tune to right away. Or events or attractions in that area.

Or sometimes, really general products that could appeal to almost anyone, like Gutter Helmet or personal injury lawyers. I think claims that we have become deaf to traditional advertising, and are only interested in sneaky viral marketing where someone paid off Myspace or branded some cool Flash game, are a bit early. It’s definitely an exciting addition to advertising, and has a lot of potential for certain products, but we’ve got a long way to go before it really means anything.


Chris P. June 14, 2006

Andrew, I think your points are completely valid, but they are not in direct contrast to what I’ve said in the post. Although there is a picture of a billboard at the beginning, I posed a meaningful question inside that billboard. At no point in my post did I say that billboards no longer work.

The point of the post, which apparently you missed, was that marketers will have to change their strategies in order to capture the “love” of the new generation of consumers.

I don’t suggest that mundane products need to be approached differently. All I’m saying is that in order to really capture your audience (like Starbucks has done, for example), companies will need to identify themselves with the long tail, even if they’re selling short tail products.

Again, I’m talking about being the best company – not about being another player. There’s always room for mediocre also-rans…But who the hell cares about them?


Ferg June 15, 2006

It seems to me, you are simply describing the difference between Large and Small firms. OF COURSE, large corporations are slow to react to new trends, Of COURSE, small businesses and mid-sized businesses cater more towards the individual. These are not revolutionary ideas by any means, they are simply stating the obvious…niche businesses working for products and services that are target at individual tastes. It is ridiculous that you are trying to pass this off as an independent thought. small business start by targeting a specific segment of the market, large corporations move their business model around standardization.

By-the-way, I would equate the new poker-fad to skate boarding…true, it has a lot of money flowing through it,but it will surely hit an exposure ceiling….remember how everyone had a skate board in the early 90’s?


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