The long tail focus for growth
As we move out of the darkness of the Covid 19 pandemic, business attention is shifting from survival mode to growth. During the pandemic we extolled the virtue of not going dark during a crisis, in order to ensure that the brand remained salient and strong to as wide an audience as possible, leaving it more likely to come to mind for all as the hoped-for pick in the economy arrives.
Already consumer confidence is starting to rebound, and there is evidence of pent-up demand among consumers to spend some of the savings they have managed to secure during the crisis once the final shackles of lockdown are gradually removed.
So where should brands focus attention to drive growth? The evidence suggests that your strategy should be on broadening the brands reach to the long tail of users, rather than focusing too heavily on trying to get already heavy consumers of your product or service to spend more.
The reality is that it is very difficult to persuade already heavy buyers to purchase more often; they have well-established repertoires and habits based on extensive experience of the brand. It’s also the case that it’s very hard to keep all those heavy customers long term, as they trial new competitors’ products and services, it is inevitable that some will move elsewhere.
This is the “Leaky Bucket” theory, and to counter that loss the theory suggests you need to keep filling that bucket with new water to counter the impact of the leaks. If you want to grow the brand you need to be filling the bucket quicker than its leaking.
This is why the work of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute strongly recommends that marketers look to the ‘long tail’ of light, lapsed and non-triallists of a brand for growth. Light, lapsed and non-triallists behaviour is not based on extensive experience of the brand and may be based on total lack of consideration. In other words, the brand is simply not salient to them.
On average their data suggests that the top 20% of users of a typical brand will account for around 50% of category consumption. This trend is seen across brands and services and is “normal”. At RED C we regularly measure this for our clients and have seen similar trends. It does not seem to matter what the product or service is, for example soft drinks, retail, insurance, lottery ticket purchases, and even media consumption.
That means there are a lot more light, lapsed or non-trialists for any brand than loyal customers, and a greater target for you to persuade some of them to use your brand more often.
The Ehrenberg-Bass analysis argues that these “long tail” consumers are also much more easily encouraged to try and/or buy the brand more often, than those already purchasing heavily. The ideal target consumers for a brand are a light or non-user who nevertheless shops the category significantly, buying from competitors regularly.
So, the first thing any brand should do when developing a growth strategy is to truly understand the long tail. Who are they? How they differ to your heavier buyer? Then what are their needs and what motivations will make them try or buy your brand?
Key to delivering that required saliency is understanding how the long tail shop the category, what are the triggers or Category Entry Point that bring the category into focus and how do we perform in those entry points that are most relevant.
By understanding what Category Entry Points prompt those long tail buyers to purchase in your category, you can then target those occasions to drive saliency of your brand at moments that matter.
This makes choosing your brand easier for long tail targets, as it is more likely to come to mind when they are prompted to use your category. Using this approach, we can then the nudge them through emotional brand building and activation targeting to become more typical users of the brand.
By focusing attention on the Long Tail, we can identify who to target, what Category Entry Points are most likely to drive mental availability – and ultimately measure success through increased penetration and frequency.
So don’t build a growth strategy around those people who already buy your product or service heavily. Look after them of course, in order to retain them as long as possible and to slow down leaks in the bucket but focus your growth on bringing new people into purchase your brand. Target the long tail.