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The Long Tail Revisited - Niches, Tribes and Social Media

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March 01, 2009
Social Media | Technology
Carol Verret - carol@carolverret.com

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© 2009 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction without written permission.

The lessons of the Long Tail and niche marketing are especially compelling in hard times.  Recall Chris Anderson in his seminal article (and subsequent book) about the Long Tail in Wired Magazine states that the mass market is fracturing into infinite niches due to the nature of the Internet and the infinite choices it offers – that what once was obscure is now available to everyone. 

In last year’s article we discussed how this translates into infinite demand.  That infinite demand has declined drastically with the downward slide in the economy.  What has changed is consumer behavior – the crisis of confidence that has resulted in a global chicken little syndrome.  The consumer is looking for a good reason to loosen their grip on any cash they may have.   

Howard Hammerman, an industry consultant, in an excellent article, describes these niches as tribes.  We all belong to multiple tribes – the most elemental of which is our family tribe. Peter Yesawich identifies family travel as a strong trend for 2009.   Citing “an increasing introspection and a desire to reconnect with what they feel is really important in their lives …the fundamentals supporting continued growth of family travel are deeply rooted and can be traced to the stock market crash of 2000 and the terrorist attacks of 9/11 the following year.”  (As quoted in Travel Weekly, October 28, 2008).

The consumer is also motivated by a compelling drive to value.  Value is a perception – not a price point.  In an uncertain world resulting in an aversion to risk, they would prefer to return to an experience that was good for them in the past and would prefer a familiar venue rather than one that is untried.  

These consumer niches reside in the hotel’s database, defined by seasons, arrival departure patterns and other parameters.   All too often, e-blasts are indiscriminately sent to everyone in the database with the same graphics and message.   In this economy, one size does not fit all – that is the point of niches.

Segmenting the lists, whether leisure or meetings, allows the targets to remember a positive experience and, if offered a ‘value add’ to return, may be persuaded to relinquish some of their cash to experience it again.  The value that an off-season customer seeks may be at a different price point than the value that a high season customer will find appealing.  Two different customers finding value in the same experience at two different price points illustrates that value is not a price point, it is a perception.  Value for a $99 customer is different than the value for a $500 customer.

Chris Anderson could not have envisioned the impact of social media on the concept of the Long Tail.  Social media not only gives Long Tails to a marketing campaign but allow marketers and sales people to participate in the chatter of tribes.

LinkedIn has a profusion of groups that members can participate in. Targeting appropriate niches, members can become acquainted with interest groups that find value in their product.  It also offers the opportunity to participate in discussions as well as post questions and solicit answers and to post photos and videos.   This may be basic for avid LinkedIn users, however there are those novices and the uninitiated that are unaware of some of these features.

iMeet is a social networking site for meeting planners and suppliers.   This is one of the most exciting developments for the hospitality industry in that it is an incredibly targeted site with pretty much the same functionality as LinkedIn.   It was founded by Michael Pino, the former head of StarCite, who certainly knows the space and has provided a niche platform to maximize the social media experience for this particular tribe.

Twitter is becoming ever more useful in a niche sense.  Participants create their own tribes with followers and then communicate with them.  Savvy hospitality companies monitor Twitter for Tweets that mention them.    

In a recent USAToday article the importance of Twitter was underlined.  Hotel brands, airlines, airports, destinations and other travel companies are joining the growing Twitter community to not only have their voices heard, but to hear what their customers in the Twitter community are saying about them.  “We consider our Twitter account akin to an information booth,” said Morgan Johnston, JetBlue’s manager of corporate communication. “Responding to situations after they’ve happened is a great idea, responding to situations while they’re happening is even better.”

The article goes on to underscore the creative use of Twitter by hotel companies. Tablet Hotels uses its Twitter account similarly to JetBlue, keeping an eye on what customers are saying and what they can do improve their experience. “We had one of our TabletPlus members Twitter from the front desk when the hotel was giving her a hard time,” Michael Davis, co-founder of Tablet Hotels, said. “We caught it within 30 seconds of posting and our customer service called the hotel to resolve (the issue),” Davis said.  “Customer problems can no longer be kept quiet with the emergence of the Web.” The Marriott hotel group agreed, which is why they have not one, but two Twitter accounts. One serves as public relations and customer service vehicle, while the other focuses on Marriott’s efforts to go green.  (USAToday, 01/08/09)

Twitter has become not only a social media tool but also a mobile promotions tool.  Sales people can use Twitter to stay in touch with contacts.  A Tweet can let a tribe know where they are.  For example, if the sales person is attending a trade show, they can alert contacts to see if they are also attending and try to meet up.  A Tweet is a nonobtrusive way of touching a contact without pushing a product but still staying in touch.   

The change in customer behavior to being value driven is not likely to go away quickly even after the economy rebounds.  Housing equity that was diminished will not quickly return nor will the values of 401Ks that were decimated.   It is then imperative that we find the niches and the value proposition for each in order to successfully market and sell to them not only now but when the economy recovers.

Social media provides the opportunity to create and promote to tribes in a cost effectively way and enrich their experience, providing additional value.  It is difficult to track and measure the ROI on social media but perhaps those aren’t the right metrics to use for experience enrichment and maintaining positive awareness of the product. 
Carol Verret and Associates Consulting and Training offers training services and consulting in the areas of sales, revenue management and customer service primarily but not exclusively to the hospitality industry. She can be reached at carol@carolverret.com or by phone (303) 618-4065. Also visit www.hotelsalesblog.com.


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