The Long And Short of The Long Tail

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  • The Long And Short of The Long Tail

When you have to make the decisions about where you are going to spend your marketing efforts, it really helps to have a sense of what your market is like statistically. In my post about the 80/20 Rule I talked about how a few activities can produce the majority of your successes, profits or even problems. On the other side of the equation you have the unique and obscure diversity of what is known as "The Long Tail".

Out of The 80/20 Rule Comes "The Long Tail"

Power law density plot

The principal behind the 80/20 Rule is called a power law distribution. This has been shown to apply to many different things in life. On a graph it’s a distribution curve that has a tall narrow area under the curve at the axes to the left and a low wide area under the rest that trails off in a long tail to the right.

Under the tall left side of the graph you find the mass markets and large chains and franchises. They thrive because they do popular things with mass-market appeal and do them well. They get the great economies of scale that work in cookie cutter, commoditized markets.

Niche Opportunities

What’re left behind are the many small niches that have just a few customers each. If you can reach those customers efficiently as a small business it might be worth it. Internet based companies have been able to use this principle very well because search engines are very powerful tools to find the most detailed product requirements.

With the search capabilities of the Internet finding customers is easier than it has ever been before. So for the enterprising small gym owner there may be a lot of different opportunities to provide services to very focused, small-scale needs in the community.

This may be an approach that requires a certain level of population density to succeed in the fitness business. Members don’t like to travel more than about fifteen minutes to get a workout or training session. But assuming location’s not a problem the challenge is to match up your resources with a very focused need.

The niche you find could be something for the disabled or disabled veterans, working with medical centers or physical therapists, or maybe even just the last jazzercise class in town for the last two dozen, really hardcore, old school jazzercise fanatics in your city (it could happen). I don’t know what it might be exactly, because that is something that you would have to figure out based on your local market.

I don’t expect to start any new trends here. The point I’m trying to make is that the long tail is one potential sector of opportunities that might throw you a bone if you know what to look for. If you find an obscure local trend you could serve and recognize it as being a part of the long tail then my job is done here.

The Long Reach of The Internet

The concept of the long tail has been best exploited on the Internet by bloggers, marketers and ecommerce retailers. The tools of ecommerce maximize the reach of small niche markets. Your niche service and gym might be best served in combination with a campaign of search engine marketing or social media marketing. Making your presence known via a website, Facebook page or Twitter may be the best way to reach out to your devotees and bring them into your fitness center.

The threat is that the big chains are looking at many different local markets and their secret is that they can duplicate the same thing in each market, so any advantage you get might be temporary. But even if you only win the advantage for just one season it might make enough difference in your membership levels that you can stay in business long enough to pursue the next opportunity, whatever that might be.

SD Public Library Online EBSCOHost

Zhiping, N. (2011). Research on the Integration and Transition of Pareto Principle and Long Tail Theory. International Business & Management, 3(1), 162-166. doi:10.3968/

Evans, M. P. (2009). The Aggregator Blog Model: How a Blog leverages Long Tail Economics. Journal Of Information Science & Technology, 6(2), 3-21.

Brynjolfsson, E., Hu, Y., & Simester, D. (2011). Goodbye Pareto Principle, Hello Long Tail: The Effect of Search Costs on the Concentration of Product Sales. Management Science, 57(8), 1373-1386. doi:10.1287/mnsc.1110.1371

Anderson, C. (2006). The Long Tail — How endless choice is creating unlimited demand. Market Leader, (34), 60-61.

Power law graph image from Wikimedia Commons

By Giuseppe.Vittucci (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Over to you…

What kind of health and fitness trends are you seeing in your hometown?

What are the big box gyms failing to attend to in your community?

Do you see any small fitness centers picking up on markets segments that are left out of the big box gyms?