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Exploring the science and magic of Identity and Access Management
Saturday, May 25, 2024

Identity and the Long Tail

Author: Mark Dixon
Friday, April 6, 2007
9:13 pm

For my recent birthday, two of my inspired children gave me a subscription to Audible.com, an online audio book vendor. I have thoroughly enjoyed the ability to listen to a good book as I have travelled thither and yon in rental cars and taxicabs.

The first title I downloaded to my iPod, of the the more than 35,000 titles available, was The Long Tail – Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More, by Chris Anderson. This book explores “The Long Tail,” a term coined by Mr. Anderson to describe the phenomena where in an economy of abundance, with very large product choice and low distribution costs (e.g. online music sales), a large portion of the economic value of the market lies not just in a relatively few megahits, but in the long tail of a demand curve, represented by the yellow “long tail” shown in the diagram above.

Long-tailed examples are all around us. The fact that I was driving down the freeway in Los Angeles listening to the Long Tail on my iPod rather than listening to the radio is a long tail market symptom. The fact that you are reading this blog (which is definitely in the long tail of the blogosphere) rather than reading your local newspaper, demonstrates both the vast choice available to information consumers and the ease of distributing ideas.

It occured to me that Identity suddenly becomes very relevant in a long tail economy. If an enterprise sells only megahits, or very popular items, it can apply its entire marketing budget to delivering a “megahit” message to the masses. But in a long tail economy, an consumer’s tastes, product preferences and buying patterns suddenly become critical. Marketing messages can no longer be general; they must be tailored to the individual. This high degree of personalization demands Identity – which in the broad sense is much more than user name, password and mailing address. It includes preference and presence, history and reputation. This composite Identity of a consumer suddenly becomes an extremely valuable asset.

In the modern telecommunications market I serve, our customers are definitely competing for prominence in the long tail economy. A telecom carrier or cable operator’s desire to deliver highly personalized, blended services, fueled by individually-targeted advertising, must learn to leverage Identity for fundamental business advantage.

Do you like to be thought of as a valuable asset to be leveraged? Maybe not. However, as a participant in the long tail economy, you are no longer one of a numberless mass. You are an individual, with individual preferences. And long tail marketeers are trying to reach you. Such a pleasant thought!

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3 Responses to “Identity and the Long Tail”


    Comment by dennis on April 6, 2007 at 9:55 pm

    Very nicely put. (I think the future holds for us a mixture of megahits and obscure individual long tail items, which makes the identity and personalization even more crucial whether you’re a consumer or marketroid.)

    Comment by Martin Hardee on April 6, 2007 at 10:00 pm

    Dennis, Martin:

    Thanks for your comments. Great insight about the mixture of megahits and long tail item (e.g. George Strait and “Fresh Milk” – I bet you haven’t heard of that group!).


    Comment by Mark Dixon on April 7, 2007 at 6:53 am

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