Icarus was a figure in Greek mythology who made wings out of feathers and beeswax to escape an island. So enamoured of his newfound ability to fly was he, that Icarus ignored warnings not to fly too close to the sun. Upon getting close to the sun, the beeswax melted, his wings fell off, and he plummeted to his death. The same thing that had made Icarus successful is what led to his downfall. In his overconfidence he had become blind to the dangers of flying too close to the sun.
Similarly, for consumer brands today, focusing on emerging channels has been hailed as an innovative early business strategy. These channels are limited by their smaller size and higher cost and are therefore deprioritized by larger players. For new entrants, the less competitive space provides easier levers for growth and encouragement who in turn let it evolve into their primary business strategy. Sooner or later the costs or the size of the channel come into play and curtails the aspirations for fledgling organizations.
What is the long tail?
The long tail is a business strategy that allows companies to realize significant profits by selling low volumes of hard-to-find items to many customers, instead of only selling large volumes of a reduced number of popular items.
The term “long tail” was first coined in 2004 by Chris Anderson. He argued that products in low demand or with low sales volume can collectively make up market share that rivals or exceeds the relatively few current bestsellers and blockbusters. However, it is possible only if the store or distribution channel is large enough. Hence for a truly successful long tail strategy, the size of distribution is imperative.
Given that the size is critical, for which quadrant would you deploy the long tail strategy?
Needless to say, the biggest opportunity for any consumer brand today will be to be in quadrant number 1. One of the key takeaways from emerging channels is their advanced analytics that aids the long tail business strategy. What if we were to learn from the deep technological orientation of emerging channels and leverage it to create a long tail strategy for traditional channels?
Few of the well-known differentiated consumer brands today have been able to leverage technology like never before. They are able to adopt the long tail business strategy via tradition channels to reach their consumers and navigate the Icarus Paradox successfully.