Network Effect vs. The Long Tail

Social Media Jul 6, 2007

I just discovered this guy’s site which is, well, Worth Reading. Over and over, I discuss the idea of the Network Effect vs. The Long Tail. I usually refer to this as the “who you know” people vs. the “what you know” people. I haven’t quite figured out this person’s name, but he/she writes about heady topics with the same future mindset that I try using for myself. I recommend reading his piece that perfectly positions HitTail as a realistic approach to marketing that flies in the face of the power brokering good ol’ boy network.

So, I won’t just repeat his points. Instead, I’ll explore how you see this in actual practice. Why are big manufacturers forced to pay for their search presence through Google keyword advertising (AdWords)? Why can’t they just naturally target and dominate their topics? Shouldn’t Ford come up when you Google “cars”? Shouldn’t each drug company come up first when you Google their respective drug names?

Yesterday, I was involved in a long discussion about how the top manufacturers in the world, companies like the Fortune 500 and Global 2000, don’t really own their own keywords without buying them through AdWords from Google. With only some rare exceptions, searches on generic terms, like “cars” will bring up everything but the big automotive companies. Those results are full of publishers, affiliates, dealerships, and just about everyone but the original manufacturer.

In a way, this makes sense, because many OEM’s just don’t do marketing, and they rely on their distribution networks and retailers to drive product demand. In other words, they’re not marketers, and about all they know how to do is big-budget, big-media (usually TV) cognitive resonance pieces that get the world feeling good about their products. But even if the demand is created at this level, the sales are driven into local dealerships, and in the most extreme case these days, to patients demanding name-brand drugs from their doctors.

This creates a pain point, because the reality is that manufacturers almost never “own” their own company’s industry keywords. Sure, they’ll own the company name. But that only helps if people are specifically looking for them, in which case, the branding has done its job. It’s the multitudes who stray away from brand loyalty, and go Googling to see what else is out there who need to be corralled back…

…or not…

…depending on how determined the successfully branded manufacturer is about keeping their customers. Peter Drucker says that the mission of any company is to get and keep customers. Companies with a successful brand have a certain amount of brand momentum going that makes them lose sight of the long, difficult battle it is to get those customers in the first place. That’s why companies that have “made it” let customer service slip as their first impropriety of success.

Success doesn’t mean you can slack off–that is, unless you don’t mind making an opening for a competitor. All the companies sinking a fortune into AdWords ought to consider how much more valuable it would be to just naturally come up on the keyword in search where they should.

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