The return of the Long Tail

Two very nice posts take up the story of Budweiser’s “Long Tail Libations” (a perfect name, to say the least, for generating buzz these days). Chris Anderson’s post picked up on another post from the Brookstone Beer Bulletin (which in traditional blogosphere fashion is picking up on an earlier Chris Anderson post).

Anheuser-Busch has launched a new wine & spirits subsidiary, aptly naming it “Long Tail Libations” because its charter is to develop and launch many new and relatively unique (read small) brands that would not see the light of day in a company otherwise focused on a handful of national brands.

The cool idea in this string of posts is that the long tail of local beer was there before the mass market began dominating with a brands backed by major advertising. Sound familiar? The major beer brands were born in the 1950s–or reborn from previously local brands–and grew to prominence on the back of newly national advertising, distribution networks, and refrigeration.

In essence, we are now entering the long tail’s second coming. Thanks to even more sophisticated national distribution, we can live in California and drink Boston’s favorite micro-brewed beers. There is a story here that goes beyond the “Long Tail,” and involves how “what the long tail is doing to consumers” is doing to markets and the nature of products and services. That one’s for another post.

In any case, Bud’s problems are the same problems as most major brands–how can you build an organization capable of exploring the long tail, which is either where the next major brands are going to be, where all the sales growth is going to come from, where the earnings growth is going to come from, or all three?