The Long Tail of CSR: When Smaller is Bigger

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Wayne Visser
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The Long Tail of CSR: When Smaller is Bigger

Part 8 of 13 in Wayne Visser's Age of Responsibility Blog Series for 3BL Media.
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Effective #CSR: How to be big and small at the same time http://bit.ly/GTQerH @waynevisser #responsibility #sustainability
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Tuesday, March 27, 2012 - 7:45pm

Is bigger always better or can we still say ‘small is beautiful’, as the pioneering economist E.F. Schumacher argued way back in 1973? Certainly, the ‘muesli-eating, sandal-wearing’ New Age approach to small-is-beautiful has been rather more of an advert for ‘small is groovy, but ultimately ineffectual’. But what if we could do both big and small at the same time?

I discussed the issue of scalability with Simon Zadek, a widely respected thought leader on the civil corporation and accountability, who posed the rhetorical question: ‘Is scale large institutional functionality, or is it a flotilla of little boats?’ This is where Chris Anderson’s Web 2.0 concept of ‘the long tail’ is very useful. The Long Tail – named after the extended tail of a statistical distribution curve – is the idea that selling less to more people is big business. It’s the business model that has spawned the most successful companies of the Web 2.0 age. The Long Tail questions the conventional wisdom that says success is about generating ‘blockbusters’ and ‘superstars’ – those rare few products and services that become runaway bestsellers.

Anderson sums up his message by saying that: 1) the tail of available variety is longer than we think; 2) it’s now within reach economically; and 3) all those niches, when aggregated, can make up a significant market. He also notes that this Long Tail revolution has been made possible by the digital age, which has dramatically reduced the costs of customised production and niche distribution. There are three enablers of successful long tail businesses, according to Anderson: 1) democratising the tools of production (e.g. digi-cams, content editing software, blogging tools); 2) democratising the tools of distribution (e.g. Amazon, eBay, iTunes, Netflix); and 3) connecting supply and demand (e.g. Google, blogs, Rotten Tomatoes).

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To view other posts from the 3BL Media blog series "The Age of Responsibility", click here.

To view more posts by Dr. Wayne Visser on the CSR International website, click here.

 

About the author

Dr Wayne Visser is Founder and Director of the think-tank CSR International and consultancy Kaleidoscope Futures Ltd. He is the author of thirteen books, including The Age of Responsibility: CSR 2.0 and the New DNA of Business (2011), The World Guide to CSR (2010) and The A to Z of Corporate Social Responsibility (2010). He is the author of over 180 publications (chapters, articles, etc.) and has delivered more than 170 professional speeches on in over 50 countries in the last 20 years. In addition, Wayne is Senior Associate at the University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership, Visiting Professor of Sustainability at Magna Carta College, Oxford, and Adjunct Professor of CSR at Warwick Business School, UK.