Crossing the Chasm

In Geoffrey Moore's insightful book, Crossing the Chasm, he explores how technology jumps the "chasm" between the early market (hobbyists and visionaries, what I call dreamers) to the main market (pragmatics and conservatives, that I call realists). Moore found that many companies got drunk on their early success and failed to rethink and retool their products to meet the needs of the main market which holds two-thirds of your customers.

Moore found that the pre-chasm dreamers simply didn't "speak the same language" as the post-chasm realists. It's like the English crossing the channel into France. I immediately recognized the linguistic differences between these two parts of the market. So I started to wonder, how can the dreamers craft their message so the realists can hear it? And how can the realists craft their message to involve the dreamers?

The early adopters of any technology are revolutionary, innovator achievers. They want whatever is new and different, and they want lots of choices and options. Because technology companies cater to the dreamers, they get seduced by their early success. They don't realize that they need a different approach if they want to cross the chasm to where the big dollars are.

The post chasm adopters are evolutionary, processor followers. They want complete, proven products and processes that they can implement immediately to improve their productivity and profitability. They don't want a bunch of options. They don't want "new" and "different" because they hear these phrases as meaning "high risk" and "high maintenance."

So what can you do?
If you're an innovation-based company, realize that your early successes are good, but they won't take you across the channel to where the big bucks await. So, rather than relying on your standard "new, different, options" approach, you might consider another way to approach the realists, a way that will be new and different to you, but familiar and comforting to them.

  1. Develop complete functionality for one pressing problem the realists currently have.
  2. Describe it as an "improved and proven" way to solve their problem
  3. Target one niche on the other side of the channel and establish a beachhead.
  4. Get testimonials from these realists, because realists are "followers." They rely on word of mouth from other realists to make their decisions. They will not listen to dreamers, because they don't trust them.

If you're an existing company and you want to involve the dreamers, all you have to do is talk about the improvements you've made in terms of how they are "new and different." Offer some options and choices, maybe colors (e.g., Nokia phone plates). Think about Dodge: What's their ad campaign? "Dodge: Different." Hey, it's a truck, it's not different, but if you say it is, the dreamers will believe you, but then you'd better be able to back it up with information. Dreamers are achievers; they decide for themselves so you will need ways to enlighten them about the new and different options available with your old familiar product or service.

Hint: This works with your internal changes as well as your external market changes. If you're trying to implement Six Sigma or reengineering, you'll always find a few dreamers ready to adopt it, but you will hit a wall when you reach the realists. So start small, establish a beach head within the company, and make sure it is successful. Then make sure they "sneeze" their success to other realists in the company. You will dramatically improve your chances of weaving the "program of the month" into the fabric of your company.

Danger! There's one other kind of customer out there: the critic. They want the same old familiar thing they've always used. That's why "New, Improved Blue Cheer" comes in the old familiar blue box. Critics don't want your new or improved product or service and they will resist it with a passion if you try to force it on them. Inside your company, they are the corporate "immune system." Their word of mouth can kill your change. In the marketplace, they are the media and reviewers. If your product or service isn't ready for prime time, don't let them play with it.

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