Geoffrey Moore was ahead of his time when he wrote Crossing the Chasm.
After reading his analysis on bridging “the Chasm” between early adopters and the mainstream market, I realized that this was an essential idea that’s been overlooked by many young startups. Some companies don’t know where to begin with their marketing efforts, and slowly dissipate into the black hole of Silicon Valley. Others find themselves on the right track, but hit a bottleneck when they arrive at the chasm, unsure of their next step. With new seeds of innovations constantly sprouting throughout the world, Moore’s approach on crossing the chasm is very relevant today.
At its core, the book analyzes how to approach the various psychographic (personality) profiles from the Technology Adoption Cycle, primarily the minority of hardcore, geeky enthusiasts versus the mainstream majority. Moore states that very few companies distinguish the visionary early adopters from the pragmatic second wave of users who follow. This leads startups to fall straight into the chasm rather than crossing it safely. Unlike visionaries, who see potential in a startup’s prospects and want to see it grow, pragmatists want to see how the company will bring personal value to them.
What Moore suggests is to take more surgical approach to each market segment. Rather than placing all the eggs in to one basket, Moore describes entering the mainstream market like the D-Day invasion. If a startup is able to methodically capture the audience from one small part of the overall market, its success can then travel vertically to other segments. From one niche market to another, it’s an opportunity that can allow a company to dominate the mainstream (with a little patience and a lot of luck).
Apple is a great example of crossing the chasm successfully. After launching the iPod, the company constantly reengineered its product to meet the needs of each market segment, making each version better, simpler, and more powerful. Warby Parker, a startup once focused on providing the best online shopping experience for eyewear, now has physical showrooms across the U.S. that cater to a different market of traditional shoppers.
But where does PR come into all of this? As an agency, we define and reinforce key messages about a startup’s product or service, with slightly different messages to suit each segment of the press. As a startup comes to the edge of the chasm, proper PR can build a compelling message to target niche markets, helping usher the startup towards the mainstream as smoothly as possible. Word of mouth remains one of the most powerful tools in commerce; approaching the right people with the right message is the backbone of the best PR agencies.
And yet… I can’t help but notice another issue that today’s startups face. Another chasm is growing between innovators and early adopters, one step “earlier” in the lifecycle. With so many buzzed-about startups entering the market on a monthly, rather than annual basis, it’s become more difficult to garner the attention of visionaries and VCs. After all, a startup can’t concern itself with mainstream success if it can’t win over the early adopter first. Perhaps, in the future, Moore will address this issue in a new book, and share his advice for this new obstacle. In the mean time, I highly recommend Crossing the Chasm as a foundation for any young tech company’s marketing strategy.