Marketing High-Tech Products to Mainstream Consumers

How does a new high-tech product become popular and translate from a fad into a lasting trend? It is challenging for high-tech products to achieve widespread success among mainstream consumers. People are notoriously resistant to change and it takes time and a lot of coaxing to covert a new high-tech product used by gadget-obsessed geeks into a product that the masses are comfortable with. Geoffrey Moore, author of BusinessWeek bestseller, Crossing the Chasm, explains that in order for a cutting-edge product to become more than just a passing fad, it must cross the gap, or “chasm” between an early market and mainstream market. If done successfully, a high-tech product can make this transition to achieve great success and explosive sales. If the product fails to reach mainstream success, however, it may fade into obscurity.

Moore argues that a high-tech product shouldn’t be marketed the same way to tech enthusiasts and early adopters as it should be to the mainstream consumer. The early market for a high-tech product consists of people who love to be the first on their block to have a new gadget and who appreciate the benefits of new technology. Think of that friend, neighbor or family member who loves to show off new gadgets that nobody has heard of yet. They don’t mind dealing with a few bugs or inconveniences if they see a chance to get ahead of the competition with a new high-tech product and, often times, they are willing to pay a hefty price tag. Marketing messages that focus on the product and that pinpoint a technological advantage resonate with this early audience. However, the mainstream market needs a bit more convincing. These consumers are more practical and are hesitant to empty their wallets. For the mainstream market, company credibility is important and word-of-mouth recommendations are powerful.

One product that everyone is watching closely and which is emerging into the mainstream market is the Kindle. Up until now, electronic books have failed to “cross the chasm” to become a must-have item for mainstream consumers. Two weeks ago on the TriplePoint blog, Julia Roether explored the rise in Kindle 2’s popularity and noted that while it may seem like an “overnight sensation,” the Kindle has been around for over two years. Furthermore, Brad Stone, who covers consumer technology at the New York Times, pointed out that electronic book devices have been around for a decade but none have really taken off among consumers.

The Kindle seems to be breaking through as an electronic book that is reaching mainstream market success. The Kindle 2 came out with several improvements to the product but mainstream consumers are often less swayed by the promise of new product features. Specifically, consumers in the mainstream market, according to Moore, tend to value market leadership and wait for a high-tech product to prove they are better than the competition before buying. Unlike early market consumers who want to be the first on the block to have a new product, mainstream consumers wait for references from people they trust. The Kindle received recognition from Oprah, one of the most widely respected and trusted references around, which no doubt helped convince hesitant book-lovers to get on board. Furthermore, with sales skyrocketing this holiday season, the Kindle seems to be crossing the chasm.

However, time will tell how the Kindle evolves and if electronic books will become a must-have gadget. It seems that there are still adjustments to be made and more convincing of consumers before the product really takes hold. Moore reminds us that 1/3 of consumers are classified as “conservatives” who are the most resistant to change and who wait for the product to become a standard before adopting new technology. These people are the last to buy new technology, after tech enthusiasts, early adopters and the early majority of mainstream consumers. While the Kindle is becoming more popular, it still must establish credibility among users before capturing this piece of the market.