Crossing the Chasm was first published in 1991 and it is a measure of its success that it has been reprinted twelve times. Over 300,000 copies have now been sold.
Moore challenges the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote - “build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door”. A better mousetrap, Moore argues, will find an audience amongst innovators and early adopters, but the mainstream market, where the profit resides, will reject it unless marketed correctly.
Marketing to this mainstream market demands fundamentally different marketing strategy and product development. Crossing the Chasm explains the steps successful technology companies should take in formulating strategy to win the mainstream market. Moore prescribes a single, rigid formula for how to do it successfully.
Geoffrey Moore explains ‘the chasm model represents a pattern in market development that is based on the tendency of pragmatic people to adopt new technology when they see other people like them doing the same’. He goes on to say that ‘the tendency is very deep-rooted and persistent. As a result, marketers can predict its appearance and build strategies to cope with it, and it is the purpose of this book to help in that process’.
This report sets out Moore’s theory in brief, before examining its strengths and weaknesses. We will find that Moore’s Technology Adoption Lifecycle model is still relevant and useful today, yet is weakened by an inflexible and overly simplified view of today’s technology marketplace.
PART I: DISCOVERING THE CHASM
Moore's basic thesis revolves around a model he calls the Technology Adoption Lifecycle (TALC):
The area of each segment corresponds roughly to the number of people who fit its profile within the market as a whole. It should be no surprise, then, that the aim of every technology company is ultimately to dominate the mainstream market where the most customers and profit reside.
This curve will not appear too revolutionary to anyone acquainted with product life cycle (PLC) curves. Moore’s innovation is the introduction of the Chasm, a recognition that progress along the PLC curve is not a simple matter of dealing with a smooth and steep rise in volume. Instead, he notes that it can be divided into distinct phases during which the growing technology company must sell its product to distinct classes of customer with distinct needs and concerns to address.
Moore defines the five customer bases as follows:
Technology Enthusiasts: Innovators (roughly 2% of the market)
The first customers a technology company will have are the innovators. These technophiles will adopt technology for its own sake. Though essential to winning the references that will ultimately lead to the early adopter market, little profit will be generated in this segment itself.
Early Adopters: Visionaries (15%)
Visionaries are crucial to the high-tech industry, because they are willing to invest and take high risks because they see the strategic opportunities and high returns. Comfortable with technology, chasing endlessly evolving dreams visionaries demand a lot and are hard to satisfy. They can, however, give high-tech companies their first big breaks.
Working for visionary clients will challenge the firm, forcing through repeated iterations of the product. Visionary demands will often help to evolve, and test, the product to the point where mass market appeal becomes realistic.
Early Majority: Pragmatists (34%)
The pragmatists have the dollars. They are looking for a measurable incremental gain whereas the visionary is looking for a quantum leap forward. Improvements must be justified to pragmatists in terms of a cold cost/benefit analysis. Competitive advantage, for a pragmatist, is not a qualitative concept. It is a number.
Pragmatists like “value added resellers” because they can contact them, and if necessary sue them, if something goes wrong with the technology they adopt. They like competition, which breeds competence, allows for tough negotiation on price and suggests that the product itself is stable enough to be understood and controlled by a stable base of developers.
Pragmatists like to buy from market leaders, because they know supporting products and peripherals will be developed around the market leader. Selling to pragmatists is a continuous planned process involving continuous reinvestment.
Pragmatists critically reference within their peer group before committing to major technology investment.
Late Majority: Conservatives (34%)
Conservatives, like early adopters, are stubborn in their resistance to the pragmatist majority.
The conservative marketplace is where important additional revenues are won for technology that is no longer state-of-the-art. However, it is very important to package and prepare in the right format for the conservative market.
Laggards: Skeptics (15%)
Skeptics are wary of IT investments and generally doubtful that office productivity is ever improved by its introduction. For them high-tech investment is very much an act of faith, with the benefits often seen to be very different to those projected.
Eventually they may buy technology products, but only long after the rest of the market has adopted. At this point they will be forced to make more changes to the way they do things if they don't adopt than if they do. By this point the marginal cost of servicing them has fallen significantly, in line with the price they will grudgingly pay.
The chasm represents the gulf between two distinct marketplaces. It falls between an early market dominated by early adopters and insiders who are quick to speculate about the benefits of the new development and the conservative mainstream market where the financial returns can be delivered.
It is important to be clear an initial boost in sales is likely to be the early market and not, as it is often mistaken for, the first indications of an emerging mainstream market
When promoters of high tech products try to make the transition from a market base made up of visionary early adopters to penetrate the next adoption segment, the pragmatist early majority, they are effectively operating without a reference base and without a support base within a market that critically demands both references and support.
Moore sees four fundamental characteristics of visionaries that alienate the next market’s buyers, the pragmatists:
1) lack of respect for the value of industry or colleagues’ experiences
2) taking a greater interest in technology than in their industry
3) failing to recognise the importance of existing product infrastructure
4) overall disruptiveness
These differences demand that you market and sell to these two types of client in very differently ways.
Whilst visionaries reference innovators, Moore stresses the importance of the fact that mainstream market customers reference only each other when making buying decisions in the high tech market. The gulf in attitude to technology and innovation between the early adopter and the early majority buyer is such that a visionary reference is worthless when presented to a pragmatist. Pragmatists want references from peers whom they trust, not from eccentric early adopter lunatics – as they would see them.
Moreover, the very products a growing technology company will have developed for early adopters will not be suitable for sale even in the early mainstream market. Visionaries want customisation, innovation and accept that some element of risk and inconvenience comes with it. By contrast, the pragmatist buyer is looking for the generic, stable and proven.
In short, when you cross the Chasm the rules change utterly. All part references and products must be changed to cater for an entirely different customer.
PART II : CROSSING THE CHASM
Moore states that fighting your way into the mainstream market is an act of aggression. D Day is the analogy. The early market base is England. The strategic market target is Normandy and the English channel is the Chasm. Europe is the ultimate goal – the mainstream market.
Moore is adamant that the only aim at this time is to secure a beachhead in the mainstream market. All resources must be focused on this. Usually a niche market, the first set of customers must be fully satisfied. This means the customer has to be offered “whole” product and service solutions to achieve the desired result, and the product must be built to achieve specifically this.
Niche marketing allows the company to leverage word-of-mouth. It is also a vehicle to market leadership which is absolutely necessary. Your niche position in the early adopters market will provide the advance base from which to break into the mainstream, but there is still much to do to be successful.
Winning this beachhead creates a dynamic in which many others adopt, due in large part to the referencing nature of the pragmatic early majority.
1) Commit to a point of attack – the market segment
It is very important to pick a market segment of the right size to suit your company’s ambitions. Your aim is to get enough word of mouth recognition with the chosen segment to become the market leader, as pragmatists only want to deal with the market leader.
Moore believes the attack process is fairly predictable, tactical and prescribes a full list of tasks and exercises.
2) Assemble the Invasion Force – the product offering
Moore continually stresses the importance of the whole product concept. He talks about Theodore Levitt’s The Marketing Imagination and Levitt’s model including the generic, expected, augmented and potential products. There is a gap between the marketing promise to the customer and the ability of the product to deliver it. To close the gap the product must be augmented by layers of auxiliary services and benefits to become the "whole product". Pragmatists only buy whole products - being products which solve their needs so utterly that buying them, even for the conservative cost/benefit minded, is an easy decision to make.
Whole product (doughnut diagram)
3) Define the Battle – the market
Pragmatist buyers require competition as this enables them to compare the offerings in the market, to have a contingency if something goes wrong and to know that other companies will build products to augment and upgrade the compatibility of the one they are looking at. High-tech companies have to position the product in a favourable position within a buying category. Moore goes so far as to say if you can see no competition you are not ready to cross the chasm. Sometimes this means you must "create" credible competition yourself. By carefully selecting competition you choose what points you compete on - matching these so as to appeal to the pragmatist buyers within the target niche.
Normally this involves positioning your product in relation to the company currently providing the (somehow flawed) solution and another provider of an alternative solution. The first competitor determines your budget because the funds the company currently spends with them are the funds you are fighting for. The second company is generally your competitor who may also have a new disruptive technology. You need to position yourself in this market and win the arguments. How?
Moore states that Crossing the Chasm represents a transition from product to market based values. Illustrated by the Competitive Positioning Compass, this is key to making the transition from selling a product to visionaries to selling a marketing solution to pragmatists.
Positioning is the single largest influence on the buying decision and it is based on perception. He says the positioning process has four key components, the goal is to validate your claim with the whole product solution and high quality partners and allies:
1. the claim two sentences that sell the product
2. the undisputable evidence of leadership
3. communications aimed at the right audience with the correct content at the appropriate time
4. feedback and adjustment in response to competitor attack
He is adamant that for crossing the chasm the right distribution channel is direct sales and support as a demand-creation channel to penetrate the initial target segment. Once position and leadership is in place in the target segment use the best fulfilment channels for your customer offer. Price must confirm the leadership position and a premium should be paid to the channel for crossing the chasm.
4) Leaving the Chasm Behind
He makes no bones about the purpose of the post-chasm enterprise – it is to make money. However, he also stresses that the post-chasm enterprise is bound by the commitments made pre-chasm and thus the promises made pre-chasm must be deliverable. Different management and reward systems are also required post-chasm, as they are in the very early stages of product development and marketing.
Moore ‘s next book Inside the Tornado details the next stage in a firm’s growth, as it expands out of the first niche and enters the “tornado” of sales that whirls into life once the pragmatist masses decide to adopt en masse.
PART III: STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
Moore’s Crossing the Chasm revolves around a single model. Unlike many management books which monotonously churn a single insight into 200 pages of repetitive text, Crossing the Chasm remains readable and interesting throughout. Moore finds context and cases to illustrate his theory and, in very readable conversational prose, dissects the TALC into several apt analogies.
However, the argument is nonetheless an ultimately one dimensional snapshot of what is a far more nuanced process in reality. Salesmanship being the enemy of nuance, the reader will at points question whether Moore is pushing an over-simplified model onto his over-simplified depiction of the world. It’s no doubt a good strategy if one is trying to sell books, or build your consultancy’s reputation, but readers keen to adopt the model in their businesses should bear the following strengths and weaknesses in mind.
The key general learning readers should take from Crossing the Chasm is how differently you must treat products and customers at different life cycle stages. Different skills and different personality types are required. What pleases early adopters may be unpalatable for mass consumption.
Moore is unapologetic and realistic in his appraisal of the business changes these realisations may require. He details, for instance, the staffing changes businesses must consider. Often the staff that made the start-up a success are incompatible with mainstream market success.
It may be more relevant to business to business development than retail because it particularly focuses on fixing mission critical business needs as a way of entering the mainstream market.
This ‘bible’ is for visionaries, innovators, start-ups and small businesses with a focus on customer relationships. It is less useful for large companies who want to go to the mainstream market big and fast. Yet large companies will still take useful lessons from the book.
Whilst small companies with single product portfolios will be using Moore’s advice to pilot their product into the mainstream, large corporations can use it to better scan the horizon, identify disruptive chasm crossers and prepare for their arrival. For large companies operating skunk works, the book will provide useful lessons for those behind the skunk work walls. For those transferred to such a project from corporate backgrounds, Moore’s work will introduce them to the new challenges they must face and the mindset needed to succeed in such an environment.
High Tech Strategies Inc outlines the 10 most common reasons that companies fail as follows:
• Lack of Market Focus
• Excessive Pace of Product Improvement
• Incomplete Products
• Undifferentiated Products
• Channel Mismanagement
• Failure to Establish the right competitive barriers
• Using price alone to drive market transformation
• Improper Use of advertising
• Misinterpretation of the Technology Adaptation Lifecycle Model
• Irrelevant market research
Moore’s book does address each of these points, addressing the issues they highlight with sound advice, illustrated with cases. Reality may be fuzzier than his salesmanship would care to admit, but his clear model represents an excellent touchstone for any technology development company.
One great weakness, alluded to above, which riddles Crossing the Chasm is a tendency to over-simplify and didactically lay down a “right way” to market new technology. The real world, however, cannot be ordered exactly into the same discrete segments in which Moore places it.
Though Moore ascribes each group on his TALC curve with a specific personality, buyers are not one dimensional beings. They will behave in different ways considering different products and a generic approach which seeks to pigeon hole them will lead to missed opportunities.
Another simplification is to view the world as static. Visionary clients pre-chasm, however, will hopefully flourish on the strength of competitive advantage your product offers. As they cross the Chasm, does their reference remain so worthless as Moore suggests?
In an increasingly dynamic marketplace, it is true many main market players remain disturbingly unaware of the technological advancements that are catapulting previously unheard of competitors into their midst. Yet many mainstream market companies are learning fast, creating hybrid versions of Moore’s five groups.
Under Moore’s model, Tesco would have to be viewed as a main market client. It should therefore be conservative, more interested in adopting the tried and tested than in implementing first in class technology initiatives. Yet Tesco’s technology strategy looks decidedly visionary. They are rolling out self service tills, trialling RFID stock control, tracking and barcodes, heavily customised ERP systems, “fast-pay” Lottery tickets and more cutting edge technology projects.
They should then be called “visionary”, but Moore’s model doesn’t allow for an early adopter client that controls nearly 30% share of grocery spend in its core market. The entire early adopter market is only a 15% share. Yet let us say that Tesco is visionary, based on its innovative technology strategy. Tesco has bought and adopted your company’s software product. Is that reference, as Moore suggests, worthless to post-chasm pragmatists? We would suggest not.
Moore’s theory is about crossing the chasm with new technologies. However, a strong empirical argument can be made, especially for larger corporations, that it is better to watch the first crossing, note those that succeed and then adjust strategies and invest or copy as appropriate. A good example is Microsoft’s “browser weekend” – the calculated launching of Explorer only after Netscape appeared to have crossed the chasm. Of course, it should be noted that Microsoft has followed very few of Moore’s recommendations, with a degree of success that must force us to question his dogmatic boast that his is the only way to succeed.
Upon crossing the chasm, companies must be aware that Microsoft and other “gorillas” are waiting either to acquire you or destroy you. Moore does discuss this phase in Inside the Tornado.
The book doesn’t deal very much with profit. He highlights that the target post-chasm is to make money and a different approach is required but doesn’t prescribe in depth how to achieve a profitable crossing. Also, there is little guidance on how much resource to allocate pre-chasm and how much to save post-chasm.
Before drinking Moore’s Kool-aid, the reader might consider the insight offered by Clayton Christensen in The Innovators Dilemma or Shapiro and Varian’s Information Rules, both of which offer alternative thoughts on the marketing of disruptive technologies.
It is an achievement that we are still today discussing a book written in 1991, before Web 2.0 and the internet’s impact upon business and technology, and still finding its advice valid today. The underlying model does still provide useful insights, but the cases with which Moore illustrated his theory do undermine his work’s relevance and must be refreshed.
Were he Microsoft, Moore might opt for regular downloadable updates, but then Microsoft is not his strong point and the book is about discontinuous rather than continuous innovation. Adoption of continuous innovations are better described by the original Technology Adoption Lifecycle.
Moore was adamant that the internet is not the distribution channel for crossing the chasm. He may not have foreseen how the internet would be used in niche markets. Chris Anderson’s ‘Long Tail’ where traditional overheads are removed by digital storage and distribution offers a viable alternative to traditional mass market economics, selling across a multitude of niche segments. The internet and digital technology means any niche product can find a paying audience without the traditional marketing costs or overheads associated with physically stocking variety. The ‘long tail’ represents the slowly trailing demand curve after the ‘big hits’ have been plotted and certainly provides an alternative route to success to the Chasm “bible”.
Crossing the Chasm provides great clarity in introducing the reader to a very specific situation. For small start-up technology firms eyeing their first steps to full scale commercialisation this advice will be ideal. For everyone else lessons and insights will be gained that can be applied to effect in allied spheres of business.
However, Moore’s work is inflexible in its adherence to specific strategic demands where readers will be operating in very diverse competitive environments where products, companies and protagonists will often fail to conform exactly to the discrete categories into which Moore divides the world.
We start by letting Geoffrey Moore introduce himself in the video interview below. We then have the last word, summarising the key concepts Moore presents in Crossing the Chasm, along with our thoughts on the text itself and its validity today.