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How to Cross the Chasm

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How to Cross the Chasm

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Last week I had the good fortune of meeting and speaking with Geoffrey Moore, author of the widely acclaimed books Crossing the Chasm and Inside the Tornado. If you haven't heard of him before, Geoff writes and speaks about the technology adoption lifecycle and the marketing and business strategies for successfully navigating this lifecycle. His basic premise follows the traditional technical adoption model first defined by Bohlen and Beal way back in 1957 and expanded on by Rogers. Here's what the traditional adoption curve looks like:

What Geoff recognized was that there is more to this curve. He recognized that there is a difference between disruptive innovations (those that are changing the game altogether) and "garden variety" innovation. He recognized that in today's high tech world, a chasm exists between the early adopters and the early majority...a big chasm. Geoff's curve ends up looking like this:
There is a big difference between people who are willing to try new technologies and the rest of population, which tends to be much more conservative. That difference IS the chasm. The reason that people spend time trying to figure out how to cross that chasm is because the chasm is what stands between them and a lot of money. Very simply, the early adopters represent a very small portion of the market, and you can't make a business by selling just to them. To be a successful, you need to cross the chasm and sell to the mainstream.

In Geoff's model, the innovators are the Techies; they always want the latest greatest power tools. The early adopters are the Visionaries that want to get ahead of the crowd. And, the early majority are the mainstream, the pragmatists, the people who want to stick with the herd. In this group, word of mouth is everything. These pragmatists are the key to success, they move the herd. Here's the typical pragmatist mindset: "Everyone is using it? Really? Are you using it? Yeah, you are? Maybe I should use it too. " So yes, these are the people that matter. But don't get too caught up in focusing on the chasm just yet.
Before you cross the chasm, you need to get to the chasm. Your first order of business is getting on the curve. Getting those techies and visionaries using your latest thing. They're your evangelists. But, understand that what worked for these early adopters probably won't work for the pragmatists. These techies and visionaries want power tools; they eat, sleep and drink tech. The pragmatists want one button that does it all simply and easily.

So, let's assume you've successfully had your latest thing accepted by the early adoption crowd. Just how do you cross the chasm? Go to the Bowling Alley, that's how.
The Bowling Alley is where technology is gaining acceptance in one or more markets. It's a niche strategy that I find very appealing and interesting. It's here that market leaders are born. Or more correctly, it's where communities or  tribes are formed. According to Geoff, "Linux is still in the bowling alley. Linux has established itself in either scientific clusters or in embedded computing. Linux could be in the bowling alley forever."

The strategy in the bowling alley is this:  Instead of trying to move the whole herd at once, try to move smaller herds. This is the place where you can get small populations excited and talking to the larger population. And instead of trying to create a new community, consider converting a community. Once you've established a tight community in the Bowling Alley, saturate it until it tips and spills over into the rest of the pragmatic population. But, be warned, you have to be #1 here. There is no second place in the Bowling Alley. But if you win here, you win big when you're latest thing goes from being a niche product to a truly mainstream product.
So what's the strategy to get into the Bowling Alley? And more importantly, how do you move beyond the Bowling Alley? In the business world, here's the deal according to Geoff: First, identify a vertical market where a broken mission-critical business process is causing management enough pain that it would gamble on an unproven technology; and second, provide that market not just a product, but a whole solution. Become #1 in that niche. Saturate the community. After you're #1 in that niche, tip it and target another related market. Each new market should leverage the success and technology of the last. Even more importantly, because these markets are closely related, word of mouth credibility can cross markets and help you gain a stronghold across markets. This leads to the bowling pin effect of knocking down markets based on the successes in other related markets. Each market is another pin to be knocked down. Once you reach critical mass in three or four vertical markets, expand horizontally and whether you like it or not, enter the Tornado.

The Tornado emerges immediately once everyone decides they need the product or technology. This has an explosive amount of growth and just sucks every one in its vortex. It's driven and sustained by the pragmatists. It's a mass-market strategy. Here, everybody has to get the latest thing all at once. Geoff believes that digital photography and WiFi are in the tornado. Think back to 1996 when your company HAD to have a website:
"We need a website!!! Why? I don't know. Everybody has a website. We need a website!!!"
So if you're looking for mass-market success, you need to get into the Tornado and that's a hard competitive place to live. Everybody wants to play here. You're not alone in the market and you spend a lot of time competing just to stay alive. Scaling in the Tornado is a nightmare. Demand exceeds supply by 10X. In the Tornado, it's all about simplifying the product, and developing lower-cost sales channels. Have fun!!!
Simple right? Now go out there and start innovating.


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