The Biggest Challenge for Innovation? Crossing The Chasm

The Biggest Challenge for Innovation? Crossing The Chasm

Geoffrey A. Moore published Crossing the Chasm in 1991 to explain how technology, especially disruptive technology, was adopted by the market. He found that there were very distinct phases that your market moved through, which had to be navigated to achieve success.

While his focus was largely around technology, I think the premise applies to any innovation that requires your market to accept something novel. What he realized was that there were 5 distinct groups within every market: the innovators, the early adopters, the early majority, the late majority, and the laggards.chasm

This makes sense as you move left to right, from your techies into the mainstream and eventually capture the full market. More importantly, Moore noticed a very obvious challenge that all such endeavors faced: the chasm.

The chasm is the gap between your early adopters (visionaries) and your early majority, which make up the the start of the mainstream market. This is the most difficult market to capture and often where most technologies fail to make progress.

You’ve seen it many times, a hot new startup gets a lot of initial buzz, but then fizzles out. Why? Because they couldn’t cross the chasm. Growth comes to a screeching halt and things just stagnate.alnu-square-1536

The challenge of the chasm arises because it is where the desires of your market segments shift dramatically. Your innovators and early adopters want to be on the cutting-edge.

They like trying new things. They are looking for a competitive advantage, even if they lack polish. That means they are more forgiving of bugs and poor service,  because they are still getting value.

The mainstream market is a completely different animal. They want better not new. They want things to work. If they have a bad experience you’re probably going to lose them forever. This means that attacking this gap requires a shift in priorities.

How do you cross the chasm? Here are 3 steps that can help you bridge the gap between the early adopters and the mainstream market.

1.Redefine Your Customer Needs

What you did to capture early adopters is completely different than what you need to do to capture the mainstream. These two groups have few commonalities.

While this may not sound like a big deal, it can mean drastic changes in your product, your marketing, and your message. The mainstream isn’t looking for revolution, they are looking for evolution. You need to understand this and adjust your approach accordingly.

2. Drive Word of Mouth

While most early adopters probably found you in search of something new, the mainstream requires you to go find them. The challenge is, the mainstream is built upon high end references from other users.

This creates a catch 22 of sorts, as you won’t get the mainstream without references, but you need the mainstream to get said references. How do you accomplish this? It’s all about targeting a niche.

3.  Target the Right Niche

To successfully move your innovation into the mainstream, you have to target a niche. While there are many ways to do so, finding one with a large pain point and high economic value is your best bet.

If you can break into that market and satisfy that niche, then the word of mouth you generate will keep your momentum going. As you conquer a niche, you move to the next one.

Also, when it comes to targeting your customers, it is a good practice to aim for the late majority and their needs, as they have the most overlap across the mainstream segments. You’ll be able to satisfy more of your customer base with this strategy.chasm_quote2This is your best approach when it comes to crossing the chasm.

Moreover, with any innovation, it is important to realize it’s not easy to go from the early adopters to the mainstream. You have to drastically change what made you successful early on, if you want to be successful going forward. Being able to reconcile these two mindsets, is the key.

If you find yourself dealing with this sort of challenge, I’d highly recommend picking up this book, to put things into perspective. Good luck.

Sign up now to get a weekly digest of my latest articles, as well as the best of the web every Sunday morning!