Crossing the Chasm For Beginners: Let's Break It Down


Alright, you’re looking to develop a product (or service) that will eventually go on to achieve mainstream success. Naturally, you can expect some fierce competition from other products and services already entrenched in the marketplace, so you can’t exactly jump in blind and hope for the best. Nine times out of ten, that course of action is absolutely fatal for both the product and business. Why? Because the “Gatekeepers to the Masses” - your Early Majority market - are true pragmatists who aren’t about to take a chance on you. In fact, here’s what’s expected if you’re even going to stand a chance at mass market success: 

You’ll Need:

  • A “whole” product that’s tried and tested

  • A reputation for quality and service

  • A reliable infrastructure for support

  • Word-of-mouth recommendations

  • A buzz within your specific industry

  • And to be known as a market leader

But if you’re just starting out, how do you get these things? After all, mainstream customers won’t buy your product until you’re more established; but you won’t be considered as established until these same pragmatists buy from you. So what can you do? 

Organizational theorist and consultant Geoffrey A. Moore observed this dilemma in the tech world, where innovative products were often struggling to achieve mass market success. The majority of these companies were following the traditional Product Adoption Life Cycle, represented by a bell curve broken down into five market segments: Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority, and Laggards. 

WordsbySorensen The Chasm.png

The traditional wisdom held that, for a strong product, the journey from left to right along the curve should be a relatively smooth one. However, Moore discovered that there were, in fact, cracks separating one market segment from the next, which could actually prevent a product from “capturing” that next valuable market. The largest of these was believed to rest between the Early Adopter market and that of the Early Majority. Moore called this “the chasm.”

Now, what exactly does this “chasm” represent? In his book, Crossing the Chasm, Moore argued that this wide gap between the early markets and the mainstream was the most difficult obstacle for any new product to overcome. This is due, in part, to the major differences between these two markets, as each group of buyers along the Product Adoption Life Cycle requires unique market strategies.

Let’s start with the Early Adopter.

In the case of tech products or general innovation, this special brand of customer is mainly focused on getting ahead of the herd. They want to get their hands on new technology first. Why? When it comes to tech, these early customers could be gambling on a high ROI later down the road - if they get in now (e.g., Bitcoin). However, in industries unrelated to tech, the early adopter may simply have a problem they’re currently struggling with, and they’re desperate for a solution. This is why they may be willing to try your untested product. 

Another key characteristic of this group is that they’re able to both see what your product is lacking in relation to their needs and articulate these issues through detailed feedback. Of course, their motivations for doing this are often inherently selfish; but you also stand to greatly benefit from a strong relationship with these early customers. Because, in learning about their needs and demands, you can begin to piece together the “dream” which is motivating them to interact with you in the first place. 

This “dream,” or driving force, is the life they imagine exists once their problem has been resolved. Maybe it’s to be healthier, richer, or more successful. Maybe it’s the thought that your product will help them spend more time with their family or less time in pain. Maybe they just want to feel at peace in their own skin or surroundings. Or, perhaps it’s in the same vein as Fraiser wanting to get Martin’s recliner out of his apartment. Whatever it is, that’s the dream you must come to understand inside and out, because it will teach you more about your product, market, and how to achieve mass market success. And that’s something you can truly capitalize on once you decide to “cross the chasm.” 

According to Moore, you must use this early market to not only complete your product (if you're still testing, evolving, and iterating versions), but also to establish a “beachhead” along the shores of the early majority. He uses D-Day as an example: once you’ve established an early market base (on the shores of Britain), you must conduct a strategic invasion on a specific point of attack in the early majority market (Normandy) by crossing the chasm (the English Channel) as quickly as possible. You accomplish this by moving from one niche market to the next, securing each market as you move forward towards total domination (roughly 30-50% of total market share). 

But how do you do this, and when do you know if you’re ready to invade? 

As we’ve previously discussed, those pragmatists over in Normandy only want to work with, or buy from, a market leader. Meanwhile, across the English Channel, our early customers are more concerned with whether or not your product solves their problem. They don’t necessarily care if you're established or not - only that your solution actually works. Now you must hone in on 1-2 narrow niche markets to quickly gain market leadership, using the lessons learned from your early customers to win over new ones within a tightly bound domain. Moore calls this the “big fish, small pond” approach. 

Here’s what you do:

1. Choose a highly specific niche as your point of attack within the early majority market, using the knowledge you’ve already acquired from your early adopters. 

You’ll want to target specific customers within this niche with a compelling reason to purchase your now tried and tested product. (Read: target your “pragmatists in pain” - the ones stuck with the problem you solve and are willing to take a chance on something new.) Now’s also the time to do reconnaissance on your competition, fine-tune your marketing message, make strategic alliances, form fruitful partnerships, and position your product as an improvement on existing solutions. Price accordingly. 

2. Assemble an invasion force with strong word-of-mouth marketing capabilities. 

While you were nurturing relationships with your early market, you were also encouraging word-of-mouth marketing within that network. This surely helped with ironing out some kinks within your internal processes, but now you’re moving on from selling to revolutionaries who love disruption to the “wait and see” industry folks. You need a new message to tap into this new network, which often favors slow and careful evolution over sweeping, dramatic changes. However, with a well-defined plan to convert a tightly bound niche market within this industry, you can not only introduce your message with greater effect, but it will travel that much faster. This will enable you to conquer new segments later on through pure momentum across industry lines. 

3. Define the battle, but it keep it tight and narrow. 

Again, simplify this challenge as best you can by focusing on only one to two niche markets within the early majority at a time. These highly restricted market variables will enable you to compete in a more mainstream market with a razor sharp elevator pitch, marketing message, and product positioning within the minds of your target customers. As for your competition, you should be able to articulate your value within a mere sentence or two to compete with other products currently in the marketplace. It's this confidence and clarity that will enable you to become the indisputable leader within your chosen niche. 

4. Launch your invasion with direct sales. 

This will ultimately enable you to establish a beachhead on the shores of the early majority, which can then serve as a springboard for other invasions in additional niche markets. And, by working from niche to niche, you can eventually establish total market domination across the Product Adoption Life Cycle. 

And once you’ve converted more mainstream customers, they tend to be very loyal to your product(s). In some cases, they may even go out of their way to ensure its continued success. In essence, these relationships, in combination with the deeper relationships formed with early markets, can become the support structure for your entire business. And because your success will be based purely on matching your talents with what the market actually wants, your future can be all the more secure. 

In other words, choose a strategy that is market-driven so that you can cross the chasm by satisfying your customers, niche by niche and segment by segment. That’s ultimately Moore’s secret to success. 

5. Enjoy the ride!