The point of greatest peril in the development of a high-tech market lies in making the transition from an “early market” dominated by a few visionary customers to a “mainstream market” dominated by a large block of customers who are predominantly pragmatists in orientation, according to Geoffrey Moore in the third edition of his book Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Consumers. The gap between early and mainstream markets is what the author refers to as the “chasm”, and many entrepreneurial businesses have fallen into it.
The chasm arises because innovators and early adopters of a new high-tech market have a fundamentally different outlook from that held by mainstream customers. Innovators are the first to try a new technology. They are the enthusiasts who don’t care about manuals or user-friendliness or even practical benefits; all they care about is trying out something interesting and different. Visionary early adopters start to care about a new product when they can see that it enables a strategic leap forward, and they tend to be willing to pay for the strategic advantages which they hope the product will bring to them.
Mainstream purchasers, on the other hand, want to see that the product is working well and providing productivity improvements for other people like themselves, before they are willing to buy. The problem is that only other mainstream purchasers are “people like themselves”, as references from visionary early adopters tend to be suspect. Thus a product which does well with innovators and early adopters can fall into the chasm because no mainstream purchasers are willing to be the first “people like themselves” to take it on.
The book, which goes on to describe the steps which need to be taken to cross the chasm, has become a classic since the first edition was published in 1991, but the content has been rewritten in the latest edition to bring it right up to date. The real question is whether, in the current environment of disruptive technologies, the principles outlined in the book continue to apply. Downes and Nunes in their book Big Bang Disruption present a very different picture of how innovations start, shoot to prominence, and die out in a very short space of time.
It seems to me that perhaps there is some similarity between the “singularity” early stage of the Big Bang model and the early adopter stage of Moore’s model. Many products never make it out of the singularity. Further, perhaps there is no longer a single model that applies to all technology innovations. Undoubtedly there are many products which do follow Moore’s model and have to come up with a strategy for crossing the chasm, but perhaps there are other products to which the model does not apply.
In any event, this is a very useful book for any entrepreneur or marketer in a field of technology.