Friday, July 29, 2011

Business Model Analysis, Part 8: Crossing the Chasm

This post is part of a series on business model analysis for entrepreneurs. The first post in the series presents a comprehensive list of issues (available as a downloadable PDF) entrepreneurs should consider when designing a business model. Others delve into specific issues; this one provides an overview of Geoffrey Moore's concept of crossing the chasm.

In his classic book on hi-tech marketing, Moore observed that customer adoption of revolutionary new technology products follows a predictable life cycle. Early adopters, according to Moore, are visionaries seeking breakthroughs; they can imagine the new product’s benefits before they have been proven. Because they are tech-savvy, early adopters can self-assemble complementary hardware, software, and services needed to use the new product, and can cope with its inevitable initial bugs. In the next stage of the product life cycle, the early majority—a much larger group—are pragmatists who will only buy a standardized product that has clearly proven benefits. They demand a “whole product solution”—an easy-to-use, reliable bundle of all necessary hardware, software, and services—supported by a reputable firm.

Moore observed that peer-to-peer references are crucial in driving technology purchase decisions. However, early adopters are not considered to be credible references by the early majority: there is a chasm separating the two groups because they rely upon such different purchasing criteria. As a result, new products that are successful with early adopters often stall when startups try to sell them to the early majority.

Moore’s prescription for crossing the chasm is to target a single segment within the early majority; to engineer a whole product solution with clear benefits for this segment; and to overwhelm the segment with an integrated, intensive marketing campaign. From this beachhead, the firm can then leverage referrals to capture other early majority market segments. Moore likens this strategy to World War II’s D-Day, when the Allies landed a massive force at Normandy as the first step in their invasion of Europe.

Most startups targeting fundamentally new markets will not encounter the chasm until they are a few years old; in the meantime, they will be busy cultivating early adopters. Consequently, seed-stage ventures can probably ignore the chasm risk as Steve Blank points out in Four Steps to the Epiphany. However, a “D-Day” strategy requires plenty of planning, so entrepreneurs should begin to watch for the chasm as their startup matures.