Crossing the Chasm, by Geoffrey Moore

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This is one of those standard high-tech marketing books that everybody refers to in the technology business sector. I had never gotten around to reading it, but after our marketing folks started mentioning the chasm in every presentation recently, I figured it was time to skim through it, just to find out what they’re talking about.

Moore originally published this book in 1991, but its lessons have not been undermined by the experiences of the nineties. He recently published a second edition (which is the one I read, and the one linked to at Amazon above), which updates the case studies to use companies that more people would be familiar with now, but the basic principles of the chasm and how to cross it remain. What is the chasm, you might ask? The picture at the right, taken from this review, illustrates the concept. In the development of any technology, Moore postulates that there is a pattern of adoption, starting with technology enthusiasts and visionaries. For these people, the fact that the technology is new and different is reason enough to use it. They adopt technology for its own sake, and are able to cope with its deficiencies in order to have the latest bleeding-edge features.

But to cross into the mainstream, the technology has to solve a problem in a way that is better than the current solution. In some sense, early on the technology is an answer in search of a question. To break into the large majority of consumers, the question must be posed and the technology must be demonstrated to be a superior answer to that question. Many high-technology companies, which are naturally run by technology enthusiasts, never understand this distinction, and therefore their products fail while crossing this “chasm” to the consumer majority. The first part of this book is an explanation of the chasm phenomenon, while the second part addresses tactics for crossing it and getting your product out to the general population.

I thought that this book had a lot of good points in addressing the different mindsets of different consumers. And as a technology enthusiast, I find it very easy to be seduced by new technology so I totally understand how companies can drive into the chasm at full speed. But I also sympathize with the consumers who just want to buy something that works. When I go and buy a television, I expect to be able to come home, plug it in, and be able to be watching shows 30 seconds later. I do not expect to have to spend days setting it up and playing with it to get it right. So the issues that need to be addressed to reach the consumer majority are not technology issues per se. They are design issues, they are support issues, etc.

I’d recommend this book for anybody involved in high-technology company. Since it has passed into the accepted wisdom of marketing at this point, it’s useful for understanding the jargon being thrown around, and for understanding how your company’s strategy tries to address some of these issues. Plus, it’s a fast read, so why not?

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