We are big believers in Moore’s Markets Adoption Theory (famously known as Crossing the Chasm) here at Mortar. (In fact, it’s so bad my colleagues think I should tattoo it on somewhere on my body).
Many of you are probably already using Moore’s thinking, but for the uninitiated, allow me to present THE SINGLE GREATEST MODEL FOR LAUNCHING A NEW IDEA. ANY NEW IDEA. There. I don’t think that is overdoing it all.
Moore’s model is not the first to describe the path innovation takes from whimsy to mainstream. But it is one of the best. And the popularity of the model makes for easy meetings with innovators and those who love them.
Now, if you asked a hundred people if you were crazy, and only one said yes, would you believe them?
Moore says maybe you should.
For Moore the early market is a special place. It’s populated by those on the fringe. People who care about features others ignore. In many ways, Disaster Preppers are in the early market for the apocalypse. Likewise, Flat-Earthers never crossed the chasm to join the rest of the world in believing the world is round (wait, what?).
But not every member of the early market is crazy. Some of the most passionate early adopters can be found in august institutions like Johns Hopkins, the Mayo Clinic, Stanford, UCSF Medical Center as well as mainstream giants like VMware, IBM and Cisco. And they can be found in every start-up. (Although, beware, not every start-up employee is a visionary… more on that in a second).
The first buyers of new ideas are often visionary in character, attracted by revolutionary change, and largely comfortable with half-baked features that others regard as untested or unfinished.
But these pioneers are also prone to be needy, goal obsessed, and keen to brag. Especially about being the first on the block to grab innovation by the horns and wrestle it into submission.
And, because they are obsessed with the new and promising, they will also be among the first to quit. Visionaries like to jump onto the next big thing. And that can be a problem. The early market is a dynamic, fickle force which can be hard to tame and even harder to keep caged.
Here are five things about the early market most overlook:
- The early market is always in the minority. i.e. It will be small. So if you talk to 100 people about your new product, less than two may say it’s awesome. 98% will tell you it sucks. And a 98% rejection rate is hardly compelling evidence that you’re onto something. And yet, that is exactly what you can expect in early market testing.
- People who sell to the early market are rarely comfortable selling to early adopters. Your team, those stalwarts who have chosen to join you on the front line of change, they too are surrounded by doubters and skeptics. So is your Board. And your investors. Everyone wants guarantees. Or at least promises. They will all push you to go for the money. Now. And the money lies in the fattest part of the bell curve with the elusive majority. So why aren’t you selling there now? Moore urges caution and the need to establish a beachhead first. But to do that is to sit back while someone else exploits the fat found in the middle of the herd! To win with early adopters is to focus on them and them alone: and that is often a counter-intuitive move. Savvy early marketers limit discussion to early market needs, focus research on early desires, and largely ignore what the rest of the market has to say. Don’t make the mistake of testing early ideas with the majority as the results are unlikely to be helpful.
- The early market is very different from the late market. To find where you are on the curve, it’s important to understand the differences between the two groups. Somewhere in your product’s journey to success is a gap. This “chasm” lies between the radicalized, crazy, fanatical first customers and their more prudent, careful, and risk-averse brethren. Put simply, pragmatists don’t trust visionaries. Pragmatists think visionaries are crazy. And pragmatists bore visionaries with their endless prattling about avoiding risk and loading up with check-box features that few want. Yet, significant numbers of pragmatists have to be swayed by visionaries for an idea to root and blossom. There is a gap between the two groups: and most new ideas fail trying to bridge the yawning chasm between pioneer and pragmatist.
- The traffic moves in one direction: from left to right, early to late. Ideas move from new to old. They are birthed. They grow. Mature. And eventually pass into the mainstream. And after a while they wither and die. The point here is that they rarely pass from mature to death and back to sexy again (note I said rarely: fashion is well known for resurrecting dead ideas, which partially explains why my teens are crazy about bell-bottoms). It is hard for a new idea to retrace its steps, especially when the gloss has worn off. One is reminded of the old saw “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” If you are stewarding a new idea across the chasm, you will do well to avoid jumping too early.
- Your industry is not any different. Don’t fight the theory, embrace it. We (by which we mean the smart people and, yes, Mortar) have been teaching diffusion theory since Rogers first published Diffusion of Innovations in 1962 (check this out). It’s hardly a new idea or a novel expression of market development. The principles are tried and tested. Sure you can break into a market by penetrating the middle: but it takes a lot of effort and cash. That’s why so many Super Bowl advertisers are major, established brands — Coke, Pepsi, Jeep, Bud — and why so few companies trust debuting a novel idea in a $3 million commercial (although there is a stand out or two every year). Still, if you are launching an idea outside the mainstream, you can gain a significant advantage by embracing the lessons of market adoption theory and watching your own customers for the telling signs of quivering, flighty pioneerdom. Or you send me an email and we’ll do it for you.
* This article has been updated from our original publication: “The Joys of Selling to the Early Market” here.