Crossing the Chasm in the Technology Adoption Life Cycle
Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority and Laggards: These are the 5 groups that consumers can generally be divided in. Already in 1962, the sociologist Everett Rogers published the book ‘Diffusion of Innovations‘ in which he classified consumers in distinguished groups with different buying habits by synthesizing research from over 500 of diffusion studies. Today, the model is better known as the Technology Adoption Life Cycle and describes the adoption or acceptance of a new (technological) product or innovation, according to the demographic and psychological characteristics of these 5 distinguished adopter groups. In this article, we will explain the model and look at the 5 adopter groups more in depth. In addition, we will take a look at Geoffrey Moore’s marketing techniques in Crossing the Chasm in order to successfully target the mainstream of consumers.
Diffusion of Innovations by Everett M. Rogers
Technology Adoption Life Cycle
As can be seen in Figure 1, the Technology Adoption Life Cycle has a bell curve and the divisions in the curve are roughly equivalent to where standard deviations would fall. This means that Innovators make up about 2.5% of the total population, the Early Adopters about 13.5%, the Early Majority and the Late Majority both 34% and the Laggards the remaining 16%. Each group represents a unique psychographic profile (i.e. a combination of psychological and demographical traits) that makes its marketing responses different from those of the other groups. By understanding the differences of these groups, marketeers are better able to target all of these consumers with the right marketing techniques.
Figure 1: Technology Adoption Life Cycle
Innovators (Tech Enthusiasts)
Innovators are the first group of people that are likely to invest in your product, since they pursue new technology products aggressively. They sometimes even seek them out even before a formal marketing program has been launched. This is because technology is a central interest in their life, regardless of what function it is performing. The drawbacks are that there aren’t a lot of Innovators (roughly 2.5%) in any given market segment and they are usually not willing to pay a lot for new products. However, winning them over is important nonetheless, because their endorsement reassures the other consumers in the marketplace that the product could in fact work. Furthermore, these Tech Enthusiasts can serve well as a test group in order to make the necessary modifications before targeting the mainstream.
Early Adopters (Visionaries)
Early Adopters, like Innovators, buy into a new product concept very early in its life cycle. However, unlike Innovators, they are not technologists. Rather, they are Visionaries that are not just looking for an improvement, but for a revolutionary breakthrough. Consequently, they are willing to take high risks trying something new, are the least price-sensitive of the adopter groups, and are highly demanding. Early Adopters are with many (roughly 13.5%) and do not rely on well-established references in making buying decisions. Instead, they prefer to rely on their own intuition and vision. In addition, they are willing to serve as highly visible references to other adopter groups in the population. Since Visionaries are good at alerting the rest of the population, they are of upmost importance to win over.
Early Majority (Pragmatists)
The first two adopter groups belong to the ‘Early Market‘. However, in order to become truly successful, a company must win over the ‘Mainstream Market‘ starting off with the Early Majority. These Pragmatists share some of the Early Adopters’ ability to relate to technology, but ultimately they are driven by a strong sense of practicality. They know that many inventions end up as passing fads, so they are content to wait and see how other people are making out before they buy in themselves. They want to see well-established references before investing substantially. Because there are so many people in this segment (roughly 34%), winning these people over is fundamental for any business that strives for substantial profits and growth.
Late Majority (Conservatives)
The Late Majority as a group is about as big as the Early Majority (34% of the total population). They share all the concerns of the Early Majority plus one major additional one: they believe far more in tradition than in progress. Whereas people in the Early Majority are comfortable with their ability to handle a new technological product, should they finally decide to purchase it, members of the Late Majority are not. As a result, these Conservatives prefer to wait until something has become an established standard and invest only at the end of a technology life cycle. And even then they want see lots of support and tend to buy from large, well-established companies only. Being the market leader is therefore an important prerequisite in order to win over the Late Majority.
Finally there is the remaining 16% of the population: the Laggards. These people simply don’t want anything to do with new technology. The only time they ever buy a technological product is when its buried deep inside another product. These Skeptics have a strong believe that disruptive innovations rarely fulfill their promises and almost always bring about unintended consequences. From a market development perspective, Laggards are usually regarded as not worth pursuing. Their critisim, however, on the discrepancies between the sales claims and the actual product, provide valuable feedback for organizations.
Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers
by Geoffrey A. Moore
Between every adopter group in the Technology Adoption Life Cycle (Figure 1), you can see an open space: a gap. This space between segments indicate the ‘credibility gap’ that arises from seeking to use the group on the left as a reference base for the group on the right. This gap exists, because consumers prefer to listen to references from people that belong to their own adopter group. This creates a challenging dilemma of course, since you cannot use people as a reference group if they haven’t bought from you yet! The gap is widest between the Early Adopters (Visionaries) and the Early Majority (Pragmatists). These groups differ from each other in such a way that using one as a reference base for the other, is highly ineffective. This gap is therefore indicated as ‘the Chasm’. Since the leap from the Early Adopters to the Early Majority means the transition from the Early Marktet to the Mainstream Market, crossing the chasm is of upmost importance in order to truly achieve market success with a newly launched product.
How to Cross the Chasm
According to Moore, successfully crossing the chasm can be achieved by targeting a very specific niche market within the Early Majority first. The sole goal of the organization in its attempt to cross the Chasm should be to secure a beachhead in a mainstream market to create a pragmatist customer base that is referenceable. Segmenting is everything here: focus all your marketing resources on one specific segment at the time and make sure you become market leader in that specific segment before moving on the next one. This is a so called ‘Big Fish, Small Pond’ approach. A great marketing framework that can help picking out the right marketing techniques for potential customers is the Marketing Funnel or AIDA Model. In addition, you should make sure that your product offers a complete solution and that service levels are high (i.e. Whole Product Solution). The user experience Pragmatists have with your product will ultimately determine whether they will enthuse their peers as well. Once you have established a strong word-of-mouth reputation within different segments of the Early Majority, you have crossed the chasm properly.
- Moore, G.A. (2014). Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers. Harper Business.
- Rogers, E.M. (2003). Diffusion of Innovations. Free Press.
2 thoughts on “Crossing the Chasm in the Technology Adoption Life Cycle”
Hi Lars. Based on your article, I thought your readers might like to see a document that shows how Crossing the Chasm was first developed. The document is proof of the direct link between “Diffusion of Innovations” and Crossing the Chasm (which was me).
I was one of the original creators of the chasm concept in the late 1980s. My colleague (Lee James) and I were working for a consulting firm called Regis McKenna Inc. (RMI) and together we updated the Diffusion of Innovations model (because my grandfather worked with Everett Rogers and I had learned a lot about the innovation-adoption process while growing up). We called our updated model the “Technology Adoption Lifecycle.”
One of our co-workers at RMI (Geoff Moore) was planning to write a book about innovation-adoption so we suggested he include our chasm concept in the book. He had never heard of the chasm before and was very interested. After teaching him about our concept, the result was the first edition of Crossing the Chasm which was published in late 1991.
Now the most relevant part. Here is a link to an original fax that was sent in 1989, showing how we used the chasm concept several years before the book was published:
I never would have guessed that our chasm concept would become a best selling book. There’s more detail about the original development of the chasm concept and my connection to Everett Rogers here: https://www.hightechstrategies.com/crossing-the-chasm-summary/
I’d be happy answer any questions (or provide other historical documents related to the development of the chasm concept)
This has been a useful information to me.