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Innovation Versus Society. Why Is It So Hard to “Cross The Chasm”?

By nature, we are rejecting any kind of changes that affect our habits. Feeling comfortable with our routine and being afraid of trying new things, people are opposing transformations. Yet, how come somehow, sometimes, we are ready adopt innovations? The challenge of launching a new product is answering to this question.

Technology Marketing

And Technology Diffusion

From Farming and Rural Sociology to Technology Marketing

The story about how to market technology begins with the rural sociology in the Midwestern United States in the 1920s and 1930s. At that time, the US government wanted to know how and why farmers adopted some innovations in agriculture (ex hybrid corn, chemical fertilizers, etc.), so it funded a research that explored why some people adopt new ideas and others are refractory.

E.M. Rogers with his theory about the diffusion of innovation was part of this research. Originally published in 1962, his work formed a basis for understanding innovations, how to adopt them, social factors that support adoption, and how innovations propagate into social groups.

However, it should be noted that historically, the basis of the innovation dissemination paradigm was laid by Bryce Ryan and Neal C. Gross in a 1943 paper. This explained that different social contacts, social interaction and interpersonal communication have an important influence on consumer behavior and in adopting innovation.

Innovation Versus Society

According to innovation theories, an innovation spreads across society through a process that affects different categories of consumers, from the most enthusiastic to the most reticent about technology. E.M. Rogers modeled this process by a diffusion curve (called the S curve or bell curve), associating the different consumer profiles corresponding to the different phases of the adoption process.

The adoption curve for new products therefore divides consumers into five categories, depending on their interest and speed in purchasing a new product. These types of customers are: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards.

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“Crossing the Chasm”

When launching a new product, the main issue is related to the passage between the early adopters and the early majority. The challenge is to move from a confidential diffusion (innovators and early adopters) to a mass diffusion (advanced and delayed majority) which represents more than 60% of the potential market.

In 1991, Geoffrey Moore introduced in his book “Crossing the Chasm” a new term for this, calling it “the chasm”. His book was considered to be “the bible for entrepreneurial marketing“ and it still has a significant and lasting impact on high tech entrepreneurship.

The chasm from early adopters to early majority is essential because this is where innovation goes out of its niche market and enters a mass market. In other words, innovation fails if the market does not reach the critical threshold of the innovators and the early adaptors.

How to cross the chasm? Moore explains you need to do it step by step. This mean you should focus on one group of customers at a time, using each group as a base for marketing to the next group. Still this may be not enough.

How much innovation?

The very big challenge of launching a new tech product is also a question of dosage. Actually, a certain list of attributes of the innovation are making people to adopt it or not. So, how much innovation is not too much?

According to Rogers, potential adopters evaluate an innovation on its relative advantage, its compatibility with the pre-existing system, its complexity or difficulty to learn, on its testability and observed effects.

On the other hand, the diffusion cycle of innovation is not continuous and the switch from one category of consumers to another is not automatic. The discontinuity of the process is linked to the different expectations of the types of consumers who buy the new product for various reasons.

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