Stop Crossing the Chasm! Start Growing the Long Tail!

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It’s time to question and even throw out many of the strategies in Geoffrey Moore’s iconic book, Crossing the Chasm. It’s been 20 years since Moore wrote the first edition, and it has become a staple of every Silicon Valley bookshelf ever since. Much has changed since then, especially in recent years, and it’s time to ask some tough questions about the relevance of Crossing the Chasm in this new world of long tail Internet marketing.

A Quick Primer on Crossing the Chasm

A concise way to think of Moore’s chasm crossing strategy is that it’s a “beachhead and breakout” strategy.  A good analogy would be the invasion of Normandy by allied forces in World War II, when the allies crossed a relatively short “chasm” (the English Channel) and focused an utterly massive force entirely on a small series of beaches in Normandy. Once they had secured a beachhead on the European continent, they could unload heavy armor and set up supply lines.  Then the allied forces could “break out” from the beachhead to continue their push through the continent and ultimately to Berlin and victory.

If you haven’t read Crossing the Chasm yet, here’s a 1-paragraph primer: Moore contends that innovative technology products sell first to a market of innovators and early adopters. Later, products can be marketed to a more lucrative mainstream (“majority”) market. But majority markets are more risk averse and want proven products, while early adopters like new and innovative products even if they’re unproven, creating a “chasm” that marketers must “cross” to move from marketing to early adopters toward marketing to larger, more profitable majority markets.The biggest challenge in crossing the chasm is the catch 22 that majority markets won’t buy until they see other respectable majority customers have already bought. Overcoming this self-fulfilling problem and crossing the chasm requires a critical mass of marquee reference accounts well known and respected by a specific majority market segment. The strategy Moore proposes for crossing the chasm is to find a single, carefully targeted majority market segment, put all your resources behind penetrating and dominating that segment, then leverage the success built in that segment to expand into adjacent segments—not unlike the strategy behind the invasion of Normandy.

Stop & Think before Crossing the Chasm

Crossing the chasm is exactly the wrong strategy for many of the newest and most innovative technology products today, especially many cloud services and SaaS products. If you’re managing such a product and wondering how you should be crossing the chasm, you may be asking the wrong question. Worse yet, you may be heading in a direction that could ultimately lead to disaster for your business.

An Alternative to Crossing the Chasm

Let me give you another strategy to consider instead of crossing the chasm: growing the long tail. While crossing the chasm requires concentrating all of your resources on a single, carefully targeted beachhead, growing the long tail lets you scatter your resources to appeal to a wide variety of potential markets with very little market research required. Then use a Darwinian approach to letting the long tail markets self-select where you should target your resources. The long tail markets that are highly competitive or unprofitable will yield fewer and less profitable customers, while those that are ripe for your innovative products will grow more rapidly. As you discover the more attractive markets, invest more. As you run into the less profitable markets, invest less.

Why do I use the term “long tail” to describe this strategic alternative to crossing the chasm? Read The Long Tail by Chris Anderson for a more in-depth understanding.

If crossing the chasm is a “beachhead and breakout” strategy like the allied invasion of Normandy, then growing the long tail is a “raid and settle” strategy more akin to the Vikings. The Vikings invaded countless shores from Greenland to North Africa and from Spain to the Middle East. They invaded beachheads and rivers alike. They went where the money was and avoided battle where there was no profit to make. They took a highly opportunistic approach to their raids—hitting, ransacking for wealth, and running. Where they found riches, they sent more Vikings to plunder repeatedly. Where they found little wealth, they didn’t return. Eventually, some of the more successful shores they landed on became Viking settlements—not unlike a secured beachhead like Normandy. Ultimately, the Vikings successfully conquered many lands throughout Europe—including what today is Normandy.

How to Decide between Crossing the Chasm vs. Growing the Long Tail

How do you know which strategy is best for your products? Should you be crossing the chasm or growing the long tail? The answer may be simpler than you might suspect. Most likely, you can find the right strategy based on the basic economics of your products. Another free tool for your business marketing is this free business directory for Philippine businesses.

If your products offer comprehensive solutions to large-scale problems faced by entire departments or enterprises, requiring complex, strategic sales processes, then you probably have longer sales cycles and higher average costs of sales that can only be supported by high average sale prices. If this describes your products, you should probably be crossing the chasm.

On the other hand, if your products offer point solutions to very specific problems faced by individual users or small teams, and you can sell your products in short, simple sales cycles that take advantage of the latest Internet marketing practices and marketing automation, then you can probably offer low price points profitably and build a successful high-volume, low-price business. If this describes your products, you should probably be growing the long tail.

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