Are We There Yet? Launching Agile Marketing Cross The Chasm

In April of 2016, Scott Brinker argued that Agile marketing is “crossing the chasm from early adopters to more mainstream organizations.”

Just a few days later, Jim Ewel agreed that “Agile Marketing is starting to go mainstream,” but he wasn’t prepared to declare the chasm cleared.

Then, in October, the Agile Marketing Facebook group opened a lengthy discussion about whether or not the time had come to start our own association or nonprofit to promote the adoption of Agile marketing.

The problem that emerged is that a foundation needs vendor support, and, as Frank Days pointed out, we’re still a little thin on the vendor front. During their interviews, he and Roland Smart have found “that many vendors don’t have a critical mass of marketing users to get excited about [agile marketing] (yet).”

It seems that we need more self-identified Agile marketers to entice more vendors to support the movement monetarily.

With that background in mind, this post is going to be a bit of a departure from my usual “how-to” help for those of you already on your Agile marketing journey. Instead, I want to start a discussion about how to get over that pesky chasm so we can get on with the business of changing the marketing world for the better, one Agile team at a time.

What’s The Chasm Again?

The concept originated in “Crossing the Chasm,” a 1991 book by Geoffrey Moore written to help high-tech B2B marketers reach a mass market more effectively. Everett Rogers had originally mapped the path of technology adoption like so:

technology adoption curve

But Moore had observed that this model was misleading. He argued that a gap exists between each group, and that between the Early Adopters and the Early Majority it’s not so much a “gap” as a “chasm”:

crossing the chasm with technology

In his introduction to the most recent 3rd edition of Crossing the Chasm, Moore summarizes the situation:

"The greatest peril in the development of a high-tech market lies in making the transition from an early market dominated by a few visionary customers to a mainstream market dominated by a large block of customers who are predominantly pragmatists in orientation. The gap between these two markets, all too frequently ignored, is in fact so significant as to warrant being called a chasm, and crossing this chasm must be the primary focus of any long-term high-tech marketing plan."

The problem of The Chasm plagues technology that is discontinuous or disruptive, meaning that it requires a change in current behavior. Innovations that are continuous or sustaining don’t have to worry about it, because they’re on the normal upgrade path and don’t force any changes in behavior.

Moore’s theory is typically applied to companies that make B2B tech, but he acknowledges that the idea has applications in B2C marketing and other areas too.

So we may need to make some adjustments when applying the concept to Agile marketing, but it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch.

How Technology Crosses the Chasm

In the world of innovative, B2B technology, marketing teams propel their product across the chasm by understanding that the folks in the Early Majority are psychographically distinct from Early Adopters.

You can use Innovators as case studies for Early Adopters, and they’ll be eager to follow the Innovators into new territory. They are, in fact, looking for a change agent. Early Adopters “expect a radical discontinuity” and are “prepared to champion this cause against entrenched resistance.”

They see risk as an opportunity to get ahead.

The Early Majority, on the other hand, don’t want to hear about the Early Adopters using new technology. To them, Early Adopters are foolhardy, taking on risk unnecessarily.

cartoon of the chasm

Members of the Early Majority are looking to “minimize discontinuity with the old ways.” It’s evolution, not revolution, that will convince them to make a change.

Therefore, marketers can’t use the tactics that got them into the Early Adopters to convince the Early Majority, and that’s why so many new tech companies fail at this point. Instead, according to Moore, they need to model the next phase of their marketing on the storming of the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.

Basically they need to target “a very specific niche market where [they] can dominate from the outset...and then use it as a base for broader operations.” Organizations must:

  • Unify and rally around a singular purpose: targeting a niche audience within the Early Majority.
  • Deeply understand the psychographic profile of their audiences, especially the differences between the Early Adopter and Early Majority populations.
  • Steer clear of the tendency to market to every member of the Early Majority. This dilutes marketing’s effectiveness, making it impossible to gain enough traction to cross The Chasm.
  • Model their marketing on the D-Day invasion (see Crossing the Chasm for more detail on this -- most of it isn’t relevant to our discussion).

This approach runs counter to much traditional business thinking for organizations at that point in their development, which is why The Chasm is littered with the corpses of failed tech companies.

What That All Means for Agile Marketing

That’s all well and good, but Agile marketing is not a B2B tech product. What we need to do is apply the lessons from Moore’s work to a movement rather than a piece of technology. Fortunately, to do that we just need to make small intellectual hop.

Agile marketing may currently be in the fad state, which Moore calls “something with no known market value or purpose but with ‘great properties’ that generate a lot of enthusiasm within an ‘in crowd’ of early adopters. That’s the early market.”

That early enthusiasm causes the rest of the world to take notice. They watch to see if anything will come of this shiny object, and, while they watch, the product/idea/innovation languishes in The Chasm.

To get it out of the chasm, to move an idea from fad to trend, we’re not competing so much with other new products/ideas, but with “the way we do things around here.”

Agile is a change sensitive “product”; adopting it requires a change in marketers’ behavior. That means our primary competitors aren’t other work management systems. Our hurdles will be similar to the ones Moore outlines, where “Resistance has been a function of inertia growing out of commitment to the status quo, fear of risk, or lack of a compelling reason to buy.”

Fans and friends of Agile, then, need to start attacking the status quo, calming fears of risk, and articulating some very compelling reasons for marketers to “buy” Agile.


Next Steps for the Agile Marketing Community

I know I said this wasn’t going to be much of a how-to post, but I just can’t help myself. I’m a sucker for the “So I can…” part of a user story.

So, what’s the next step I think you, a reader of a very long post and therefore probably an eager member of the Agile marketing community, should be taking?

I’m so glad you asked.

Create a Unified Front

Moore tells us that a tech company “requires an unusual degree of company unity during the crossing period….pursuing a high-probability course of action and making as few mistakes as possible.”

Combining the efforts of more members of the Innovator and Early Adopter groups will help compound the movement’s momentum.

One major piece of this may be to come up with a version of an Elevator Pitch, which Moore argues is an excellent way of focusing a product marketing team.

His formula goes like this:

For (target customers)

Who are dissatisfied with (the current market alternative)

Our product is a (product category)

That provides (compelling reason to buy)

Unlike (the product alternative),

We have assembled (key whole product features for your specific application)

If we can draft one of these for Agile marketing, and all commit to using it when we talk about Agile, we can hone our messaging and avoid fragmenting our efforts. I’ll put mine in the comments -- you do the same.

Understand Our Audience

Each group on the adoption curve has a unique psychographic profile. We need to find out what they are for each group of marketers and then create resources for each group in turn.

Who wants to sponsor a survey on this? I worked at a survey software company for years -- I'll volunteer to  draft the questions :)

Learn From Content Marketing

I’m continually amazed at the overlap between the early days of content marketing and the current state of Agile marketing. Let’s take a look in our rearview mirrors and see how that idea took hold.

The Content Marketing Institute now holds an annual conference that draws upwards of 6,000 attendees.

It seems like they got it right.

Identify a niche?

I really like Moore’s comparison: “Trying to cross the chasm without taking a niche market approach is like trying to light a fire without kindling.”

But I don’t know if this particular lesson applies to Agile marketing or not. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

If we were to pick a niche, it seems to me that tech marketers whose organizations are already familiar with and accepting of Agile would be the place to start. Any other suggestions?

Create a Whole “Product”

No tech product, no matter how awesome, delivers on its full promise in its early days. As Moore puts it, “There is a gap between the marketing promise made to the customer -- the compelling value proposition -- and the ability of the shipped product to fulfill that promise. For that gap to be overcome, the product must be augmented by a variety of services and ancillary products to become the whole product.”

To get to the right of the chasm you have to appeal to the pragmatists, who want the whole product to be readily available when they adopt.

That means we have to make sure there’s a whole “product” around Agile marketing -- a community, trainers, consultants, resources, etc. -- that will reduce the risk for the pragmatists in the Early Majority.

I think we’re already on a good trajectory in this area, but it’s worth thinking about each individual project/company/product as part of a larger Agile marketing ecosystem rather than a stand-alone piece of work.

Let’s Jump That Chasm in 2017

As you’ve probably guessed, I don’t think Agile marketing has made it over the chasm yet. But I think the resources and resolve are there to push us into the Early Majority very soon.

If you haven’t yet, please join up with and lend your ideas to the next stage of the Agile marketing revolution.


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