Commentary & Analysis
Have We Crossed the Chasm?
By Barbara Pellow Technology enthusiasts are the sort of people who jigger the microwave so they can cook their hands to "
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: August 1, 2005
By Barbara Pellow Technology enthusiasts are the sort of people who jigger the microwave so they can cook their hands to "see what it feels like." August 1, 2005 -- In 1991, Geoffrey A. Moore published a book titled Crossing the Chasm that focuses on the specifics of marketing high tech products. The book talked about high-tech marketing ventures that, despite normally promising starts, drift off course in a variety of different ways. Eventually there are some unpredicted gaps in sales revenues, and the management team undertakes desperate remedies. According to Moore, the point of 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 is, in fact, so significant that Moore identifies it as a chasm. He said that crossing this chasm must be the primary focus of any long-term high-tech marketing plan. A successful crossing is how high-tech fortunes are made; failure in the attempt is how they are lost. According to Moore, the technology enthusiasts are the sort of people who jigger the microwave so they can cook their hands to "see what it feels like." Visionaries are less oriented to exploration, and more to exploitation. They are people who see breakthrough potential in some technology and are willing to brave hell and high water to realize that potential. From the vendor's point of view, the nice thing about both groups is that they're not too bothered by the fact that the product doesn't work. They're willing to make it work. Pragmatists want a product that works. They are not interested in debugging it. Pragmatists want a product that works. They are not interested in debugging it. They want to be able to hire people who've used it. They want to read articles in the newspaper about it. If there's customization that is required, they want to find third parties who can do it. Better yet, they want to buy third-party packages written for people just like them. They don't just want a product. They want a 100 percent solution to their business problem. According to Moore, if they get the 80 percent that delighted the visionary, they feel cheated, and they tell their pragmatist friends. Conservatives buy products because they really have no choice. They want products that are cheap and do the job as unobtrusively as possible. They are not reassured by the existence of books about the product, because it implies the product isn't simple enough to use. Skeptics are not going to buy, though they may talk other people out of buying. Skeptics are not going to buy, though they may talk other people out of buying. As we look at the transformation of the printing industry and the customers we deal with, the question is: "Have we crossed the Chasm for digital print technology? What does it take to develop the Pragmatist client base? The technology enthusiasts and the early adopters can deal with uncertainty and don't expect perfection. Pragmatists want to make a safe decision and want a complete solution. Pragmatists want a "whole product." A product in isolation will probably not solve a pragmatist's business problem. Services and auxiliary products must supplement it. The key to success in digital printing is in getting the first toehold in the pragmatist market. Moore identifies some key steps for successfully crossing the chasm--steps that successful digital print service providers are following. 1. Target a specific market or niche. Printers cannot be all things to all customers. Initial success requires focusing of all your resources on achieving a strong position in a specific segment. For example, Market Connections was formed in order to provide a variety of graphic design, document management, print-on-demand, publishing, and production services to the United States and Canadian direct marketing community. Market Connections services 5,500 to 6,000 customers who require laser and data printing as well as direct mail production through an application focus on custom publishing industry-specific newsletters. Rochester NY-based Cohber Press was an early adopter of digital color technology. They placed their market focus on business owners and marketing communications specialists in the hospitality industry to deliver complex VDP solutions. To convince the pragmatists, they hosted open houses and "lunch and learn" events and showed them how a customized message can produce superior results. 2. Create a whole product "I don't believe that it is the equipment. I think it's really more about what you're doing with the equipment to meet the marketing needs of your customers." --Rynn Johnson Successful digital print service providers are "doing it all." They are thinking through the customer's problem and delivering a solution in its entirety. Market Connections delivers an integrated, Web -based solution to financial service agents, real estate brokers and dentists as an educational tool for their client base. The agent can log onto the Internet, select appropriate content for his or her client base, upload names and addresses and request a targeted newsletter. Market Connections provides a suite of services, including writing and editorial content, creative and design support, consultation and program management, Web access, production, delivery and fulfillment. Cohber Press has a similar approach with its client base. In a strategic partnership with its customer base, Cohber tightly integrated team of prepress, printing, finishing and fulfillment experts builds a strategic design using a solid database and puts mechanisms in place to measure program results. Their projects are designed to achieve response rates of 10, 15, and 25 percent -- the key to earning repeat business. The Johnson Group, for example, has a staff of more than 150 people focused on evolving the business, embracing new technologies and enhancing partnerships to accomplish a simple objective--becoming a full service provider to its customer base. Revenues have climbed to in excess of $25 million dollars. It is another example of a complete solution for the pragmatist. VP of Sales Rynn Johnson said, "Truly, I believe that the growth in digital printing is going to be with Web-to-print solutions. I don't believe that it is the equipment. I think it's really more about what you're doing with the equipment to meet the marketing needs of your customers. We allow customers to go online to look at direct mailers and brochures, customize them and order the product, and then queue orders up at our press so that we have a streamlined, efficient workflow. It is a win-win for our customers and the Johnson Group." 3. Define positioning, develop the elevator pitch, build this into all of your company communications Communication of a distinct value proposition is essential and the vision needs to be shared across the organization. Firms across the printing industry are repositioning their businesses to deliver complete solutions for their customers' business communications requirements. Firms like Cohber Press have a comprehensive mission statement on their Web sites to position the organization. In the case of Cohber, it reads, " Cohber will provide customers with a competitive advantage by offering them new and evolving technologies that effectively improve the way they communicate their ideas. From ink on paper and digital asset management to Variable Information Printing and Internet-based message facilitation, Cohber is committed to providing customers with solutions that earn us recognition as an invaluable partner in the communication process." The Johnson Group explains to clients that the firm is focused on delivering value. According to its Web site, " Our clients vary widely in size and shape, but their primary need is the same - convenience and quality. At The Johnson Group, we have spent years listening to what you need, and have built a company designed to give you peace of mind - the kind of peace of mind that can only come when you know that your high expectations will be met, and that your project will be completed 'under one roof.' With a complete menu of prepress, printing, fulfillment and finishing services, we are able to consistently deliver real value, not to mention stress-free results." And Market Connections according to Moran has a simple value proposition. Moran said, "The value proposition to our customer base is that the newsletter is a persistency tool. We get testimonials all the time from our financial services customers. The financial advisor will go to somebody's house and they will see a copy of a newsletter sitting on the coffee table with certain sections highlighted, and immediately they realize the value of maintaining that persistency in communication." 4. Ensure a consultative sales approach Success in the digital world requires discipline on the part of the leader. Probably the biggest challenge is a consultative sales approach. Firms like Market Connections explain to customers, "Our qualified team of professionals meets with clients to determine their needs and expectations and ultimately recommends a suitable strategy to achieve their objectives. Our account management team is readily accessible, providing direction, commitment and fresh insight to each project. Finally, our production unit guides the project, ensuring that deadlines are met and that the final output matches the client's requirements." None of these steps identified by Moore are rocket science, but the content he developed in 1991 has never been more relevant than it is today in the printing industry. Success in the digital world requires discipline on the part of the leader. The owner needs to make choices relative to selected target markets and focus the business properly. Full service or the right alliances and partnerships are essential to meet the pragmatists' total business communications needs. Seeding the communications process with a succinct message can be a challenge. The owner needs to reach the market with the right media mix and a cohesive set of messages. Finally, the direct sales force needs to transform its sales process from selling print to selling solutions. While the digital print market has taken longer to develop than anyone anticipated, we are seeing signs that marketers and corporate executives are "crossing the chasm," reaching the large pragmatist market that will truly bring digital printing into the mainstream.