Crossing “the chasm” by telling your story

Crossing the chasm from early adopters to late adopters

Note: Building a startup myself, I have heard a lot about the “chasm” that exists between aquiring your first early adopters versus attracting the early majority of your market. But, I have heard almost nothing about how to cross it. I hope this will help inspire some people to tell their stories.

I read a great article entitled Your Story Is Your Marketing Strategy, and while I agreed with the concept that people often make a decision to choose a company when they know their story, I felt it was missing something essential. It offered some examples of people choosing a product after hearing the companies story, but didn’t explain why others would follow a similar pattern. Attending a local Ted “Brown Bag lunch” held at Accelerate Okanagan today may have highlighted the missing answer. The Ted lunch was anything but formal, a group of about 20 entrepreneurs sat around a large board room table while eating their packed lunch and watching a couple Ted videos. Ted videos are great, and meeting with like minded people is even better. Having previously watched the videos, I found myself relaxed, enjoying the lunch, looking forward to the coming jokes and preprocessing some of the points of the videos.

One of the videos is particularly good, How Great Leaders Inspire Action, by Simon Sinek. If you haven’t already seen it, I am including it here. If you have 20 minutes it’s worth pausing and watching it. It was in watching this video and from the conversation afterwords that it became clear why simply telling a potential customer your story is not enough to encourage them to buy.

When launching a startup product, it takes work getting those first early adopters, but it isn’t too difficult. Early adopters are generally people who want to be the first person to try something new anyways. So it makes sense that there were people who were willing to try your product before they knew much about it. As long as you raise enough awareness about your product, or share it with enough people, you will have some customers sign up (even if it is nothing to write home about). The challenge, however, is when the rush of early adopters slows down and sales calls start getting tougher. The challenge is in convincing the early majority, aka the pragmatists, to choose your product. Is telling them a simple background story enough?

I believe now that to move the early majority (the pragmatists) you need to tell more than a story. You need to answer the “why”. This is what the talk by Simon Sinek explained. Our brains are wired to be logical, but before logic, they were wired to be emotional and passionate. We are cognitively wired to behave positively towards the notion of “meaning”. Simon gives the example of Apple focusing on answering why they create products before answering what products they create or how they worked. They “are about changing the status quo”. Because it had meaning, because it was more than just a story, people resonated with their desire to break from mediocrity and they gave more of their time to listen about their products.

It’s true that a product still needs to solve a problem, if it is not solving anything, the early majority probably won’t use it even if they like why you created it. They are still pragmatists. But if you truly believe that your product is solving a problem, and you are passionate about what you are doing but are having a hard time attracting that early majority, maybe it’s time to start telling people why you created it. Not just what you have created or how it works. Maybe it’s time to start telling people what is at the heart of your company, tell them what motivates you to wake up in the morning, against all odds, just to provide them with your amazing tool that is going to revolutionize their lives. Simon Sinek argues this is the secret behind great leadership, I believe it is actually the secret to motivating the early majority to listen to you and it gives the early adopters something worth sharing about.

End note: I love that if someone’s sole motivation behind a product was to make lots of money, then their story sucks and this strategy won’t help them at all (sorry Kevin O’Leary).

I help people build better web apps and make a difference in the world. I enjoy sharing what I am learning and find interesting. I live on the Left Coast of Canada with my wife. Follow me on Twitter.

2 Replies to “Crossing “the chasm” by telling your story”

    1. Thanks Rick, I’m a big fan of Geoffrey Moore’s writing too. I will add Escape Velocity to my list of books to read.

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