Crossing the social chasm

Build it and they will come. Well no, that only happens in Kevin Costner movies. Fortunately, to succeed in the age of the finger swipe you just need to convince a few people (the influencers) that you’re worth their time and they’ll magically bring the guys with the money to you. Unfortunately though, influencers are the hardest ones to impress. So what do we do?

I was pondering this challenge recently when I came across the classic Geoffrey A. Moore book, Crossing the Chasm, a title that is 24 years old now. Not only was I reminded of how good it is, but also how relevant it is for today’s world. If nothing else – just marvel at the visual simplicity of his model:

The key here is understanding ‘the chasm’, or, for many entrepreneurs, ‘where dreams are shattered’. In order to launch and succeed with any new product, it is a prerequisite of your strategy to understand innovators and early adopters. They have fundamentally different expectations than any other group—something which you could ignore, were they not the key to getting to the early majority, where success awaits.

Upon going through this model in detail again it became clear that it’s equally applicable in the age of social influence and content creation. 

All too often we are presented with strategies and creative work that assume they are great enough to just ‘happen’, without putting in the necessary ammunition, media spend or ‘free stuff’ to really get things moving. It is only when you break this model down and look at it through the varied lens of social media and influencers that it becomes clearer what it takes to convince people to pass something on.  


Innovators adopt products early as they have vision and want to be seen as leaders. They are often entrepreneurial or have that idealised vision of themselves. They want to be seen as thought leaders and perhaps thrive on early access and being in the know. This is a close-knit community of people who are also the ‘digitals’ on the bleeding edge with their digital publishing and social networks. They don’t move without having value attached to their relationship, whether that’s commercialising why they are doing it, or using it as the opportunity to reinforce their ‘digital celebrity’ ambition. Therefore, they crave new content first and exclusively and want to lead the sharing of the 24-hour news cycle – these guys are the true influencers. We must clearly guide them and make them feel a part of the ‘gold elite’ club. They demand great experiences and will reward with ‘peer’ media coverage. 

The Adidas and Kayne ‘Yeezy’ collaboration is a great example of this on a global scale. It essentially serves as a textbook example of the steps required to make the process work. Adidas approached West for them to create a unique product together, placing the rapper at the centre of the creative process. Then, they created hype by giving the sneakers to a select group of influencers who obliged by taking to social media to share the adornments on their feet. And finally, Adidas and West brought in an experiential event that let die-hard fans get their hands on the sneakers first (some queued for as long as 80 hours). 

While this example can’t be applied to all innovators, it does provide a glimpse at what is required to work with them most effectively. 

In a nutshell, innovators need:

Status – These people are functional narcissists who need constant emotional and factual affirmation that they are on top, first and special. They need to feel that they helped co-create a product or campaign.

One-to-one service – They want to be heard. They are the guys who expect access to get the best tables and business class travel (but don’t want to pay for it). Give them the personal touch, listen and they will reward you.

Theatre – Their life demands set dressing, make it colourful and add drama. Create an experience with an idea and it will help them to spread your message.

Storytelling – They consume content and ideas. Make it look good and they’ll make you look great.

And at the end of the day, the onus is on the brand to facilitate each of these things. 

Early adopters

Contrary to popular belief, early adopters are never the first at the party, but they time their arrival perfectly and bring lots of friends. 

They comment and share the content; they are the group arbiters of taste. Content appears in our feeds from these guys. They judge quickly and know they are being judged. At any event they are posting, but unlike the innovators, they don’t focus  on the venue. Instead, they post images of their crew at the venue, trying the product out.

They will post to the collective pages but this will be a ‘collective consciousness’ of one group experience. This is the group talking to the group. They are appreciative to have been included in the ‘in crowd’ while struggling with whether this is where they want to be.

In the local context, the partnership between Audi and Huffer founder Steve Dunstan provides a glimpse at how to offer early adopters something special, which consequently gets them talking. 

In this collaboration, fashion designer Dunstan developed a series of 15 unique badges, which were then attached to limited edition Audi A1 Sport Pulse vehicles when the new range was released. Not only did Dunstan drive in the special edition vehicle daily, he also appeared in promotional videos and posted images on social media. 

In addition to this, Audi brought in a second ambassador in celebrity chef Simon Gault, who hosted an exclusive icy dining spectacle in the South Island for fans who wanted to be among the first to experience the vehicles (current Audi customers received discounted rates). Suffice to say all those who attended the event left with a pretty good taste in their mouths. 

As was the case with the innovators, early adopters also have a range of needs. And while this certainly isn’t a catch-all list, these are some of the best ways to reach them:

Appeal to group status – They are all about ‘bonding’ and shared experiences that strengthen and affirm those bonds. Friendship is everything.

Get everyone involved – Make it easy for multiple participation (group selfies), group sampling, group takeaways.

Always allow a plus one – They must be able to invite and pass on the love. These are the ‘mass seeders’ and ‘one-to-one sales force’.

Tell a story – It’s all about the ‘group Facebook feed’. ‘We had the best time and have proof’.

Engage the innovators and the early birds effectively and they will pass the messages on to the rest of us—and this is where the message takes on more mass and things take on energy of their own. 

And always remember to take note of these audiences. After all, it’s their world. We just live in it. 

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