A Marketer Looks at Climate Change - Part III: Crossing the Chasm

In 1991, Geoffrey Moore introduced a new term into the discussion of Diffusion of Innovation, particularly with reference to high-tech products. That term was “Crossing the Chasm.”

 How to cross the chasm in new technology adoption from visionaries to pragmatists is something that all climate advocates will have to confront when advocating particular solutions such as EVs.

How to cross the chasm in new technology adoption from visionaries to pragmatists is something that all climate advocates will have to confront when advocating particular solutions such as EVs.

In Crossing the Chasm, updated in a 2014 edition, Moore argues, “There is a vast chasm between the early adopters and the early majority. While early adopters are willing to sacrifice for the advantage of being first, the early majority waits until they know that the technology actually offers improvements in productivity. The challenge for innovators and marketers is to narrow this chasm and ultimately accelerate adoption across every segment.”

Thinking about climate change, as it relates to adopting new technologies such as Electric Vehicles, I recall about eight years ago asking an solar PV company in Tucson to price what it would take to install an EV charging outlet in my garage. The price tag was over $2,000, something I wasn’t willing to do, just to have the convenience of being able to charge an EV (I was looking at a Nissan Leaf at the time) at home. Even though I am generally an “early adopter” for most technologies, there is always a price point beyond which I’m unwilling to go.

In addition to dealing with the innovator/early adopter for new climate-neutral or climate-positive technologies, advocates have to be aware of the Chasm that separates the first 16 percent of the market from the much larger “early majority,” representing 34% of the total market. This issue has cropped up in the green building world because of perceived costs and difficulties of designing to stringent certification standards such as LEED.

In fact, in a recent report from Dodge Analytics, World Green Building Trends 2018, 50 percent of respondents cited higher perceived or actual first costs as the greatest barrier to green building adoption (p. 14), a figure unchanged since the 2015 survey. Most people constructing new buildings want the business and social benefits of green building, including carbon emission reductions, but are unwilling to incur any higher costs.  The report is free, so go download it and check it out for yourself.

There are established ways to “cross the chasm,” and cost is not always the barrier. The key is recognizing how the market shifts from visionaries in the early stage to pragmatists in the next stage. Just look at iPhone sales. Buying a new, better-featured and (usually) more expensive iPhone isn’t a huge investment and you immediately get better performance and productivity for tasks you do every day. Nothing visionary is required.

Now look at electric vehicles (EVs). The genius of Tesla has been to make a great-looking car that has decent range, but a clear “cool” factor. Most buyers are visionaries. It’s in fact a little impractical to buy a Tesla because you now immediately need to figure out where to charge it and when you can use it.

 Tesla Model S - This technology has yet to move beyond the visionary market. Based on cost and limited range, it’s not something that will yet appeal to pragmatists.

Tesla Model S - This technology has yet to move beyond the visionary market. Based on cost and limited range, it’s not something that will yet appeal to pragmatists.

The challenge for Tesla and all other electric cars will be crossing the chasm from visionaries to pragmatists. It’s not practical to own an expensive EV as your main car because many of us never know how far we’re going to be driving on a typical day and when/whether we’ll have time to charge the EV without having to do it in our home garage. Then think of all the renters who don’t have garages at all, just carports, trying to persuade their landlords to install EV chargers at every parking space.

Thinking like a marketer will help sort out all of the debates about which climate-change solutions we are going to put first in our pantheon of heroic measures to delay or defer the “inevitable.”