Crossing Chasms and Anecdotal Evidence

Geoffrey Moore’s book, Crossing the Chasm, has been a hugely popular book in the marketing strategy area. I can see why. Moore has a clear thesis, the examples are interesting, and the topic important. Unfortunately Crossing the Chasm has a plausible story but no more.

There are two broad ways to support an argument. (You really need to combine both to be truly convincing).

Firstly, a strictly empirical approach. This is the equivalent of saying, “I don’t know why this happens but it seems to do so.” The problem with this approach is that you need really strong data. Moore does not have this, he only has interesting anecdotes and good stories.

The second approach is to appeal to theory. A plausible theory of why it happens gives greater confidence that the solutions should work. The challenge for Moore is that his theory seems contradictory. He takes a standard technological diffusion model, which is a bell curve with various segments labeled. (The labels are a little arbitrary but whatever).

Moore then argues that the labelled areas are in fact different markets. A market being a group where customers reference each other. This, I think, is reasonable and interesting. He says you need different tactics to appeal to the different markets which sounds plausible. This is when the theory breaks down.

Markets are often shown as a bell curve because identifiable populations often show this shape. Women’s height is like this, most people are near average height with few who are very tall or very short. The problem is that Moore suggests the groups are different not just a single population divided up. With different populations we might expect each group to follow its own bell curve. It is not likely that separate populations just happen to fit together to form a bell curve. We might expect to see a series of bell curves — a bunch of hills each with valley between the groups.

Logically the chasms in crossing the chasm don’t make sense. Perhaps “Crossing the Gentle Valleys Between Hills” won’t have sold as well but it would have made more sense.

Read: Geoffrey Moore, (2009), Crossing the Chasm:Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers, Harper Business