Book Review: Crossing the Chasm


After reading it on and off for a few months now (I never seem to find the time to sit down and really read books anymore), I finally finished Crossing the Chasm. If you’ve never heard of this book, it’s a how-to manual for successfully marketing technology products to the mainstream consumer. Sound boring? It is, especially if you aren’t passionate about marketing (which is why it’s taken me so long to finish). Skippable? It’s definitely not. It’s full of important ideas and should be required reading for any startup founder.
Lots and lots of good things have been said about this book, so I won’t go into too much detail. The basic premise is that even if you have a lot of early users, you need a specific, focused effort to win over the mainstream consumer market. And that’s not easy.
There are tons of good ideas in Crossing the Chasm but I’ll briefly discuss two that were the most immediately useful to me.
1. Dominate a niche segment first. Yeah, I know, you’ve undoubtedly built a vast, elegant system that can be used in many different ways and contexts. We’re programmers, we like to abstract. But that doesn’t matter. You can’t compete at all fronts at once. To succeed, you need to pick a niche to which your product is the most compelling and dominate it. Then you can move on to other market segments. Notice I didn’t say to pick the largest niche or the one with the most potential revenue. Pick the pond in which you can be the biggest (or only) fish.
2. How to build your pitch. The book has a great section on the important parts of a good pitch. The most interesting part was how to identify your product by using two other products as references. First, you identify a market alternative , which is the current preferred way your customers could solve the same problem your product solves. This doesn’t need to be technological – Rotten Tomatoes’ market alternative would be the movie reviews in your local paper. Secondly, you identify a product alternative – a product that has similar technology that customers are familiar with, but that is focused on a different market segment. For instance, a product alternative for Rotten Tomatoes might be Metacritic (this requires the mainstream customer to be familiar with Metacritic, but bear with me, it’s an example). While Metacritic has reviews for films, TV, music, and books, Rotten Tomatoes focuses entirely on movies (and has additional content that is of interest to moviegoers). Instead of just describing your product, you can use these two alternatives to more easily convey your product to potential customers and investors. Before reading this book, our pitch really stunk – even though our product idea is good. We’ve used the tips and have gotten much better at getting our idea across in a way others can immediately grasp.
The book goes into a lot more detail on these ideas and presents a whole lot more. I had exactly zero previous experience with marketing before reading this book, but the book doesn’t assume any expertise, so I came away from it feeling like I had learned a lot. If you’re developing a new technological product, I highly recommend adding this one to your long and growing “to-read” list.


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