Chasm and the Tipping Point

Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore and The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell are two extraordinary books focusing on the concept of how something can be taken from a few early adopters to have an epidemic effect and reach the late majority. Crossing the Chasm explains how to market and sell high-tech products to mainstream customers. In the Tipping Point, Gladwell examines the epidemics occurring around us. Both books are great reads in themselves, but they somewhere touch on one common thing in the World of marketing that I think is worth talking about. That common thing is how any product or service, or a trend or a concept, that starts with a few individuals takes off and becomes widely accepted. In other words, how and when something becomes a mainstream phenomenon.

The thing that fascinates me the most is how this simple concept of mainstream adoption can be explained in two completely different yet related ways using the viewpoints of these two experts. To dive deeper in the comparison, let us analyze one of the most successful mainstream product (or you can call trend or fashion) adoption of the recent times: the iPod. The design genius of this product apart, let’s see how Apple marketed iPod to become a mainstream phenomenon.

Apple introduced iPod to its loyal customer base of Macintosh users (remember the days when iPod only worked with Mac!) The early adopters eagerly adopted iPod to envy of every PC user. How did iPod cross the chasm? The product supporters and specialists played a vital role in increasing the popularity of the music player making it more interesting and wannable for the pragmatists. Apple came out with the whole product which included the iTunes software to work on PC and Mac, and a set of dozens of accessories, count of which increased exponentially with a whole industry revolving around the iPod. This positioned iPod perfectly for the mass market adoption hence making it a mainstream phenomenon. 

Let’s see how, when and what “tipped” the iPod. I think the three things that were instrumental in tipping the iPod were the trendy appeal of the product, the passionate drive of the mavens and the consecutive releases of the iPod targeting the right customer at the right time. When Apple came out with this sleek, all white music player, it instantly became the fashion symbol of the cool kids. Those white earphones defined the social status of the college students hopping between classes and the health conscious folks running in the parks. These people, who paid the premium to get this expensive device, played the role of mavens for Apple best to their capacity. And to help further, Apple attracted the right customer at the right time by coming out with a version of iPod ranging from $100 to $400 for every type of customer. All this together helped the iPod tip by the 2004 holiday season.

Both outlooks, the one by Geoffrey Moore and the one by Malcolm Gladwell, are adept in describing, or teaching, how a product reaches mass adoption. Where do they meet? To put it in very simple words, I think we can define the tipping point as the point where the chasm ends. It is that inflection point from where the mainstream adoption starts. To think tipping point as that magical moment when a trend crosses a threshold, tips and spreads like wildfire makes perfect sense when you look back at all the efforts put by the parent company to create a support ecosystem, and acknowledge the early adopters, the mavens, the connectors and the salesmen who put the right efforts, knowingly or unknowingly, pushing the trend across the chasm.