I just learned I’m speaking at a conference this summer with Geoffrey Moore, author of “Crossing the Chasm”. Geoffrey wrote the book with high-tech products in mind but I find the model useful when thinking about brands as well.
Innovations progress across five distinct customer groups: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. Geoffrey argued that marketers should focus on one group of customers at a time and use each group as a base to market to the next group. The most difficult step is “crossing the chasm” from the early adopters to the early majority. That chasm separates breakthrough products like the iPod from niche products like the Rio MP3 player.
Starbucks wasn’t the first coffee brand to offer a quality $4 latte. But it was the first to make them mainstream.
When a brand crosses that chasm, can it still remain relevant to the innovators and early adopters? When the Starbucks experience devolves into Pumpkin Spice Frappuccinos, can it retain the purists who come for the Sumatra Single Source?
This was the exact challenge that Howard Schultz framed in his famous 2007 “Commoditization of the Starbucks Experience” memo before stepping back in as CEO:
“Over the past ten years, in order to achieve the growth, development, and scale necessary to go from less than 1,000 stores to 13,000 stores and beyond, we have had to make a series of decisions that, in retrospect, have lead to the watering down of the Starbucks experience, and, what some might call the commoditization of our brand.”
It is this dynamic that startups like Blue Bottle exploit to appeal to innovators and early adopters:
“In Oakland, California, a slightly disaffected freelance musician and coffee lunatic, weary of the grande eggnog latte and the double skim pumpkin-pie macchiato decides to open a roaster for people who are clamoring for the actual taste of freshly roasted coffee. Using a miniscule six-pound batch roaster, he makes an historic vow: “I will only sell coffee less than 48 hours out of the roaster to my customers, so they may enjoy coffee at its peak of flavor. I will only use the finest organic, and pesticide-free, shade-grown beans.”
Baristas at my local coffee shop had to attend two-day intense training before being allowed to sell Blue Bottle beans. This type of dedication has inspired cult-like fans.
Starbucks doesn’t want to lose the early adopters. Schultz is making changes to return to its roots and focus on Starbuck’s core, partly through renewed attention to its coffee and partly through tiered brands like Seattle’s Best (and a rumored acquisition of Peet’s) and new concept stores.
But I wonder: how successfully can one brand straddle the whole customer continuum from early adopters to laggards? Are there any brands that do this well?
(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away one signed copy of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post (on either my blog or Facebook) and I’ll pick a winning comment at 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)