Crossing the Chasm in Climate Tech
What High Tech Marketing Can Teach Us About Driving Climate Solutions
I was leading a workshop last week and used a case study about designing a new EV charging system. As a person from the West Coast, where I see EVs every day, I was surprised to learn that no one in the room had ever used a charging station, and only one had driven an EV.
They were engineers working at a market-leading company, whose products are renowned for innovation. For many consumer technologies, they would be Early Adopters. Yet in the EV market, they’re Early Mainstream, at best.
Most of Us Are Early or Even Late Mainstream
I get that because as steeped in innovation as I am, I consider myself to be Early Mainstream when it comes to cars — after killing my first-generation Toyota Prius, a painful Early Adopter experience.
That is, when I buy an EV, I need it to work. I need to be able to charge at home and on the road safely and conveniently. Ideally, it will be easier than driving an ICE because I won’t have to stop for gas or think as much about maintenance. I need EVs to cross the chasm, and I’m probably not in their first niche market.
Climate Tech Needs to Cross the Chasm to the Mainstream Market
I’ve written before about how EVs and charging stations seem to be a bit stuck in serving the Early Adopter market. This article will dive deeper into how the work of a 1990s high tech marketing guru can inform our efforts to drive adoption of climate tech.
Early in my career, I encountered Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm and his other works. This series described how technology innovations move up the adoption curve, with strategies for how to cross the most challenging part of the curve: Early Adopters to Early Mainstream customers.
Early Adopters Are Nothing Like Early Mainstream Customers
They are more willing to tolerate failures, glitches and bugs. They actually enjoy troubleshooting. They want to be the first at something — they see it as a competitive advantage. They don’t mind paying more for the privilege of being the first in the neighborhood. They’ll pay more for built-in sustainability. A Tesla is a status symbol.
Early Mainstream customers, though, don’t want the pain of going too early. They need solutions to just work. They don’t want to spend more money, and they don’t want to spend more time. In fact, their ideal solution saves both time and money.
Here’s the challenge: Early Mainstream customers don’t see themselves in the Early Adopters and they don’t trust the stories the Early Adopters tell. They see Tesla’s recalls, the regulatory challenges around the Tesla’s autonomous driving features, the way everything is driven by touch screens, and feel too uncomfortable.
Early Mainstream customers know they don’t have the time, patience or money to burn on a half-baked solution, and don’t have the motivation an Early Adopter has to be first.
The First Early Mainstream Customer Must Be Motivated
So how do you get that first Early Mainstream customer if all your testimonials, case studies and demonstrations aren’t something they trust? The right Early Mainstream customer is a person that has a problem you can solve, that is bad enough to drive them to take a chance on you if you can solve it for them.
For an EV charging station network, that might mean looking for a niche market where people have to drive a lot and hate stopping for gas. The same reasons that made realtors a good niche market for cell phones might make them a good niche market for an EV charging network: they spend a lot of time driving people around in their cars, and they don’t want to waste a lot of time sitting at charging stations.
An EV charging network that can help them save money on gas, without requiring them to waste time at charging stations, with a solution that ensures they can always get to their appointments on time, is a network that’s learning how to serve the Early Mainstream customers — not only the realtors themselves, but also their passengers.
We Can Accelerate Across the Chasm with Clear Target Markets
If you’re working on a climate solution and you see that you’re stuck with an Early Adopter product, what can you do?