Ron Paul Crossing the Chasm

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Getting the liberty message across the polling gap.

In the 90's Geoffrey Moore wrote (and later revised) a book that immediately became the de-facto desk-side handbook for every marketer in the technology arena. The book, titled Crossing the Chasm, is a road map for marketers trying to navigate their way through the perilous waters of the silicon age with products that are not widely known, technology that is not widely accepted, and competing against ubiquitous incumbent technologies that are both safe and predictable (despite their shortcomings).

In Chasm, Moore unveils a paradigm in technology marketing, called the "chasm model," which illustrates the gap that a new technology must cross before gaining widespread acceptance in the market. This is particularly true with so-called "disruptive" technologies that promise innovation while threatening the established way of operation.

In the political sense, Ron Paul represents new technology, threatening to disrupt the status quo and revolutionize the system. Moore's chasm model gives us a frame of reference to examine the gulf that exists between the innovative, risk-taking early adopters, and the pragmatic, risk-averse late adopters.

Innovators (The Technology Enthusiasts) — The first group to be sold on a new technology are the innovators (primarily because they are the ones cultivating it). These are your typical technology enthusiasts: the ber-geeks who innovate, nurture and adopt technology because they believe in it and the promise that it holds. Every great inventor in history falls into this category (likewise, every great philosopher does too). In our political model, Ron Paul qualifies as an innovator, along with the vanguard of libertarian thought (Ludwig von Mises was an innovator). The innovators provide a foundation from which the new technology/idea can be launched. As Moore puts it in Chasm: "Enthusiasts are like kindling: They help start the fire."

Early Adopters (The Visionaries) — The next group aren't the vanguards of the technology, but they quickly become just as important. The Early Adopters are the influential visionaries who recognize the technology for its potential to revolutionize the way business is done. In technology, Steve Jobs is a well-known example of an early adopter/visionary. Early adopters are dream oriented. They have a vision, and are looking at new technology to facilitate a "fundamental breakthrough" to fulfill that vision.

As Moore puts it, "Visionaries are that rare breed of people who have the insight to match an emerging technology to a strategic opportunity, the temperament to translate that insight into a high-visibility, high-risk project, and the charisma to get the rest of their organization to buy into that project." Visionaries aren't interested in tinkering with the system – they want to spark a revolution in how it operates. They are highly motivated and will do what it takes to make their vision become a reality. In the political system, these are the activists. They're forming groups, painting signs, donating money, reaching out, and doing everything they can to spread the message. The visionaries are most definitely going to vote in primaries. They’re going to tell their friends. They’re going to go to the ends of the earth to make their vision a reality. This is currently where the bulk of Ron Paul's support is coming from. Without the visionaries, a technology/idea has no hope of crossing the chasm.

The Chasm (aka the gap) – The space between the Early Adopters (Visionaries) and the next group, the Early Majority (Pragmatists) is where the dreaded chasm lies. This is where the technology has to take a fundamental leap from being a "neat idea" to being "a practical solution." If the technology/idea does not take this leap, it fails. There are millions of technology products that have fallen into the chasm never to be heard from again.

It's significant to fully appreciate the implications of a technology/idea attempting and failing to cross the chasm. The market does not forgive failure so easily. When a technology fails to cross the chasm, it is often marginalized into oblivion. When this happens, the visionary pool dries up, and it's left to the enthusiasts to tend it until the market conditions are right to reintroduce it for another shot at the gap. Moore tells us that failure to communicate the "order-of-magnitude" leaps in benefits is a common reason for a technology/idea to fall flat.

Which leads us to:

The Early Majority (Pragmatists) — The Early Majority represent a significant bulk of the mass market. This type requires assurances that the technology is going to work out. They dislike unpredictability. They want to be able to set their watch by the product. These people are hard to win over, but are loyal as can be once they have been sold. It was said a hundred times when Bush was running for president: “I don’t agree with him on everything, but at least with Bush, I know where he stands.” It's significant to note that by and large, they didn't really know where he really stood, but instead they knew how he made them feel — which is much more important when dealing with pragmatists. Pragmatists want to feel safe. As such, they are largely motivated by fear.

What pragmatists are generally not, however, are activists. They’ll pass along their recommendations as a word of mouth, but they’re typically not going to go out of their way if they don’t have to. This is not always the case. A pragmatist often becomes an evangelist, influencing others through word-of-mouth channels. The pragmatists have heavy influence over the next group in the model.

The Late Majority (Conservatives) — The late majority represents the most conservative group of the population, particularly in terms of risk aversion. They are traditionalists. They find something that they like and they stick with it. It's comfortable. It works for them. They are the hardest to sell a new idea to, and usually a visionary isn't who they will accept the idea from (they look more towards pragmatists for influence). They don’t like new ideas, because new ideas bring change. They will only get involved with a new technology/idea once it has matured and they start to feel significantly disconnected by not taking part in it (even then, they are hesitant).

Moore offers two keys to success for winning over the late majority: "The first is to have thoroughly thought through the u2018whole solution' to a particular target end-user market's needs, and to have provided for every element of that solution within the package… The other key is to have lined up a low-overhead distribution channel that can get this package to the target market effectively." Sage advice, indeed.

In this marketer's estimation, the Ron Paul 2008 campaign, by and large, has the tools to cross the chasm; however, what it is currently lacking are highly visible visionaries who are recognizable by the pragmatist masses and can help propel the message across the gap. To put it bluntly, Ron Paul cannot be the lone voice for the movement in the media wilderness. At this point in time, the Ron Paul 2008 campaign would receive a tremendous benefit from visible visionaries who are firmly in his camp and can appeal to the political pragmatists who are currently finding solace in the status quo.

I believe the freedom movement should now be focusing their efforts in moving liberty-minded celebrities and luminaries (both national and local) to start aggressively speaking out on behalf of Dr. Paul and the message of freedom. At this juncture, these endorsements would go a long way towards providing the rocket fuel that would aid the polls further in moving in the right direction.

The pragmatists need the "political cover" of highly visible endorsements. These endorsements offer them a safety net that assures them that their support of Dr. Paul is safe and within the bounds of reason. The good news is that once they're sold that Dr. Paul is the "safe choice," it's unlikely that they will change their minds. The bad news, however, is that they're hard to sell to, and without pragmatists the movement risks falling into the chasm where the "Dean Scream" is currently echoing off the walls.

October 27, 2007