Have you heard of the term ‘Chasm’? If it doesn’t jog your memory, this figure above certainly will.

Popularized by Geoffrey Moore in his book “Crossing the Chasm”, chasm denotes a moment in the lifecycle of a market that dictates whether an idea will go on to capture the hearts and minds of the mainstream consumer. In many ways, the chasm functions as a gatekeeper, deciding whether you’re going to be allowed through or not.

The Chasm tells us that any new idea needs to possess a set of qualities without which it will continue only to resonate with a niche audience or niche market.

While Geoffrey’s book focused on the B2B technology sector, it did do an excellent job of explaining how some small ideas turn into movements, or to speak in sociological terms, how some sub-cultures get legitimized (and co-opted by mainstream populations). But it still left us wanting, on the ultimate question of why.

Answering the why is where we think we have something to offer.

WHY do some ideas cross the chasm?

Over the last year our team has been running a series of experiments to try and explain why certain ideas become popular while others just whither away, and, how organizations/brands/people can play a role in helping these ideas not just cross the chasm, but maybe even jump it.

I would like to use the first two experiments we ran to explain the concept of jumping the chasm in this post. I plan to write some follow-ups in the coming weeks to talk about some of the other simple yet highly powerful experiments we’ve also been busy running.

Experiment 1. Markets self-organize based on beliefs, not demographics.

Most of us can think about ‘Innovators’ and ‘Early Adopters’ and try and picture them in our minds when it comes to a new piece of consumer technology. But can we do the same if the sector we’re looking at is the morning foods category, or household cleaning or even alcoholic beverages? How do we understand such markets in the context of Geoffrey Moore’s model?

We have a hypothesis.

Typically, one can use a number of factors to organize and segment a market. Beliefs, demographics, income, lifestyle metrics, shopping patterns and more. Our first experiment was simple — what if we looked at segmenting markets purely based on the beliefs of the consumer, nothing more. In essence, we forced ourselves to forget about how old users are, or how much money they make or even where they live. Instead, we just focused on what consumers in a given category believe.

What did we learn?

Markets naturally organize themselves based on beliefs and fit beautifully onto the adoption lifecycle curve. Meaning that the beliefs that sit on the fringes clearly make up a smaller percentage of the population while the beliefs held in the mainstream account for a majority of the populace.

Experiment 2. From ideology to vulnerability.

Once we understood that markets naturally organize based on beliefs, we then wanted to know why an idea would travel from beliefs held to the left of the spectrum to those on the right.

To achieve this, we picked a category to play with: Morning Foods in America.

We studied thousands of Americans in the context of morning foods (breakfast) and found five beliefs systems that drive consumers to pick one form of breakfast over the other. Let’s look at the first two:

Belief/Segment 1. Breakfast is a spiritual practice for them. They want natural, organic, locally sourced, non-GMO ingredients because the first thing one consumes in the morning sets the tone for one’s sense of overall well-being.

Belief/Segment 2. Breakfast signifies self-improvement. What they consume in the morning prepares them to take on the challenges of the day. They want to pack good calories with healthy fats and proteins to feel like they’re ready to compete.

Segment 2 is interesting. They consume nearly the same kinds of products that segment 1 does, but without the fuss. For them, it’s not an ideology, but rather the need to protect themselves from the inconsistency of the outside world. Breakfast is a way to exert control over an increasingly uncertain world, and future. Breakfast doesn’t just solve hunger; it resolves anxiety.

Segment 2 is our Chasm group. And as I write this post, I can feel them playing a critical role in completely reshaping the breakfast category. More cooked meals, value in ancient grains and good old oats, eggs, and even bacon!

But why is Segment 2 changing the consumption behavior of the entire breakfast market? Because this cohort has taken what is an ideological preference held by Segment 1 and has attached a simple, very human vulnerability to it.

Breakfast isn’t about spirituality or food politics. It’s about feeling prepared and a little less anxious.

This transition, from ideology to vulnerability, we believe is why some ideas turn into movements — when an ideology, held by a small group of people transforms into a vulnerability, it becomes highly relevant and relatable to a vast group of individuals.

It sounds simple, but it isn’t. And we’ll explore more of that in coming posts. This article is just a start…an attempt at explaining an idea that we believe will allow organizations to not just better predict the outcomes of cultural shifts but also figure out how they can intervene to help some ideas jump the chasm.

What do you want to research today?