Geoffrey A. Moore is responsible for imbuing high-tech meaning in two unlikely words-chasm and tornado.
"The chasm" is a moment of truth in marketing-the gap that must be crossed between the small minority of people who readily adopt a new technology and the vast majority whose acceptance is neccesary for ultimate success and profitability.
"The tornado" is the hyper-growth phase of a product that requires companies to act very differently than in pre-chasm phases if they are to avoid being engulfed.
Mr. Moore's books, "Crossing the Chasm" (1991) and "Inside the Tornado" (1995), are essential reading in Silicon Valley and anywhere else strategists are struggling to bring high technology into the mainstream. But his writings have not "crossed the chasm" into the financial services industry, something he discussed in this recent interview.
Mr. Moore is head of the Chasm Group, a consulting firm he founded in Palo Alto, Calif. Its clients include Bay Networks, IBM, Intel, Netscape, and Sun Microsystems. He is a former partner of Regis McKenna Inc., the quintessential Silicon Valley marketing consulting firm.
In "Crossing the Chasm" you mentioned home banking as an example of a high-tech product that didn't go mainstream. But bankers don't seem to be the same breed of cat as the Silicon Valley folks you usually speak to. Should a banker read you the way, say, (Intuit Inc. chairman) Scott Cook or (Netscape Communications Corp. technologist) Marc Andreesen would?
MOORE: The key issue for a banker as for Scott or Marc, is to understand where the marketplace stands in the technology adoption life cycle, relative to the innovation he or she is trying to introduce, and to adopt the appropriate market development for that phase. The difference is that high-tech executives usually think the market is more developed than it really is, while bankers tend to think it is less developed than it really is.
Any signs that bankers are getting your message? You're not on the banking-or even cyberspace banking-lecture circuit.
MOORE: Every industry has its lunatic fringe, I'm sure, but I have never been asked to address a convention of bankers. But I have spent a day with First Virtual Holdings.
Do you have contact with bankers as clients of your firm? Can you relate the nature of those contacts or assignments?
MOORE: Bankers have not been clients, with the exception noted above. To be fair, we focus all our marketing on high-tech firms.
From your experience, personally or through business, do bankers "get it"-and to what extent do they need to get it-about high-tech market dynamics? If not, what's the problem? If some do, what makes them different from those who don't?
MOORE: Whether they get it or not, the big issue is, will it get them? I cannot imagine a future in any financial services business that will not be heavily impacted by information technology on the marketing and customer service side. On the other hand, the key to banking is always great lending, and no amount of IT reengineering is a substitute for business acumen. My overall take is that most banks are playing the conservative or laggard strategy, more out of fear and ignorance than careful choice. But for all I know, that may be the best play.
How wired are you, personally? How much are you on the Internet? Do you bank on-line?
MOORE: I am unwired. I travel a ton, so getting on the Net for me is not a viable strategy. I get all of my information from customers' briefings to me, which precede my ability to lead them. This is always on paper, although an increasing amount of the information may have been on the Web as well.
I do not even bank, let alone bank on-line. Someone else manages our financial portfolio and Marie does our bill paying. I also do not carry a cell phone because I do not like multi-tasking at that level. I love multi- tasking at the idea level.
Research indicates some tens of millions of people use or have used the Internet. Where do they stand on your adoption continuum? Are there really that many early adopters, or are we past that stage?
MOORE: This is way beyond early adopters but it has yet to be fully engineered into our society. It is beyond CB radio as a fad. This is really useful stuff; from a business-to-business relationship point of view it is already compelling. It is also compelling as a consumer medium as long as it is free. At some later date-which is still a ways off-it will be compelling as a consumer medium that is paid for.
So I would say "consumer for free" is in the tornado stage, business-to- business is in the bowling alley (a growth phase of the product life cycle), revenue-creation activity is in the chasm, and business-to-consumer is in the early market.
If two to three million people do their banking by personal computer, is that good news? What if I told you that that number, though it may be growing, is not doing so nearly as fast as other indicators such as Internet use or on-line service subscriptions?
MOORE: PC banking is a specialist play as long as PCs are a specialist appliance in the home. Everyone does banking by computer today, if you count ATMs. I think the killer app for on-line banking may eventually be balancing your checkbook.
Intuit's Quicken play was a mini-tornado. Clearly they view themselves as the gorilla, provided that they can bolt in on the back end before someone else takes them out of the game. But Quicken is home finance management, for which there is a much smaller set of customers than for, say, bill paying or account balancing or account inquiry.
Any thoughts on the smart card? Is this a product that consumers can eventually cotton to, or are we waiting for a "push" of something compelling from some kind of service innovator?
MOORE: The latter. Smart cards are hugely significant as an idea where assets at risk are put in the hands of end-users who have no interest in managing them. Public-assistance distributions, phone cards, credit cards, identity cards, drivers licenses-all this stuff has to be reengineered for a society as large and mobile and anonymous as ours. Smart cards clearly locate the data closer to the transaction than competing technologies.
Many bankers yawn because no one is demanding a smart card. This is pragmatist/conservative behavior. If that is the only response they know, they will be behind on every innovation that ever comes down the pike. They will not make the mistake of early adoption, but they will also never get to drive the real wealth-creation bus when it shows up.
Speaking generally about consumers and technology, doesn't the high-tech industry still have a ways to go in delivering ease of use? Is that more of a technology problem than a marketing problem?
MOORE: The problem is that the infrastructure is still churning too fast. Ease of use is largely a function of habit. You get used to a paradigm, learn how to manipulate and extend it, and then can absorb a modest amount of continuous improvement going forward.
High-tech still does not operate that way, but it is developing some paradigm continuity as the latest move from the Windows to browser interface shows. Still, it's miles away from home on the general-purpose stuff. The dedicated systems, a la ATMs, I think can get there.
What is your take on WebTV as a potential chasm-crosser?
MOORE: This is a consumer play, so it has an early market for the gadget folks and then a potential tornado market if it gets designed into the home entertainment system infrastructure. But in and of itself, it will not cross the chasm and does not have niche-market potential.
Could I ask your reaction to a few provocative things recently said in the media? First, a yearend editorial in the Washington Post said it has become almost an annual ritual for businesspeople to be wondering why their Internet plans have not panned out: "The cry for cyberbusiness remains, "Wait till next year."'
MOORE: Chasm time! This is all the early-market players caught up in the bewilderment that the rest of the world does not think or act the way they do.
The New York Times columnist Frank Rich on Feb. 15 reported on a visit to Microsoft's campus near Seattle, calling it a "new Hollywood." Along with similar pockets of activity in Silicon Valley and New York, he said, it is creating an "embryonic culture ... that will transform American life as surely as the old Hollywood did" when sound was added to motion pictures 70 years ago.
MOORE: This is early-market feel-good talk. I am not convinced that (a) the Internet will ever be a good content medium in this sense, and (b) if ever that should happen, it would be the lead event. In fact, I am pretty convinced that (b) is wrong-headed, and I am on the fence about (a).
In his Feb. 17 MSNBC commentary, University of California at Berkeley professor and Internet critic Clifford Stoll said, "Home banking: Is it a hope or a dream? I don't know. But it's sure not going to happen tomorrow."
MOORE: This is the McLuhan trap. People's first response to a new paradigm is to try to reautomate old processes. That is not compelling (so my earlier analogy about balancing my checkbook is wrong). What is compelling is to do new and different things that change the overall balance of how I get things done in general. This takes creativity and serendipity.