Jan 21, 2004

can dean cross the chasm?

Forgive me for applying technology marketing concepts to national politics, and for potentially speaking waaaay too early, but two phrases keep echoing in my head since Monday night: “crossing the chasm” and “second mover advantage.”

Notion 1: Dean won’t be able to cross the chasm. (You’ve read Moore, right? If not, testing.com has a good overview.) He’s done a fantastic job of hitting the enthusiasts and visionaries, yet despite a fantastic channel strategy won’t be able to cross over to the pragmatists, much less the conservatives. Just enough of the core fundamentals of the “product” are there (vision, experience, etc.) to enable the early adopters to wrap the product with their own add-ons (passion, a rabid and web-fueled community of supporters). But perhaps Dean isn’t quite ready for prime time; pragmatists, after all, want something that just works. And maybe doesn’t yell so much.

Notion 2: Kerry and Edwards have a second-mover advantage. With Dean as the early front-runner, follow on candidates like Kerry and Edwards have been able to watch Dean and his message, to see what works, what doesn’t, and how they should be adjusting their strategy accordingly. Friend Garry Mitchell (the consummate insider) writes today in The Mitchell Report (email only, trying to convince him to get it up online):

The primary reason for the wholly unanticipated, meteoric rise of Howard Dean (we’ll deal with the death spiral in another column) was that he touched raw nerves by saying that it was time for the Democratic Party to be Democrats again. Like H. Ross Perot on deficit reduction and budget balancing in the 1992 campaign, Dean has made the other candidates discover their “inner backbones,” albeit at his own expense, and the irony is that their messages are sharpening while his is not.

And then, a quick Google search on “second mover advantage” led to this classic from Red Herring juxtaposing the business strategies of Webvan (doomed first mover) and Microsoft (very successful second mover).

One of the implications of the second-mover advantage is that established companies with existing infrastructures and a variety of sales channels do better than pure plays – in any market touched by technology. It is not that entrepreneurialism and innovation matter less than existing market power, but that every new technology is a perilous risk.

Replace “companies” with “candidates,” and “new technology” with “new campaign strategy” and Iowa starts to make sense. At least to me.