Can Trump Cross Chasm

Watching the 2016 presidential election unfold has made for some outstanding TV viewing if you’re a reality TV fan.  Who couldn’t love such entertaining and clever Trump quips ranging from “low energy Jeb” to “Lyin’ Ted” to the correlations tied to “small hands”.   But with the ascension of Donald Trump to the altar as the Republican presumptive nominee, it’s time to get serious about his prospects against his likely Democratic foe Hillary Clinton.

The pundits, the polls, and the media have proven to be most unreliable as prognosticators.  One camp insists that there is “no way” for Trump to win the Presidency given his highly polarizing, provocative, and highly disruptive opinions on such hotbed topics as abortion, immigration, Muslims, and nuclear weapons.  Another camp sees an elitist minority championed by establishment politicians and the media that is underestimating the voices of a disenfranchised majority…a view reinforced by the popularity of neo-socialist candidate Bernie Sanders.

So how will this all play out?  I’d like to apply some of our thinking at Chasm Group to the question at hand.

Let’s start with the technology adoption model we use.  Disruptive technologies involve a change on behavior, skills, or processes that disrupt the status quo.  They initially attract technology enthusiasts and visionaries in the early market…buyers seeking competitive advantage and motivated by gain.  This early market represents roughly 10-12% of all buyers.  The trick in getting to the mainstream majority where 80%+ of buyers reside is in crossing the chasm to reach buyers with different mindsets and motivations…people who do not trust the opinions of their early market counterparts.

Mainstream buyers are motivated by pain reduction tied to broken mission critical business processes.  They are risk averse, seeking proven solutions recommended by their mainstream peers.  They are all about evolution, not revolution.  And they value having a supporting infrastructure of partners and allies that can deliver what we call “a whole product solution”, one that fulfills their compelling reason to buy.

Trump is certainly a disruptive candidate.  He has captured the imagination of early market enthusiasts who love to tinker with unproven entities that offer high level solutions that require much fleshing out.  These early market enthusiasts help create early viable products by shaping them to early customer feedback…something a populist candidate like Trump is most willing to pander to.  But initial viability does not cross the chasm into the mainstream where the votes reside unless it becomes a lower risk, proven, safe alternative to evolve from the status quo.

Hillary is a mainstream candidate.  She has spent many years in political office and knows all the players in the value chain.  She promises evolution, not revolution.  Though unloved by many who question her motives and trustworthiness, she is the safe status quo choice that the mainstream relies on.  She has a loyal base of followers in the African American community, volumes of women who are unwilling to cede on issues of abortion and planned parenthood, an army of immigrants who fear mass deportation, and a hodgepodge of voters who, when pressed, may well call on their instinctual aversion to radical change.

Yes, this election is sure to be a great knockdown, slanderous romp.  Will Hillary win an 80% mainstream landslide?  Hardly.

Donald will surely make overtures to the mainstream voter, wooing them through an occasionally tempered tone.  He’ll win a portion of those wonderfully idealistic youth brimming with visionary revolution fervor.  He’ll attack status quo solutions as relics of the past, winning some votes from white middle class voters frustrated with the politics of inaction.

Hillary will do what mainstream market leaders do…defend and expand their base.  She’ll neutralize his competitive inroads by taking the high ground, and launch a few +1 enhancements to her product by co-opting some issues that garnered Bernie’s support.   She’ll warn of the dangers of revolutionary change and rash judgments that threaten to upend a stable existing infrastructure.  She might even call on that beloved champion of an earlier thriving mainstream market, husband Bill Clinton, to reinforce support for the status quo.

So applying proven technology adoption theory to this presidential election, does the answer become clear?

Can Donald Trump cross the chasm?  What do you think?

Can Donald Trump Cross the Chasm?

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