In working with dozens of start-ups and early-stage companies over 25 years, and more than 50 since starting Berman Creative in 2002, I’m still astonished by how well Geoffrey Moore’s technology adoption curve defines the market opportunity for so many B-to-B and B-to-C organizations.

For young companies, the relevant groups are the first three:

Innovators have a relentless curiosity. They are interested in anything new, not so much to solve a defined problem as to explore the latest thing and see how (and whether) it works.

Early Adopters have a defined problem that they understand deeply, to the point they know what a solution might look like. These people are smart and willing to experiment, and will put up with some glitches if the solution gets them closer to something that works.

These first two groups are the people who first buy the products and services of early-stage companies. And this often gets the folks running those companies pretty jazzed up. “We’re selling to these people, they understand our product, and now we have a path to go to market and grow the business.”

The problem is that Innovators and Early Adopters make up a tiny fraction of the market opportunity. The people in the fat part of the curve, the majority of the market, don’t think like Innovators and Early Adopters, don’t buy for the same reasons, and can’t be marketed to the same way.

People in the Early Majority, which represents about one-third to one-half the market opportunity, have an entirely different mindset. They understand their problem, but they don’t have a picture in their heads of what a solution would look like.

For people in the Early Majority, a How-It-Works message has no relevance. Because they don’t yet know what a solution might look like, messages based on features and functions go entirely unnoticed. This audience simply doesn’t connect features and functions to their problem.

This is a real problem for early-stage companies. The Early Majority is where they plan to get real growth and make money for founders and investors. But too often marketing bogs down in a product-focused message that appeals to Innovators and Early Adopters, and is ignored by the overwhelming majority of the market.

Getting a message through to Early Majority audiences depends entirely on making the message relevant to their pain.

Next up: Message before medium