Curious Cats Catch Black Swans

Black Swan

Black Swans are game-changers.

They turn established markets on their head - and depose market leaders.

Yet they also provide huge opportunities for those who can see the trend early.

Do marketers try hard enough to spot them?

Many lack the curiosity to hunt for Black Swans

And fail to avoid the dangers or take advantage of the opportunities they offer.

Here's what to do about it.

​​There are three categories of knowledge:

KNOWNS: “I know why photographers like Kodak”

KNOWN UNKNOWNS: “I don’t know why photographers like Fuji, but I can find out”

UNKNOWN UNKNOWNS: “Digital technology will make film processing obsolete”

These correspond to different uses of market research:

ENDORSE: Research used to confirm assumptions

EXPAND: Research that builds on assumptions and hypothesis

EXPLORE: Research which explores a subject with no preconceptions

The problem is, the number of marketers willing to ‘explore’ is small.

But if you don’t explore the ‘Unknown Unknowns’ they have a habit of upsetting your best laid plans.

‘Black Swans’ live in the realm of 'Unknown Unknowns'

‘Black Swans’ defy normal expectation because nothing in the past points to their possibility.

They are always:

- A surprise

- Have a major impact

- Yet, in hindsight, they looked predictable

‘Black Swans’ are difficult to spot

‘Black Swans’ usually refer to global events, such as the digital photography revolution which Kodak missed or the development of ‘smart phones’, which Nokia failed to spot

But Black Swans can also be small and local

For example, no-one predicted the rapid growth in cider sales in the USA and, indeed, its equally rapid decline

They can also be subtle, such as when Dove Soap rejected the idea of ‘perfect’ or Vodafone’s M-Pesa which started out as an airtime credit swapping app - but became a major peer-to-peer ‘bank’ in developing countries.

Black Swans are anything you didn’t foresee

  • Because you didn’t look in the right place

  • Or you didn’t ask the right questions

  • Or you simply thought you already knew the answer

How to find the Black Swans that are relevant to you:

  1. The biggest barrier to spotting Black Swans is our own assumptions

  2. We see our brands as we wish to see them, rather than how our customers see them

  3. So allow for more curiosity, faith, commitment and an open mind

  4. And before investing in research based on what you believe, conduct exploratory research designed to uncover your ‘blind spots’

It’ll be easier and quicker than you think and probably less expensive than you imagine

Examples of Black Swans I’ve identified:

  • Criteria for choosing a global professional software brand is more emotionally driven than technical

  • Anti-Smoking campaigns for teens are more powerful if based on discovery rather than telling teens what to think

  • Corporate data managers are cynical of the over-promises made by service providers. A more effective approach is to be realistic & honest.

I have dozens of case studies like this I can share with you. Call or email to find out more:

Graham Hall


00 (44) 7590 579031

  • LinkedIn Social Icon
  • Black Twitter Icon
  • Black Instagram Icon
No tags yet.