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  • Writer's pictureDiane Pierson

Black Swan Series: Getting Market Input During the Crisis

The Black Swan has landed. Nobody expected it, but your customers are pushing aside business-as-usual activities to deal with it. They're busy saving their own businesses - how can you gather information to enable your own market-driven response?

Fourth in the Black Swan Series:

In this series, I explore how you can battle a Black Swan and win. This post is about gathering market insights in the middle of a Black Swan event.

During Black Swan events, it's more critical than ever to stay aligned with your market and ahead of the competition. When the unexpected happens and the environment you compete in is changing rapidly, quick cycles of experimentation driven by a tight market feedback loop make sure you can iterate as the situation evolves and move in the direction your market is headed.

Easier said than done! A question I get asked a lot is, “how am I supposed to get customers who are afraid for their own business survival to talk to me?” Following are a few ideas based on my experience and research:

Monitor Experts and Special Interests

Beyond the usual news feeds, check out bulletins from applicable industry associations, professional groups and government agencies like FEMA. Keeping up with what authorities are advising for your markets or even in general can guide your response at a high level.

Update Cancellation Reason Codes

A quick, cheap and easy way to understand the market is to update your in-workflow feedback loops. Updating cancellation/downgrade reason codes can give you quick insight into the impact of the Black Swan on your business. You could also give customer service a single question to ask customers or add a post-assistance question to your online help to discover more specifics.

Share Your Insights

If you implement the suggestions above, chances are you'll have insights your customers will find valuable for their own Black Swan responses. You may even be the expert they rely on as a primary source of knowledge. Be sure to share not only through your company communications but public outlets such as news or professional associations.


Perhaps the best action you can take to learn what your market needs from you is to help them with the task at hand - surviving the Black Swan.

One outcome of COVID was the depression and dysphoria felt by the 30 million Americans who lost their jobs practically overnight. Headspace, a meditation app, offered free subscriptions to U.S. workers who were unemployed or furloughed.

Headspace didn’t have to do this, and their main goal was NOT to pick the brains of those who signed up. But it was admirable and authentic and, by bringing people in with a free offering, they could learn while doing something good. Genuine offers to help in a crisis are remembered long after Black Swan is over, and the relationships you build with those offers help you better understand your customers right now.

It won't be easy to get the insight to respond to a Black Swan, but it is critical. Find ways to engage that are authentic and helpful to all concerned.

About the Author

Diane Pierson is the Founder and Principal Market Strategist of Innovate on Purpose, a consultancy enabling successful product innovation for tech companies through strategic focus and powerful go-to-market strategies. Diane is also a visiting instructor at Pragmatic Institute. Contact Diane at


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