How to out-position the competition in a downturn

“In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.” — Einstein.

It doesn’t take the sheer intelligence of Einstein to understand that economic downturns actually accelerate a portion of companies, and market share and position radically reshuffle.

Research shows that twice as many companies make the leap from laggards to leaders during a downturn, compared to a period of economic calm. With all indications now that the economic environment is looking very choppy, how can we best plan and execute around “leading” and not “lagging”?

Consider three actionable, clear components to your strategy to out-position the competition.

“Those who tell stories rule society.” — Plato.

It’s always a noisy, crowded environment that you need to cut through and drive awareness in. In a crisis/downturn environment, it’s even noisier.   That means that there has never been a more critical time to have a compelling “story” and narrative as your core company positioning.

Think about this from a Point of View perspective.  Don’t lead your story with your product, company history or details.  Many companies make this mistake that leads to a boring, unengaging message.

What is the problem that your audience is wrestling with?  Or perhaps it’s a problem that your audience doesn’t fully realise that they have. Lead your narrative with this: it’s the problem that your audience will truly care about.  It’s clarifying your strategy around the problem you are solving, and weaving this strategy into a natural-feeling story and point of view.

Architect this point of view with a message house approach.   A very simple yet powerful way to not only structure your thinking and message but to also catalyse conciseness.   It has a roof (the problem) and three pillars: pillar one is the problem further detailed; then the solution (thus the middle pillar); and finally your company’s relevance and differentiation to deal with this problem and deliver the solution.

The message house is on a single word document page.  Not double-sided; not two pages.  One page.  If you can’t get your point of view into that structure and focus, then your audience is never going to fully listen to, and little alone “get” your message.

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Think differently, not just better.

Your Point of View can evolve, but at any given time it is the viral, consistent story that you, your team, and your marketing are based around.   It is one of the most powerful assets to leverage, especially during a volatile, challenging business environment.

The category is the new strategy

We are all wired for a category.  It’s a fundamental component of our consciousness, and continual sorting and organising.  It’s how we stay sane and interpret this noisy world.  There’s plenty of brain science and validation around this, but it is also self-evident if we take a step back and look at our business, that we are in a category, and will always be in a category.

In an economic downturn, pressures will mount on your customers to do more with less or to cut costs in your category of goods or services.   Most suppliers/vendors in a market category will chase this declining pie and set of economics.

That doesn’t sound very attractive, does it?  It is often referred to as “catching a falling knife” and that strategy is likely to lead to being a “laggard” and losing both total revenues as well as market share.

Rather, in this pivotal time as you plan for a choppy and volatile business environment, leverage both your Point of View, as well as your Category Strategy.

As you craft your Point of View, consider the opportunity to not only position for existing demand but to create new demand.   How is the problem evolving for your customers, given the environment is changing so much?   Describe the problem in a clear, visceral way, and engage and draw in your audience.  Get that “cut through” you desperately need in this environment.

At the same time consider the Category you are in.  How can you reframe it?  How can you describe this new Category, and why is it critical for your audience to understand it?

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Remember that your Category will not stay static.   It may take time, even years for it to evolve, but it will change.  And in fact, it has a greater chance of radically changing during a downturn.   If you don’t redefine the category and the problem, then someone else will.

The fact is, you will always be in a category.

The question then is, do you want to define it?  Or let someone else do it?

Taking a step back and really analysing the category and your strategy, will inevitably also lead you to consider your category’s ecosystem.  A category cannot exist with just one company.   You need to have an independence of thinking to really map out the category’s entire ecosystem.  It will have many different players and influencers, from partners to government and regulatory, key analysts, key media, adjacent and connected technologies, and the list goes on.

You have the opportunity to think about a visual representation of your category’s ecosystem.   How will you map it and show it visually?  As you do this you will uncover new ideas about the ecosystem and its players.  A storyline will emerge around how you describe the ecosystem.

You will also begin to ask core execution and strategy questions such as: who on our team will “own” that slice of the ecosystem? (If you don’t have a responsible person/group for this, then that slice of the ecosystem won’t be proactively nurtured and managed); and how are you tracking the various members of your ecosystem?  How and where are you making progress?  Or where are your competitors focused in terms of the ecosystem players?  How are you building your “tribe” around the category you are defining?

“Your ability to thrive depends on the tribe.” — S. Perry

During a downturn, you need to take any resource and fully maximise it.  And there is no greater opportunity to do this than with your ecosystem, and to identify priority relationships.  To do this, you need to have it clearly mapped, have regular tracking of it, and have “throats to choke” who are responsible for specific ecosystem slices and players.

This enables your point of view to go further viral and leverage your ecosystem for this.   Show the visual of the ecosystem to the different members of it.  Make them excited and clear that they are part of this tribe, and there is a powerful, problem-led story to tell.

These three critical strategies around a powerful point of view; a clear category design and strategy; and a dynamic visualisation and tracker of your ecosystem are essential for not surviving, but thriving in an economic downturn.

Out-position the competition!

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