7 Ways to Talk Your Way To the Top in a Down Market

Abigail Johnson

Over the last few weeks, we have all heard admonitions to startups (and all companies) to tighten their belts, be realistic about their businesses and hunker down for the long term. This is certainly good advice (in this market, and probably most of the time). But a few other things should also be stressed: He who wins in a down market wins. Some people will cede ground. Be prepared, tactically and strategically, to grab it. Because major changes are happening in the market today, truly transformative companies will be able to gain a significant foothold.

In any market, but especially in a tough market like this one, communicating aggressively is key. You want to keep all of your constituencies informed about what’s happening and how you are progressing. I know that you are probably wondering how you can both extend your runway and maintain or even increase your communications. This is not an easy formula, and every company needs to treat the question differently. However, here are a few guidelines:

1.) Be clear and articulate about your differentiation and benefits — in the near term and the long term;
This means focus on quality not quantity. Spend time figuring out your messages and reinforce them in every medium. Press on the competition; help people understand why you are better.

2.) Focus on leadership. If you can be a thought leader, you will define your market rather than following others into the market. If you can be a product leader, that’s even better.

3) Speak often to your key markets and influencers.

4) Find real reasons to talk with your constituencies. Provide information about your company, its status, and products. Educate about the market about issues and opportunities.

5) Be specific and real. Help your customers and their influencers understand how you are better and the benefits you bring. Avoid hype — we rarely believe in hype or gimmicks, and they tend to backfire. Instead,  be direct and clear and say things like they really are. In a market like this, trust is very important. Give very specific examples of how you are better and bring benefits: use customers, examples, cases — not just theory.

6) Use the transparency of communications today to make sure a well-crafted set of messages gets to all of your audiences. We are blessed to live in an age where communicating is very easy. Virtually anyone can read/see whatever you communicate. This means that you need to be consistent through all communications; your web site, press releases, trade shows, company presentations, and internal communications should all reinforce the same core positioning.

7) Don’t stop talking! In case you didn’t get the point, find a way to keep communicating with your audiences.

Abigail Johnson is president of Roeder-Johnson Corp., a public relations and strategic communications firm in the Silicon Valley. Having helped launched nearly 100 companies, Johnson has more than 20 years of experience providing executive counsel to technology and consumer companies on communications issues.