In other words, most companies are going to be content to focus on tactics aimed at defending market share.
Nonsense. Now is the THE perfect time for big ideas. While everyone else is hibernating, you can be out there with something so new, so visible, so bold, so amazing that everyone won't be able to help but notice and give you a second look. And the competition? Because they are hunkered down in the trenches, they're not about to take you on. They'll give you a free ride, so as your success grows, your "window of opportunity" will be wider than ever because your competitors won't be prepared to challenge you.
And guess what happens when the good times roll 'round? Your market share will sky.
It's happened before, many times. In a wonderful New Yorker column, James Surowiecki chronicled some of the bold strategic moves that repositioned companies in lean times and redefined industries for generations. Kellogg, for example, doubled its ad budget during the Great Depression, heavily promoting its new cereal, Rice Krispies. As a result, Kellogg became (and remains) the industry's dominant player. Then there's Texas Instruments, who introduced the revolutionary transistor radio during a recession in 1954, and became the industry leader for more than three decades. In a more recent example, Apple launched the iPod a mere six weeks after the September 11 attacks - hardly the best time to start a pop-culture phenomenon.
In fact, according to a Bain & Company study, during the 1990-91 recession, twice as many companies leaped from the bottom of their industries to the top as did so in the years before and after. And they didn't do it by freezing the ball.
When categories go flat is the ideal time to look for opportunities and blind spots that have yet to be addressed.
And whatever you do during this period, don't lose focus on your customers. Find out how conditions on the ground are affecting them and their relationship with you. Anticipate how you can help them during this flat period. You will be richly rewarded, not just now but well into the future.
It's easy to be paralyzed by fear. But if you've got some leadership nerve, and can muster a few good ideas, then hard times can be the right time to separate yourself from the pack and build advantages for years to come.