storytelling

When times get tough, the tough get going….and they double-down on their storytelling.

This is my advice for startups amid increasingly volatile economic conditions. Given the uncertainty, the gut reaction would be to reduce or simply stop marketing to control costs. 

It would be a pragmatic decision. But it would also be a wrong and short-sighted move that would make a startup more vulnerable and give them less control over their destiny.

Here’s the thing about economic downturns: While sales are more challenging, it’s not like everything suddenly screeches to a halt. Companies still have to do business, market and sell if they want to survive tough times.

For startups, a slower economy creates opportunities to carve out a competitive advantage. While rivals become cautious and batten down the hatches, forward-thinking startups capitalize on the situation.

Rather than treating marketing budgets as places to save money, startups can ramp up their efforts to tell more and better stories. This gives aggressive startups golden opportunities to capture the spotlight and attract potential customers who are trying to deal with tough times.

From a big picture perspective, marketing and storytelling should not happen when required or when times are good. Instead, marketing and storytelling happen on a continual and sustained basis. It’s how smart businesses position themselves for long-term growth, rather than focusing on short-term issues. It’s an approach that takes courage and risk-taking because it means heading in one direction while everyone else is going elsewhere. That said, companies don’t win if they aren’t willing to take a different path and think out of the box.

Amid difficult economic times, storytelling can make a major difference. At a time when potential customers are more cautious, good stories can, at the very least, encourage them to explore the idea of making a purchase. Good stories pull customers into the funnel at a time when they may think that buying nothing makes sense. Good stories provide customers with optimism and ideas while alleviating their fears and concerns. 

By thinking about it from this perspective, storytelling is a no-brainer for companies looking to drive their growth. It allows a company to be pro-active rather than hiding until the bad times disappear.

From a personal perspective, tough economic times can also be a good time to launch a business, even though it seems counter-intuitive. In downtimes, the competitive landscape becomes less cluttered as weaker players disappear. This gives new companies an opportunity to establish a foothold.

When I started my business in late-2008, we were in the midst of a global economic slump. Stock markets were slumping and capital for startups disappeared. As an eternal optimist, I gambled that companies would still need help with marketing and that I could win business by offering better prices and better customer service. And with a family to support and mortgage to pay, I was hungry.

Three takeaways:

  1. When economic times are challenging, customers may pull back on spending but they don’t stop spending. Good storytelling is how you let customers know that you’re hungry for their business.
  2. Marketing doesn’t just happen during good times; it’s a constant part of your business.
  3. When rivals pull back on their marketing, you can carve out a competitive edge by pushing forward.

Any thoughts about effective ways to do marketing when economic times are tough?

More:  Here’s a five-minute presentation that I did at TechTO on the importance of storytelling.


If you’re looking to jump-start your startup marketing, I can help you make it happen – everything from messagingand brand positioning to strategic planning and content development. I published a book, Storytelling for Startups, that provides strategic and tactical guidance to entrepreneurs looking to embrace the power of story-driven marketing.

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