If you’re a small company and your marketing budget is virtually null, how should you invest the few dollars you do have? Should you try to sit out this economic storm and hope for the best?

In our experience, the companies we work with are investing in a handful of highly targeted marketing activities. They can’t afford to go dark. Especially if competitors are scaling back, since that’s often where the greatest opportunity lies.  With a solid foundation (e.g., a defensible value proposition) in place and a clear understanding of the target audience, these companies typically focus on the following 3 tactics to “weather the storm”:

1. Website

Use your website as your primary marketing tool if marketing dollars are tight. But make sure you’re using it to appeal to your primary audience.  If you’ve launched your product, use your website to sell, instead of simply to educate.  Ask yourself: Is my site essentially a collection of product data sheets or is it designed to move the reader further along in the sales cycle – e.g., buy it, try it for free, download it, read about it, comment on it, or chat with someone about it? Re-write key sections for crisp, evidence-based communications (no jargon).  And make sure you differentiate your offering from competitors in order to make it crystal-clear to the reader why you’re the better choice.

2. Customer Stories

Customer stories are compelling because they’re concrete examples of why (and how) others are adopting your product or technology. Whether you publicize them widely, or limit them to sales calls or internal use, customer stories help establish credibility, create buzz and boost morale. Investing in a growing portfolio of stories is also a great way to stay in touch with your buyer and gain on-going insights into what matters to them. From one-page customer write-ups to online customer reviews on your website,  customer stories are credible marketing tools that can be used in advertising, PR, presentations, videos, at events and on sales calls to show success and momentum.

3. Blogs

Blogs are one of the easiest and cheapest (free!) ways to push your message out directly to the public. Perhaps the greatest benefit of blogging is that while you’re sharing your commentary with the world, you’re also learning from others as they comment and interact with you. You can use blogs to establish your technical credentials so people seek you out.  Or you can share your experiences, advice and tips to position yourself as an expert.  Before you start your own blog, it’s helpful to comment on other people’s blogs to begin to build your reputation. Blogs can help market and brand your company, but you need to be passionate and authentic in what you write.  If you’re a business blogger, make sure you have a purpose and a plan. Don’t  blog occasionally – think of blogging as a long-term “campaign” that helps you grow a following and boost your company’s search rankings.  It’s easy to get started. We use wordpress.com, but some of the more popular sites are blogger.com, typepad.com and livejournal.com.

Other ideas?

What’s on your “top 3” list for must-do marketing in these tough economic times?  I’d love to hear your thoughts – what else should be part of the mix?  How would you prioritize your marketing $$?