What Crypto Winter Has to Teach Us about Copywriting in a Crisis

When it comes to copywriting for financial firms, managing the messaging around trying times comes with the territory. Guest writer Mark Cohen explores how the "crypto winter" offers lessons for copywriters.

Crypto winter presents new copywriting challenges.

When it comes to copywriting for financial firms, managing the messaging around trying times comes with the territory. No financial market goes up forever, after all, and when “there’s blood in the streets” (a great financial copy line if there ever was one!) it often falls to the English majors to help the CFAs, quants, and professional stock pickers summon the right mix of nerve, empathy, and plain, sane sober advice to preserve and even deepen the relationship with their own clients. Still, there is no question that the recent “crypto winter” is putting copywriters to the ultimate test. 

Some people believe that cryptocurrencies—a form of monetary exchange designed to work through a computer network independent of any central government or bank—will one day revolutionize the entire global financial system and replace money as we know it. And they may be right. Until then, crypto, like gold, 17th-century tulips, and other especially voluble assets through history, largely derives its value from what professional speculators and average investors think it’s worth. This time last year, that meant Bitcoin, the most popular crypto currency, was trading at around $70,000, or $53,000 more than it is today. The crash started over the summer alongside sell-offs in other risky assets like meme stocks and the shares of non-profitable or very high-priced technology companies. As former crypto enthusiasts rushed to redeem the digital coins, several crypto exchanges declared bankruptcy, which culminated in the implosion of FTX, a large Bahamas-based crypto trading platform, and the arrest of its founder Sam Bankman-Fried (AKA “SBF”) on embezzlement charges. Between the alleged theft at FTX and market losses, crypto experts estimate that more than $2 trillion in crypto investors’ money has vaporized in a matter of months.

So, how are crypto copywriters responding to the crisis? Well, it depends on the crypto firm. There is only so much that copywriters can do when their CEO is being featured in every major news outlet getting hauled off to a Bahamian jail. In other parts of the crypto universe, however, the wordsmiths are showing their usual plucky creativity and resolve. In the process, a close look at their prose imparts important lessons that all copywriters—not just in finance, but across industries—can use to navigate their own next particularly tricky assignment:

1. See, this is the reason you should have been doing business with us.

In early November, as the first cracks appeared in the FTX façade and worries spread that users of the platform might not be able to access their money, Coinbase, a rival crypto exchange, published a blog post providing “clarity around these challenges and reiterat[ing] how Coinbase’s business is different.” The brief but pointed post made a sharp distinction between the shady insider dealings at FTX and the high level of transparency, Big Eight accounting firm–audited financial records, and robust risk controls required of Coinbase as a US publicly traded company. Finally, the piece drew a straight line between the abuses at FTX and a flawed US regulatory framework that allowed crypto assets to flow to unregulated offshore exchanges “where looser regulations can put customers at risk.” The piece concluded with a strong call to action: “Congress needs to provide clear, national rules for crypto.”

In the weeks that followed, other leading exchanges and crypto-related firms published posts along similar lines. As the bad news at FTX mounted, the copy these companies generated went beyond trying to distance themselves from the fallout and easing their clients’ concerns. It seized on the moment as proof of the strength of their own business models, showing why more customers should have been trading their digital assets on their platforms all along.  

Rarely do the missteps at a competitor make for as obvious and glaring a foil as they did at FTX. Even so, you never want to miss the opportunity that even a more run-of-the-mill crisis can afford to reinforce your own bonafides.

2. It bears repeating.

Copy heroics aside, some crypto firms have been more impacted by the FTX scandal and broader crypto winter than others. Bitstamp, another US-based crypto exchange, has gained market share as investors have fled FTX and other offshore firms. This has evidently given the firm the confidence to not only hit on some of the same messages as Coinbase, but to hit on them again … and again.

During November, the company put out not one, but three pieces of strongly proactive content: an initial post on “Proof of reserves and transparency, the Bitstamp way;” a webcast in which a panel of fellow crypto thought leaders joined Bitstamp’s CEO in providing their perspective on the crisis; and a deeper dive devoted to answering why an exchange like Bitstamp would choose to custody its customers money with a federally insured bank or similar institution. Together, the series made for a more lasting impression of the firm’s POV than any one piece likely would have on its own. The repetition also helped drive home a point made by one of the posts, that regulation and securing customers’ money is “not just a certificate—it’s a daily process.” 

For high-converting copy and content, get in touch with MarketSmiths today.

3. Don’t be afraid to let the stitch marks show.

During a financial crisis, the news cycle can move so fast that by the time an article is conceived, debated, written, edited, and posted to a firm’s website it can already seem stale and cause everyone involved to feel it needs to be updated, if not rewritten altogether. But copywriters can waste a lot of time chasing their tails in this fashion. Pantera Capital, a hedge fund that specializes in investing in cryptocurrencies and crypto-related businesses, took a different approach to its content in response to the FTX debacle. Instead of waiting to produce one or a few perfectly polished articles, it pushed out a series of more unvarnished, impressionistic pieces as they became available. Several of these were then aggregated and packaged up with even fresher material in the firm’s year-end letter to shareholders and published as a long-form blog post more fully articulating the firm’s crisis takeaways, calls to action, and ways it believes the scandal has strengthened the investment case behind the crypto-related holdings in its own portfolios. Datelines were used to time stamp the different sections along with cross-outs showing the revisions to key material facts that had changed in the interim. Even then, Pantera CEO and Co-Chief Investment Officer Dan Morehead felt compelled to kick off the letter with the following disclaimer: 

SBF going from industry darling to Bahamian inmate in a few weeks is such an unprecedentedly fast series of wild events that it’s difficult to do my day job and keep our investor letter draft current. So, I’m just gonna SEND it. Some text might be hours out of date by the time you get this!

The effect was to turn copy that might otherwise have felt stale or boilerplate into a must-read. Readers of the post came away with the feeling that they were being let in behind the scenes during a difficult time at Pantera—and, as a result, that the firm had nothing to hide and was genuinely doing its darnedest to keep clients informed about a disorienting, very fast-moving situation.

4. The verities still apply.

In many cases, crypto copywriters today find themselves communicating with traders and investors facing tens if not hundreds of thousands in losses or more. On paper. The only way for those losses to become real is if people lock them in by liquidating their positions, especially if, as several major Wall Street firms now predict, the worst of crypto winter is (or may soon be) behind us and the asset class mounts a partial recovery in 2023. In traditional financial circles, such a strategy for resisting the impulse to sell at a market bottom and allowing the natural healing rhythms of long-term investing do their work is called “buy and hold;” in the ever volatile, acronym-filled world of crypto, it’s called “HODL” (for “hold on for dear life”), but the same verities apply: The depths of a crisis are generally not the best time to be making important investment decisions.

Throughout crypto winter, several crypto firms have published thought leadership reminding their clients of these central tenets of behavioral finance. While much of the advice is relatively evergreen, it can still provide an important sanity check amid the unsettling headlines. 

5. And if you do get the chance, (a little) gloating is ok.

Not every crypto firm has felt the chill of crypto winter. One area which has benefited considerably, in fact, is decentralized finance (DeFi), an experimental crypto realm that allows traders to borrow, lend, and conduct transactions without the need for a centralized exchange at all. Proponents of DeFi argue that compared to large crypto exchanges like FTX, CoinBase, or Bitstamp, DeFi is far more in keeping with the egalitarian, open-source ideals that gave rise to crypto in the first place—and also safer, given that users’ assets always remain fully under their own control, inaccessible to the kind of rogue centralized exchange actors who allegedly ran amok at FTX. DeFi has other problems, including a greater susceptibility to hackers. Nevertheless, in the wake of the runs on FTX and other offshore exchanges, some DeFis have seen a flood of crypto traders pouring into their systems. 

One of these is the crypto web-based trading app Uniswap. Visit Uniswap’s website and interestingly you’ll find no mention of this surge in new business. However, in mid-November the firm did post the following message to its Twitter account.

Tweet reading: New users of Uniswap's web app reached a 2022 high. Self-custody and transparency are in demand and users are flocking to what they know and trust. Let's keep building.

The crisis copy lesson here is simple: When reveling in your good fortune while the rest of your industry is imploding—keep it short.

A credit management business got a transatlantic spin

Having developed a thriving credit management business stateside, Regal Credit Management wanted to expand to the United Kingdom. However, with scarce experience across the Atlantic, it was hard to get the right tone for British customers, especially ones unfamiliar with credit management. But after tapping MarketSmiths (especially the resident Brits!) Regal—known as PM Credit Management in the U.K.—soon found the right path. With tight deadlines, we revamped everything from Regal’s website to promotional flyers to product names—all to make them sing for new British audiences. Our hard work soon paid off. Regal quickly saw increased client interest, and used our copy to boost its credentials with partners in London. In short, we’ve helped secure Regal a foothold in the old world—and get the British public on the road to stronger credit. 

Read the full case study >>

So, to Recap

While the past six months of crypto winter have shaken the crypto industry to the core, the strongest crypto-related firms do have a path forward that in some cases could leave them in an even stronger competitive position than before. Copywriting alone won’t get them there. As part of a smart messaging strategy, however, it can cross the divide between companies and customers and help rebuild trust and confidence even in the face of serious threats. That, in turn, can go a long way toward determining which businesses spring into a post-crisis thaw with their customer relationships intact. 

Such a strategy comes down to a few basic lessons. In any crisis, it is important, for example, to get back onto your front foot and seize the opportunity a crisis can provide to highlight your firm’s strengths. You’ll want to treat your crisis messaging as an ongoing, organic process, not a one-and-done. Refrain from overthinking or overproducing the content and don’t be afraid to let your company’s humanity show. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel when it comes to the established research on helping customers manage their psychology. And by all means (briefly) celebrate your wins.

Of course, executing on these lessons isn’t always easy when your team is scrambling to put together a response to unforeseen calamity. That’s where a partner organization can help. MarketSmiths has worked with world-class finance and technology companies to help solve their copywriting needs through every season of the market cycle. Our team knows how to connect with customers—and you should never discount the value of that. Contact us today to get started.

Mark Cohen

Mark Cohen

Mark has lent his acumen and experience--as content lead and in-house writer for financial firms with combined assets under management totalling in the trillions--to a number of our financial clients over the years. He was born a Baltimore Orioles fan, graduated from UPenn, and lives with his wife and young son in Maplewood, NJ.

More from MarketSmiths

image of sign reading "nothing to see here" representing self-deprecating marketing

Aw, Shucks: Can Putting Your Brand Down Help Build It Up?

image of man searching in tall grass representing seo

You Need SEO. We Hear You! Sorting Out the ABCs of SEO

legendary slogans and taglines

Top 10 Classic Slogans & What Makes Them Great

The holidays provide us with an opportunity for inclusive copy.

Writing Inclusive Copy for the Holidays

Inc 5000 content agency

M/WBE certified enterprise.

Design by WorstOfAllDesign. Digital Strategy by MadPipe. Photography by Chellise Michael.