Estimated read time: 5 minutes
Too many large companies miss the mark with ads that don’t resonate with small businesses.
Inc. Magazine has been dedicated to serving small and midsize businesses (SMBs) for more than 40 years, and I have been a semi-regular reader since the early ‘90s. As I leafed through their Winter 2019/2020 issue, I spent some time looking at what various ads for small businesses were saying, and I came away surprised and disappointed.
I’m not going to name names here, but the pages are chock full of glossy full-page ads for small businesses that fall completely flat with respect to what SMBs really care about. Many of them also don’t really help the advertisers, because there is no call to action (CTA). Allow me to explain.
The ads aren’t compelling
For starters, many of the headlines aren’t relatable, which means no one will read the body copy. It is clear to me that whoever created these ads hasn’t spent a lot of time with business owners. Here are some examples. The editorial comments are mine.
- Smarter Technology for All (hardware company) But there is no mention of what is “smarter technology” is.
- Unleash your business (accounting software)—Hey, I am a CPA, and I don’t see how accounting software can “unleash your business.”
- We’re not afraid to work hard for you—How is this a differentiator? Are other companies afraid to work hard?
- Only (we see) your business is as unique as a barcode—Is there anything more boring than a barcode?
It’s easy for one marketer to critique another’s work—apologies to anyone who recognizes theirs above. However, I can assure you that if I put these ads in front of 10 business owners, you would get a consistent, underwhelming response.
It’s Marketing 101 to want your reader to take some kind of action as a result of reading your ad. Even in branding ads, you can still do more to leverage a full page to encourage their readers to do something in response. Many of the ads I encountered have no calls to action of any kind. Even where they exist, they’re nebulous. Get to know us? Who has time for that? Not any of the business owners that I know.
What I liked
In contrast, the magazine also included a cool series of branded content featuring Inc. 5000 companies. In my view, these were much more likely to be of interest to business owners. Why?
- They had interesting stories. SMBs like to know what others like themselves are doing to be successful. The stories weren’t nebulous, but instead focused on the featured companies’ unique selling propositions, strategies, and results.
- Each piece called out key metrics for the featured company—compelling results and real numbers—presented with eye-catching graphics designed to draw in other entrepreneurs.
- The branded content was scattered throughout the issue and was designed to look like part of the magazine, not an ad.
In marketing, a necessary first step is to truly understand your audience. SMBs are a unique segment, unlike either enterprises or consumers, and they respond to different stimuli. SOA (the same old advertising) just doesn’t get their attention. They all listen to the same radio station— WIIFM (what’s in it for me?). Tell them with customer stories and content that changes their point-of-view (POV), and use strategic CTAs that take them to the next step in their buying journey.
SMBs are busy and they don’t have interest in fluff. Make sure that the internal team that briefs your marketing agencies and partners truly understands SMBs, so that those agencies do, too. Also, don’t let your agencies get away with providing the same old advertising (SOA). Make them earn their fees by proving that they understand SMBs and how to get their attention.