By Miki Velemirovich

In Canada, small business is huge, accounting for 97.9% of all businesses across the country. Out of an estimated 1.18 million enterprises, 1.15 million are those with fewer than 100 employees1.

A community this size deserves attention. But in order to reach it effectively, marketers need to understand its unique needs.

Unfortunately, on average, more than 50% of small business owners (SBOs) feel big brands are ineffective in engaging with them, neglecting and ignoring them2. This also means that half of every brand’s marketing spend is being wasted3.

While this looks like a failure, Cargo sees it as an opportunity. Over the last decade we have studied the drivers, motivations, values and behaviours of SBOs to better understand their mindsets, and have learned the following:

Relationships matter. SBOs are very loyal once there is an established and reliable relationship with a brand. Like any relationship, they want to feel like an individual with value: not just another account number; SBOs are engaged on everything related to their businesses. They are driven to succeed because for them, their business is their life. Marketers then need to make SBOs feel motivated while appealing to their unique business needs; and Emotion is a key factor that sets small business apart from big business. Emotional ties make SBOs think, act and feel more passionately about their businesses than big brands.

Therefore, SBOs need to feel before they will act.

For these reasons is where a personalized approach makes all the difference. Why? Because most big brands market to small businesses in one of two ways: as business-to-business (B2B) or as business-to-consumer (B2C). But the truth is, SBOs are in their own category—business to small business (B2SB)—and this category is wildly misunderstood and underserved.

Market with heart
The number one frustration SBOs have with marketers and big brands is that they don’t take the time to understand small business; they just want to sell to them4. To SBOs, everything is personal, and every decision is made with a combination of head and heart.

To be successful in B2SB, marketers need to first move the heart to move the mind. This means marketers need to engage with and motivate them, so they feel the benefits of the relationship and can ultimately act on it.

Market to motives
Traditionally, marketers use industry verticals when building their approach. But with more than a thousand different verticals in the small business community, it is impossible to reach decision-makers through traditional methods. Instead, marketers must think horizontally. Rather than trying to reach all 140,000 small businesses in retail, marketers need to understand the common emotional drivers, let’s say, between a clothing retailer, corner grocery, electrical or plumbing supply house and a computer dealer.

It’s important that marketers connect and motivate SBOs through unobservable traits. Uncovering an SBO’s underlying values and behaviours is key to motivating and engaging with them.

Market to mindset
An important distinction in B2SB marketing is that not all SBOs are entrepreneurs: or want to be. Through Cargo’s experience and research, two very distinct mindsets of SBOs emerge: the Artisan and the Crusader.

The Artisan has an art, skill or craft that they have turned into a business. Their goals are tied to maintaining a perfect products or skills: everything is about changing “their” world.

On the other hand, the Crusader is all about changing “the” world. These are the people we classically think of as entrepreneurs; they are constantly looking forward, focused on the next big thing and how they can scale their ideas into a world-changing enterprise.

Market the experience
With all small business owners, Artisan or Crusader, the common misbelief among big brands is that price is the most attractive purchasing factor. In reality, SBOs want to buy the best they can afford, which comes from a combination of real and perceived value.

To a small business owner, value goes beyond just the cost; it includes their experience with the product or service. Instead of listing the impersonal technical capabilities of the newest computer, the secret is to market with emotion and communicate how a product or service will make the SBO’s life easier and their business better (by their definition).

For a community as large, diverse and dynamic as Canadian small business, the opportunity to be creative is limitless. The more than one million SBOs in Canada want to work with big brands, but need them to recognize that they are hands-on people who are emotionally invested in every business decision. They are so much more than just another account win. Working with Canadian SBOs through B2SB is a big business opportunity for the brands willing to commit to understanding and building meaningful connections and relationships.

Miki Velemirovich is president of Cargo Canada ( Prior to joining Cargo, Miki, an experienced marketing expert, spent 20 years with big brands like IBM and Mercedes-Benz in a variety of sales, marketing and finance roles. Miki provides expertise in building strategies that drive results and maximize return on investment, while recognizing and mitigating the pain points big brands feel when trying to market to small businesses.

1 Statistics Canada, “Key Small Business Statistics”, January 2019.
2 Cargo, “Vol. 4 Canada Brand Study: Canadian Brands, You’re Not Hearing Me Either”, July 2013.
3 Vol. 4 Canada Brand Study, Ibid.
4 Cargo, “Vol. 6 Canada Brand Study: Canadian SBOs are going places. Fast!”, March 2014.

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