Two Words Small Business Owners Hate to Hear

If you ever want to really, REALLY get under the skin of a small business owner – wait formarketing mix them to ask you for marketing advice, and then give them the answer they hate to hear:

It depends.

To illustrate, let me tell you a brief story:

I was running a quick errand during lunch a few weeks back, and was at the mall to get a new case for my phone. I struck up a conversation with the gentleman running the kiosk from which I was buying the case. He saw my work ID, identifying me and my position.

“You are a marketing guy, eh?”

“I am,” I replied.

“Can I ask you a few questions?”

I said yes of course, and he launched into his story. He and his wife were running an interior design business, and he was hoping I could answer a few marketing questions. No problem, I said, what do you got?

“What should I do?”

“What are you doing,” I replied.

Well, we’re talking to someone now to be honest, and she has several ideas for us, particularly around SEO, Google and Facebook ads, and social media. But I don’t know, she doesn’t have any proof or guarantee that it will work.”

“To be  honest, sir,” I said, “if she gave you any guarantee, then I would tell you to go with someone else.”

“So,” he stated again, “what should I do.”

“Honestly, sir, really it just depends.”

“Arrrgh! … you marketing people say that all the time. I’m just looking for one answer, just one thing that will be right for me, for my business. You can’t tell me that!???”

To me, this represents a conversation that I have had numerous times. And the reaction I get from uttering just two words is always one of part anger, part frustration, and part incredulous.  Never-mind that it is the correct, and ethically sound answer. Nope – the small business owner is already frustrated with you. But that’s OK.  In looking at my new friend the Interior Designer/Kiosk Operator, it was clear to me that marketing was just as strange to him as color palettes and feng shui is to me.

Not only am I convinced that this was the right answer for him, I am convinced that this is the right answer for every small business owner. As a whole, small business owners must understand themselves, their customers, their goals and their business first before even thinking about the proper marketing mix. And apparently, I’m in good company.

Last week, Ad Age commented on Facebook’s plan to increase ad sales exponentially by targeting small business owners. But first, for this plan to work, small business owners must understand branding. With so many priorities to address in the day-to-day, this is a major point:

Before focusing on advertising, Facebook’s first objective should be to help small businesses understand the importance of branding, and give them the tools to identify, develop and leverage the unique brand attributes that make their goods and services distinct from their competition. Key questions must be answered if small businesses hope to craft optimal advertising strategies that meet their broad objectives and reinforce their image with customers. For example:

  • What does our business stand for?
  • What’s our niche?
  • What’s our brand promise?
  • Who are our customers?
  • What makes us different and better than our competitors?
  • What’s the emotional connection we want our customers to associate with our brand?


Small business owners have too much on their plate to take on yet another major project. Thankfully, this is why I have a career. And understanding the answers to the questions above is just the start of that process. Even if you have a full understanding of your brand, that doesn’t mean you’ll have the answer to what type of marketing you would need. Each business is unique, as are its goals, its niche, and its customers.

So you see, to determine which marketing to use, well…really…

It depends.


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