An in-depth look at the small-business owner

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What you need to know to build an effective marketing plan

Successful b-to-b marketers know that a one-size-fits-all approach is not the most effective and rarely delivers the results needed to justify the cost of a marketing campaign. In consumer marketing, behavior is based largely on demographics and attitudes. Marketing to a small-business owner isn’t very different; after all, the small-business owner is also a consumer. And these consumer demographics, behaviors and attitudes often influence how they run their businesses. Adjusting your marketing plan to fit the unique demographics of a small-business owner ensures messages are relevant and more likely to deliver the intended results.

Small businesses should be segmented for marketing offers and communications, but marketers commonly treat all small businesses as one segment. Looking at the microsegments within the small-business population shows drastic differences that help marketers better target the small-business owner.

Having the blended view of a small-business owner—from the business and consumer perspectives—provides a total view that is critical to understanding: Who is the business owner I’m trying to reach? What are their interests? What motivates them to buy?

Looking at the business owner from a consumer perspective shows that, compared to the overall population, business owners typically live in higher-value homes, are more likely to be married and have children, have a college education and donate to environmental and political causes.

While this information may not be surprising, digging deeper reveals that business owners reside primarily in the South Atlantic region of the United States. Additionally, business owners who have started and are operating more than one business are not just expanding within their current industry but are willing to open new business entities across broad industry categories. And once they’ve adopted that entrepreneurial spirit, they tend to open a third business in less than half the time it took them to open their second.

Small-business owners have preferences in how they like to receive communications that, when catered to, will result in a more receptive audience. They are slightly less receptive than consumers in preferring direct marketing, whereas telemarketing is not a preferred method for receiving communications. Additionally, the small-business owner is 1½ times more likely to prefer e-mail communications than the national consumer average.

And small-business owners are more receptive to receiving marketing communications in the evening and weekends than any other time of day when compared to the national average of consumers. Small-business owners are less receptive to messages delivered via mass media than consumers but prefer print communications such as newspaper and magazines rather than Web, radio or television.

A closer look at how small businesses are financed reveals that often the lines between consumer and business-owner finances are blurred. Small-business owners use a variety of financing sources and often do not separate their business and personal expenses.

What does this information mean to a b-to-b marketer? It depends on the industry, the marketer and the goal of the campaign.

For example, income and business credit information is an important consideration for financial institutions marketing to small-business owners. For an office supply company, knowing how many businesses an owner has and in what industries might provide an understanding critical to sales contact strategy.

Also consider that while on the surface, many businesses may look alike, there are significant differences between sole and multibusiness owners. For instance, sole business owners are more likely to have a strong interest in religion and self-improvement. Multibusiness owners are more likely to be in the market for a new vehicle in the next five months.

The differences don’t stop there, sole and multibusiness owners show significant differences in areas such as income. Multibusiness owners are 41% more likely than sole business owners to have a household income greater than $125,000.

For b-to-b marketers, having key information is essential to laying the groundwork needed to outline, execute and measure a successful marketing campaign. Not having the complete picture of your customers and prospects makes it difficult to properly assess their needs and match the offer that is most appropriate to them. With in-depth information, messages can be delivered in a manner in which small-business owners are most receptive and at a time of day when they are more likely to receive them. This increases the likelihood of greater response rates and achieving intended results.

The bottom line is that knowing your customer—knowing not only about them as a business owner but also who they are as a consumer—can give a b-to-b marketer insight into the complete picture of who they are marketing to for greater campaign success and increased ROI. What better edge could one ask for over the competition?

Denise Hopkins is VP-marketing and product development at Experian Marketing Services ( ). She can be reached at [email protected].

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