As I recently walked through downtown Pittsburgh, I enjoyed watching husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, and grandfathers and grandmothers all advertising their favorites retailers as they carried bags under both arms to their cars from Saks Fifth Avenue, Barnes and Noble, and Victoria's Secret, to name a few.
I smiled to myself: "Advertising is all around us." We Americans must maintain our role in the new global market place as the dutiful consumer of goods—even if we must take out a home equity loan, using our homes as ATM machines to do it!
But I guess if the consumer does not buy it, then the seller cannot sell it. And this little truism is about where business-to-consumer marketing and business-to-business marketing begin to split apart in how they should be approached. B2C marketing and B2B marketing are totally different animals, and since most businesses in this country have fewer than 100 employees, business owners along with business schools should do a better job of educating themselves and their students of these important distinctions. (If you have an MBA, then you likely know a lot more about how to market products for IBM than for a $2 million custom-manufacturing company. Yet, it is inside of small business where most of our nation's millionaires are made).
Sadly, many small business owners (under $50 million) are not doing very well in marketing their businesses, and so reaching that millionaire status is either delayed until they sell their business or, if they are unable to negotiate such a successful exit, the status never really comes. As a result, all their business was able to supply them for all of the risks they took over a number of years... was a job with an income that in many cases is actually less than what they probably could have earned working for someone else.
It is sad to watch these entrepreneurs taking risks, and re-investing in their businesses to try to grow them, when the programs that they are investing in are ineffectual by design and never could have worked to grow their business. Yet, it continues to happen, and like many things it can be avoided with a little bit of education.
Unfortunately, I don't think there is a corporate function in which program investments have a poorer return than in the marketing function. This is unfortunate, because marketing should be supplying leverage to the business. It should be helping sell more products and services more easily. Instead, business owners are putting money into marketing programs, and watching it go up in smoke. Don't feel too bad, because this problem is systemic—CEOs of much larger businesses are just as frustrated with an inability to measure marketing's performance and impact on sales as you are.
But it is a heck of a lot easier for big business to absorb a $1 million goof than for a small business to absorb a $10-$250,000 one. After all, in the first case the decision-makers cab go on vacations because they are playing with someone else's money, but in the second case the business owners are on the hook for the decisions they are making. The money either winds up in their business (their pocket) or in the market (another's pocket).
And while it is a systemic problem grown from a failure of industry leaders to approach marketing by silo, and specialization, as opposed to by function, I can't let the private business owners totally off the hook for preferring to be duped into doing just branding as opposed to really doing the work of solving the problem of getting marketing to activate sales.