The Dos and Don’ts of marketing to Canadian small businesses

The Dos and Don’ts of marketing to Canadian small businesses

What if small businesses are actually doing better in the wake of the pandemic? For more than a year now, we’ve heard about their hardships. But what if that wasn’t always the case? And if not, how would it change the way marketers address potential small business customers? These are some of the questions we wanted to answer in our latest study on the State of SMB, called Heads Up.

Here at Cargo, we have long prided ourselves on the insights we uncover and use when helping our big-brand clients target small business customers. So, we launched a study of Canadian small businesses with the help of our research partner, Phase 5. Connecting with over 1,000 owners and decision-makers across the country, we asked how they’re coping, how big brands are helping, and what they could be doing better.

The Dos and Don’ts  of marketing to  Canadian small businesses

The results: the new Dos and Don’ts of marketing to small businesses now.


Pivot, pivot, pivot! It’s been the word on many a small business owner’s lips this past year. In order to survive, they’ve had to come up with new ways to sell to customers who can’t leave the house, adjust their offerings in a touchless world, and implement tools that allow employees to work from anywhere (some permanently).

So, what’s stopping them from fulfilling this digital transformation? Here are the most common barriers they cited:

• The steep learning curve

• The cost of implementing new technology

• Cybersecurity and fraud concerns

• And simply not knowing where to start

As a big brand, you have the chance to help them remove some of these barriers. Some small businesses are feeling paralyzed. They know they need to do something, but they may not know where to start, who to turn to, or what they need to make it happen.


In the same way that we, as individuals, have each had very different responses to the pandemic and lockdowns, the same is true of small businesses. Some have thrived, while others have struggled.

And the results of our study revealed mixed feelings across the board. A promising 45% of respondents said they felt optimistic and feeling good about the future of their business—not bad, all things considered— while 29% felt pessimistic. (Another 25% didn’t feel one way or the other.)

And when it came to the impact COVID-19 had on their business, 49% said it had no negative impacts, while one in three said their business has actually improved.

So, what should this tell you as a marketer? Show them that you understand their unique concerns, struggles, and successes. Firmographics will become critical to identify the target groups with the same needs. And then apply the most appropriate messaging to match the mindset.


Where are big brands falling short? When we asked small businesses if they felt valued by their big brand partners, the answers were…concerning. Only 24% said they felt truly valued by the big brands they work with, and 41% said they didn’t feel valued at all.

Why does it matter now more than ever? Small businesses have been through it this past year. Endless waves of shutdowns, constantly changing rules, and promises of support that perhaps never came to fruition. It should be no surprise they’re cautious about whom they trust. Do you really care about your small business customers? And, even more importantly, do they feel it?

Developing and maintaining a level of trustworthiness needs to be a part of your plan. That means sharing your knowledge, expertise, and services with your customers. It can prove to be invaluable as small businesses are driven into a new age at breakneck speeds.

We have the opportunity to truly behave like a business partner, which is what they have wanted all along: someone that cares about their success as much as they do.

Want to read Cargo’s full Heads Up study? You can check it out here.

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