6 Reasons Why Small Businesses Suck at Advertising

6 Reasons Why Small Businesses Suck at Advertising

Small businesses face limited time, assistance and resources. Many marketing mistakes are made when small owners try to put their hands on many hats due to handling sales, distribution, customer service and so on. Have a look into the ways how small businesses can avoid this.

I want you to do something right now. I want you to think of a product — any product.

What product did you think of?

I do not know, but I believe it is something made by one of Apple, Amazon, Adidas, Coca-Cola, Facebook, Google, McDonald’s, Nike, PepsiCo, Starbucks or any of the other large corporations out there.

Do you know why you thought about a product made by a popular large corporation and not some random small business?

The answer is brand marketing.

You have seen so many brand marketing advertisements of that product (and corporation) that it has seeped into your subconscious mind. You are very familiar with the product and company, even if you do not patronize them.

Many small businesses have realized the power of brand marketing and often attempt to use it in their ad campaigns. However, the results are always the same for them: They always fail.

These small businesses are yet to understand that brand marketing will never work for them. We will explain why shortly.

1. What is brand marketing?

Brand marketing refers to any advertisement campaign aimed at promoting the identity (name, logo, fonts, colors etc.) and values (product quality, company vision etc.) of a corporation. They are the most common ads we see around, most especially on billboards and television.

You can see that this Apple iPhone X ad is very vague. It contains no information about the phone. However, it perfectly illustrates Apple’s identity and values.

Apple could get away with this because brand marketing is NOT intended to lead to sales but to build trust and recognition with customers and prospective customers (who are called prospects). https://blog.rebrandly.com/what-is-brand-marketing/

2. What is direct response marketing?

Direct response marketing refers to any advert to elicit a response from a prospect. That is, the advertiser wants the prospect to do something, say buy their product, join their newsletter or reject the offer.

Direct response marketing evolved from the salesmen of the 19th and 20th centuries. The salesmen went from house to house and met homeowners one-on-one to advertise their wares. The salesmen either got a response that went “Sure, I want this product” or “No, thank you, I don’t need it.”

Direct response marketing still works the same way today, even though most of it occurs online. Most of the ads we see online are direct response marketing.

You give the advertiser a “yes, I want this product” when you click on the ad to visit their website. You tell them, “No, thank you, I don’t need it,” when you scroll past the ad.

3. The difference between brand and direct response marketing

Let us assume brand and direct response marketing were humans.

If direct response marketing is a salesman advertising his product to a single person one-on-one, brand marketing is a salesman screaming into a crowd with a megaphone.

Some are listening, but most are not. Even the listeners do not give him their full attention. However, everyone soon notices the brand marketing salesman because they always see him.

As for the direct response marketing salesman, the few people he spoke with may never see him again. Even if they do, the salesman decides whether to approach them, depending on how they behaved the last time they met.  

Rest assured, he will not even come close if the prospect is uninterested. That is so unlike the brand marketer who will continue advertising his product to the crowd even if someone peed on him.

4. Why brand marketing does not work for small businesses

Brand marketing does not work for small businesses because having several salesmen screaming your ads everywhere costs money. Large businesses and corporations can run brand marketing campaigns because they have the money and resources to pull it off.


These corporations are so rich and popular that they will still sell their products, even if they do not run ads. However, they only do so to maintain their market share against their equally large competitors, who also do lots of brand marketing.

Small businesses, on the other hand, cannot run brand marketing campaigns because:

  • They do not have enough money to run massive ad campaigns.
  • They need the money generated from the sales immediately.

Small businesses cannot run a brand marketing ad campaign halfway either since it will never have the intended effect. It is as good as not even running it at all. You either run brand marketing in full or forget about it. There is no middle ground.

5. 5 types of direct response ads that work for small businesses

a. Regular online ads

We see online ads on social media sites, search engine results, the websites we visit, and so on.

These sorts of ads are what most people think when they say “online ads.” However, we called them “regular online ads” because they are just one of the many online ads out there.

b. Blog posts

Yes, blog posts are ads. They are the most common kind of online ads around today.

70 million blog posts are published on Wordpress every month. That is around 2.3 million blog posts in a 30-day month. And that is not counting other blog hosting and publishing platforms, social media sites and standalone websites.

Unfortunately, most blog owners do not consider their blog posts an ad.

Look at it this way:

Consumers consider you an authority when you constantly churn out valuable blog posts. With time, they consider you trustworthy enough to buy your product or service or give you their email address. You will then market your products or service to them in their inbox.

c. Newsletters

Newsletters are also ads. And unlike blog posts, most bloggers treat them as such. However, you should not be too pushy in your attempt to sell, or else your audience will unsubscribe from your newsletter.

Remember that they gave you their email because they trust you to continue adding value to them and not because they want you to spam them with your products.

d. Sponsored posts

Sponsored posts (or promoted posts) are posts you pay to publish on someone else’s blog, website or social media page. They differ from guest posts because they are often more direct in attempting to sell to you.

Sponsored social media posts are a point of focus at the moment. 2.5 billion people currently use social media, which will continue to grow in the coming years. 

e. Review posts

A review post is either a blog or a social media post.

In most instances, a business sends a sample of its products to a blogger or influencer (free of charge) and asks them to review it. Some bloggers charge a “review fee,” which makes it more of a sponsored post than a review post.

Fee or not, an unwritten rule of ethical advertising requires the blogger or influencer to honestly review the product.

6. Qualities of a good direct response ad

a. The ad copy

i. It has an attention-grabbing headline

The headline is the most important part of any direct-response advert. Just like a newspaper headline, people read your ad headline to know if your product is something they are interested in.


According to the direct response advertising legend David Ogilvy, your headline enjoys five times more readership than the main body of your ad. Ogilvy added, "When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.” 

Direct response copywriter Ted Nicholas also weighed in on the importance of attention-grabbing headlines. He said 73% of your readers decide whether to buy or not to buy your product by just reading your headline. 

A rule of thumb is to treat your headline as an advert for your advert.

ii. It has a persuasive body

Some advertisers like writing short ad copies because:

  • They want to copy the brand marketers.
  • They believe that no one reads long ad copies.


Brand marketing advertisers can always get away with little or no text in their ads because they are not intended to lead to a sale. Direct response marketers cannot escape it because their ads must generate sales.

Also, the people reading your ad's main copy are interested in whatever you are selling. Your headline got their attention, and they want to know more about your product. So, you need to provide enough information to make them conclude.

iii. It has a call to action

The call to action is what you want your prospects to do after reading your ad.

It could be to have your prospect call a number, send a mail, click a button to sign up for a free, paid or trial version of your product or give you their email in exchange for some freebies.  

b. It preys on your reader’s emotions

i. It contains trigger words

Trigger (or power) words make readers “pull the trigger.” In this case, it means taking action after reading your ad.

Trigger words are often verbs. (Remember that verbs are action words.) Examples are free, new, proven, stop, easy, secret, convert, etc.

ii. It lets your prospects know what they are missing

We call this the fear of missing out.

FOMO is the reason some people are addicted to social media. They always log in soon after they log out because they fear missing out on the latest news, information and gossip.

You can use FOMO in ads by:

  • Letting your prospects know others are buying.
  • Giving your prospects a deal they cannot refuse.
  • Offering your prospects a deal that will expire soon.
  • Letting your prospects know you will soon run out of stock.

c. It is all about your customer

i. It satisfies your prospect’s interests

Imagine you are selling bananas.

You do not just walk up to people and ask them to buy your bananas. The average person is not interested in eating bananas because… they are bananas. However, the average person is interested in improving their digestion, blood pressure and heart rate.

Recommended: 7 Proven Ways to Boost Customer Satisfaction

So, you should walk up to people and ask, “Do you want to increase your digestion, heart rate and blood pressure using a simple product you know but do not use?”

  • The first part gets them interested since they want to improve their health.
  • The second part interests them more since “simple” means nothing complicated.
  • The final part cement that interest since they already know but do not use it.

They will give you a yes. You then go on to advertise your bananas.

ii. It lets the prospects know how it benefits them

Features are the characteristics of your product.

Benefits are the reason your prospects will want to buy your product.

Many advertisers make the mistake of focusing on features instead of benefits. It is easy to come up with benefits. All you need to do is to turn your feature into a question.

Let us say you are selling laptop computers with 8 gigabytes of ram. That is a feature. You then think, “What do the 8 gigabytes of ram do?” It makes your laptop capable of handling over 20 tasks at once. That is the benefit.


At this point, you should have learned something new and important. The next time you want to create an ad that looks like that attractive ad, ask yourself these two questions first.

  • Is it attractive as a brand marketing or direct response ad?
  •  Are you running a brand marketing or direct response marketing campaign?

If the answers differ, you already know the ad will not work for you.

What else did you learn? Let us hear in the comments.

Moshood Bakare is a digital marketing freelance copywriter who breaks the most complex terms into simple, well-formatted and easy-to-understand bits anyone will understand. He writes long-form and in-depth articles for B2B and B2C businesses that want to win more clients and improve their internet footprint

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