One of the worst communications images used in small business marketing is that of a young boy wearing a men's suit. By using this image, marketers intend to imply that their product or service can help a new company become a big (grownup, so to speak) company one day. I have seen this image of a boy wearing an oversized men's suit used with slight variations to sell everything from Internet access to banking services. This one image is completely inappropriate because it manages to alienate all three kinds of business owners:
- Craftspeople make up approximately three-quarters of the small business market. They are motivated to be the best at what they do and have no interest in growing a big business. Talking to them about a baby business that might one day mature into a full grown business misses the point.
- Freedom Fighters are motivated by independence. They don't want to grow bigger for bigger's sake. They are striving for a business that will give them freedom, both professional and personal. Most of them left the corporate world to avoid the structure of being managed. The men's suit used in these ads is one of the oldest icons of corporate America—the very place they have tried to escape.
- Finally, Mountain Climbers take offense at this imagery and its implication that their business is childish, insignificant, and immature. Mountain Climbers are ego-driven builders and obsessed with challenging themselves. They are looking to grow a business and they tie an enormous part of their self-worth to its success. To talk down to a Mountain Climber as a goofy child hoping to grow is a mistake.
So before you run the ad with the boy in the oversized suit or the kids at the lemonade stand, remember that this imagery is seen as irrelevant at best and offensive at worst.
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