Miki Velemirovich is the President of Cargo, a full-service marketing and advertising agency that specializes in helping big brands market to small businesses. Cargo is an expert in the Business to Small Business space coining the term B2SB Marketing®. Prior to joining Cargo, Miki spent 20 years with big brands like IBM and Mercedes-Benz, in a variety of sales and marketing roles so he knows how to build strategies that drive results and move the needle. And this same experience enables him to understand the pain points of big brands trying to market to small businesses: while leading marketing for the commercial vehicle division of Mercedes-Benz, he spent countless hours understanding the motivations, behaviours and the drivers of small business owners in order to reach them more successfully. Now, his quest persists – to continue to build the Business to Small Business Expertise and help big brands be more successful in reaching this highly emotional target.
You just recently joined Cargo. What are some of the initiatives that you are currently working on?
The largest initiative is building the Canadian side of Cargo’s business. Cargo has been operating in United States for well over a decade. We have been in Canada since 2013, and while we have had presence here, the focus has been on servicing the Canadian accounts, not necessarily on growth. Our goal now is to drive the growth of the business, increase the size of the team, expand the office space, and start to establish ourselves as the business to small business experts in Canada. At Cargo, we often talk about our formula for success: evidence-based insights which come from extensive research and marketing analytics, combined with our experience-based insights, driven by our knowledge of Business to Small Business®, drivewhat we call “predictive action” – marketing ROI and business KPIs. Over the last 10 years we have done a lot of research in understanding the motivations that drive small business owners. What drives them to buy? What makes them upset? What makes them happy? The last 10 years have taught us a lot.
We are currently completing a study that is going to dig deeper into the mindsets of the fastest growing and least understood small business owner group: The Millennials. The study will be using a proprietary model of leveraging Neuro-data, AI and proprietary analyticsto make marketing, creativity and brand storytelling a more exact science. We will focus on demystifying the make-up, values and language drivers of Millennial SBOs. The results will help big brands navigate the “Emotion Economy.” Through this unique blend of man + machine, the approach will give brands the agility required to navigate today’s emotional terrain and speak to customers’ heads and hearts, in ways that directly impact the bottom line.
Can you give us more information about why business to small business marketing is vital to this?
We all know business to business, or B2B; it is a marketing science that’s basically defining how a business markets and sells to another business. Because of our commitment to SMEs, we’ve conceived something called Business to Small Business®. In other words, we’re looking at how a business can reach not just another business, but how that business can reach a small business specifically. It’s an evolution of B2B. People often make jokes about B2B and say it stands for “business-to-boring” because they believe that B2B marketing is not exciting. Cargo believes that behind every purchase is a human being: a very emotional and passionate and driven small business owner. We look at this mindset and believe itshould say “business-to-beautiful” and not “business-to-boring”. We are really trying to change the way big brands speak to small businesses because the recipient of the marketing messages is not a machine, rather, it’s a passionate small business owner.
Can you give us more information on what Small Talk is about?
Small Talk is a content series that brings a human voice to small business,by helping big brands talk small and helping small businesses think big.Small talk is a series in which we engage with small business owners and ask them exactly what is missing. “Are brands talking to you in the right way today? What are some of the pain points that you have and can you tell us exactly what you require from these big brands when they’re marketing to you?”We also engage with big brands, to try to understand what pain points they face marketing to small businesses.
What are the benefits of the business to small business marketing for SME owners?
If we go back to what we talked about earlier, B2B is the basis of marketing to businesses.Because we have been dedicated to small business owners, and coined the space Business to Small Business®, the biggest benefit to them is that we are able to help big brands reach them in the most effective way. Not only through relevant marketing but also through the continued support after the sale – a very important aspect to small businesses..We are able to help those brands understand exactly what these small business owners need, how to market to them, how to talk to them and how to support them.
There are a lot of marketing agencies for entrepreneurs to choose from. So obviously competition is really high. What sets Cargo apart from other marketing agencies?
The biggest difference and really where we stand apart from other agencies isour focus on Business to Small Business®. That’s all we do! So even though we don’t do work directly withsmall business owners, we help big brands have a better relationship with them, by understanding their needs, motivations and behaviours.
Secondly, I spent 20 years on the client side and this is my first play on the agency side. It has helped merely define the strategy and the mission for the agency to ensure it’s very client-centric because I know what it’s like to be on the other side. I know first hand the pain points clients have. For clients, it’s not just about winning marketing awards— which is always nice to have— but the focus always is: “does this move the needle? Is this strategy going to make my business successful?”
And it is this strategic orientation that we are proud of. We don’t start anything without first doing strategic planning. When we sit down with the client, the first thing we ask is “What are you wanting to achieve? What are your business goals?” Then we put together a strategic plan based on their industry, and of course, the understanding of the small business owners, especially from a client-side perspective—this is what I did for 20 years- I built strategic plans. We’re client-centric, strategy-driven and experts in small business spaces which is really what sets us apart from others.
You have over 20 years of experience in marketing. What are some of the marketing strategies you have learned that really speaks to small business owners?
I learned a lot about small business owners when I was responsible for the Mercedes-Benz Vans division. At the time, we were selling 75% of our commercial vans to small business owners. One of the first thing I learned about the small business owners’ mentality was that in order to move their mind you’ve got to move their heart first. On the other side of the table is a human being who is very passionate about what they do and frankly, their business is their life. That was the first thing that I would say that really changed my perspective. We’re not talking to somebody who just cares about the numbers. As an entrepreneur/SBO, their business is their life and they’re not dividing the two. That really started to drive the idea that small business owners want to be talked to in a more human way. Therefore, before you try to give them a solution or an offer, it’s important to understand what they do and learn abouttheir pain points.From that perspective they’ll find that definite connection with the brand that’s understanding their business.
The other important thing is that they will say “don’t disappear after you’ve sold to me.”They’re often looking for a partner for the long run. They are looking for a brand to be there next to them, to help them grow. And by the way,small business owners are not so concerned about the price. They’re willing to paybut they have tosee the value. And because SBOs are strapped for time, they’re very much relying on technology and the digital space for their business. So to be constantly connected with a SBO you have to be digitally driven and you have to be online.
SMEs are very much focused on the best customer experience. That’s another thing that we found with small business owners: they are tremendously optimistic and driven, and they want that to project to their consumers.
Throughout your career, you’ve worked with several big brands in marketing that have focused on understanding and studying small businesses. What are some of the learnings that you found with business owners ?
The biggest piece is that these people are extremely passionate and extremely emotional. Small business owners have put everything on the line for their business,unlike people working for a corporation regardless of how important of a role they have. For small business owners, if they fail, they are not putting food on the table.
Most of our research has indicated that small business owners don’t necessarily trust big brands. So the trust level is actually quite low typically, and especially in situations where the brand is not being very genuine, or the brand is not using the right language, or the brand is not reaching them in the right way. This automatically creates this wall of distrust where SBOs say “I don’t trust what you’re trying to sell to me. You are not talking to me, you are selling to me. You’re not understanding my business and therefore I do not really want to be associated with this particular brand.”
Often brands will say that there are many— and I believe in North America there are 1,100— different small business types. How does a brand reach 1,100 different SBOs? That sort of vertical approach can be daunting and not scalable. This is why we started to think horizontally. After many years of researching small business owners, we realized that there are two distinct types of mindsets of small business owners:Artisans and Crusaders. In a nutshell, the artisan is small business owner who started their business because of their craft. And they are very much focused on the craft. They love what they create but they are not necessarily concerned about hyper-growing their business. In terms of the mindset, they are a little bit more risk averse when it comes to expansion. Whereas a Crusader is a true entrepreneur. Their small business started with a business idea. And they are always looking for the next big thing. They want to grow and are constantly asking okay what’s next? Where can I take this?
Big brands don’t need to find 1,100 ways of reaching 1,100 different small business owners. No matter what the SMEs are buying, whether banking services, insurance products or technology, it’s all about the mindsets. And that is what brands need to keep in mind.
What would you say is the number one error big brands make when trying to work with small businesses?
The biggest error is forgetting about that human aspect. Behind every purchase is the human being. And particularly in the small business space,they are very emotional and very driven human beings. Remember that in order to move their mind, you have to move their heart.
You’ve really mastered the small business space. What is it about the small business industry that attracts you?
My first job was my own business. I came to Canada from former Yugoslavia when I was 14, during the Civil War in Yugoslavia. New to the country, I needed to make money. A lot of my friends in high school worked at McDonald’s, did newspaper routes, etc. Through chance, I met a lady who was a busy professional and was struggling to find the time to take care her property. So I said “Okay, well what are some of the things you don’t have time to do?”One house became more houses and at one point, I had 10 clients. Of course, it was the smallest of all small businesses. But that gave me the sense of value creation andthat big timeentrepreneurs are incredibly courageous. They are putting everything on the line for what they believe in. I give them tremendous amount of respect.
I was further fascinated when I started to look at statistics: 99.8% of all businesses operating in Canada are small to medium-sized businesses, and 89.6% of all people employed in Canada are employed by SMEs. 85.3% of net employment growth came from SMEs. The most staggering statistic is 52.5% of the Canadian GDP is contributed by SMEs. To me, this is an incredible world of incredibly courageous people, that are driving the Canadian economy. But they are underappreciated and underserved. They are creating the world that our children will grow up in. I’m very passionate about the entire field and at Cargo, this is what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to help the underappreciated and the underserved. We want to be the ones to really make their lives a lot easier by really showing these big brands how they need to talk to them and how they can work together.
If you could give advice to a small business owner who is in the startup phase, what would it be?
Unfortunately, there are some small businesses that don’t make it. But I do believe,in some cases, that they gave up too early. It isn’t easy to get a business off the ground. And to grow it. Some great examples of successful start-ups and small businesses can teach us about persistance. They had the dream and they went after the dream no matter what happened. So don’t give up on that dream and be very persistent!
It’s extremely important to surround yourself with support. I believe that when you start a small business, if you are doing it yourself, it’s very difficult. There are a lot of people out there who can help. The last piece of advice is, embrace technology. I think there are some amazing technologies now helping small businesses in all aspects. Technology can really help take a lot of weight off a small business.
What made you decide to go into this line of business? Have you always been passionate about marketing?
I started my career in finance because I had always believed that I am good at math. But what I found myself thinking often early in my career was “why”? Why do people buy what they buy? Because I am an avid car guy,I started to think why do people choose different colors? Why do people choose different cars? How do people react to particular commercials? Basically, I started to become fascinated with consumer behavior. I started reading a lot of books on psychology, how humans think, and why they do what they do. That’s when I decided to embrace the world of marketing. I completed an MBA program in marketing and there was no turning back since then. Again, finance is very important. As a president of a company, it’s important to understand profitability and cash flow. But my pure passion is and always will be marketing.