A company’s digital presence is an ever-evolving project, and the last two years have been anything but static. To find out how the pandemic has affected digital initiatives, and how the landscape might look in 2023, we surveyed nearly 300 employees at Canadian small to midsize enterprises (SMEs).
In this article
- How does a digital presence help SMEs in Canada?
- Email and social media remain the most important parts of a digital strategy
- Most SMEs update their digital platforms at least once a week
- Digital strategy investment set to rise through 2024
- SMEs relish digital competition with large enterprises
- In summary
In today’s world, business leaders are constantly told by their peers, influencers, and technology gurus about the need for “digital transformation” and “innovation”. If done right, they say, businesses can find new ways to attract customers online, new income streams, and new business models.
But the sheer number of technologies to choose from for a small business can be overwhelming, ranging from artificial intelligence software to website builders. Then there are even more ways to implement them, and just as many ways —it seems— to fail.
We wanted to find out how small businesses in Canada approached their digital strategy during the pandemic and what the outlook is for 2023 and beyond. To that end, we surveyed nearly 300 employees, owners, and managers at small to midsize enterprises (SMEs) in Canada that have a digital strategy in place.
This article forms the second part of our exploration of this topic. In the first, we focused on why SMEs in Canada have a digital strategy in place. You can scroll down to the bottom of this article for a full methodology of our survey.
How does a digital presence help SMEs in Canada?
All the employees we spoke to work at SMEs with a digital strategy currently in place. But because they represent companies from different sectors and of varying sizes —from 2–250 employees— they also reported a wide range of benefits from their investments. We asked people to pick three from a list of nine possible ways in which their company’s digital strategy has benefited the business. All attracted between 22% and 37% of responses, suggesting that there are as many benefits from digital strategies as there are companies out there.
Top of the list were the increased sales opportunities SMEs get by reaching more people, closely followed by increased website traffic and greater brand awareness, all of which were identified as benefits by just over one-third.
At the other end of the scale, ‘constantly measuring business indicators’ and ‘taking our products/services to other places’ were less common benefits, but were still seen as such by around one-quarter.
The takeaway here is that a digital strategy can be multi-faceted, improving the standing, marketability, and reach of a company, as well as its tactical digital capabilities.
Email and social media remain the most important parts of a digital strategy
A company’s digital presence takes many forms. Depending on the business and the types of clients it caters for, it might have a website, social media footprint, or search strategy. Some might place more importance on review sites, influencer marketing, or data collection.
We asked employees at SMEs in Canada about the importance of various aspects of the digital strategies. The most crucial were email marketing and social media campaigns, which were rated as ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ important by 88% of respondents each. That said, all of the strategies we asked about were rated likewise by at least two-thirds of respondents. The area that was rated as ‘very important’ by the most SME professionals was social media campaigns (49%), while influencers and chatbots were seen as less important and less widely used overall.
The overall picture here is that SMEs still value well-established marketing channels like email and social media, which have a low cost of entry, predictable success rates, and easily attributable spend. It also helps that these channels have been around for a relatively long time, in digital marketing terms, so the skills and experience are easier to find. However, while both chatbots and influencers have been hot topics for a while, they can be daunting for SMEs.
Did you know?
– Influencer marketing is where brands work with “influencers” to promote their products or services. An “influencer” can be anyone with an audience, but it usually refers to people who have large followings on social media networks like Instagram, YouTube, or TikTok. Most influencers make their living by collaborating with brands who want to reach the same types of people that make up their following.
For SMEs struggling to get their influencer marketing ideas off the ground, specialist influencer marketing software can help. These tools allow you to discover influencers, streamline communication and coordination, and measure the effectiveness of your relationships.
– Chatbots are automated tools that can talk to your customers, answering their most common questions or performing simple tasks, like reserving a table in a restaurant or booking an appointment. They are most often built into brands’ websites or apps and function just like a human-to-human text chat.
Chatbot software provides pre-built or customizable chatbots and helps you integrate them into existing customer-facing channels, like your website or app. They can work with other customer service tools and provide a useful way of generating customer awareness, interest, and leads.
Note: it is important to note that these tactics won’t be right for every business, so you should analyze your market and see what your competitors are doing before committing to any project.
Most SMEs update their digital platforms at least once a week
One of the advantages of modern digital marketing tools is they are flexible to the rapidly changing needs of a modern SME. Brands can tweak their marketing to make sure it’s performing at its best, and customers get accurate, timely information that helps them make decisions or access services. Overall, it’s win-win.
In many cases, employees responding to our survey said their SME updates information on its main digital platforms every day. For social media channels and review platforms, daily updates were the most common frequency (occurring at 38% and 37% of surveyed businesses respectively). Updates once a week or more were most common for search engines (40%), eCommerce platforms (38%), and company websites (36%). The overall picture is one where SMEs are making frequent changes to their digital presence in response to internal and external factors.
Software for managing digital presence
Keeping their presence on review sites up to date can be a challenge for SMEs. Some use review management software, which helps them collect reviews from customers, monitor how their brand is being talked about across platforms, respond to negative feedback, and improve their online presence.
While some SMEs will be familiar with social media management tools, others may not be aware of their benefits. These tools make it easy to post content to various channels while also monitoring them and tracking marketing performance. They can be especially useful in small organizations where one person has to manage social media along with other responsibilities.
Similarly, search engine optimization and management (SEO/SEM) tools allow companies to monitor and manage how their brand appears across the web when people are searching for relevant terms. SEO relates to the practice of organically improving a brand’s ranking on search engine results pages, while SEM covers the practice of paid advertising with search engine providers.
Finally, many SMEs use website builders to create and update their website. These tools make it easy for anyone to work with web pages, regardless of their technical ability, and they include features to build online stores, take payments, boost search performance, integrate with social media, and more.
Digital strategy investment set to rise through 2024
Among the SMEs we surveyed, budgets are expected to remain stagnant or rise between 2022 and 2024. 48% say their investment in digital strategy will remain the same over the next two years, and 43% say it will increase. Only 9% say it will fall.
The most commonly given reason for an increase in investment is a positive one. 48% of those SMEs who are planning to invest more in their digital strategy say they are doing so because ‘our current strategy is working well, so more investment would mean more revenue’. For 36%, an increase is required to finish the job. These SMEs agreed that ‘we are still working on setting up the strategy, so it requires more investment until it is fully implemented.’ Filling vacant positions (6%) and adjustment of current strategy (10%) were also given as reasons for greater investment going forward.
Did you know? Like any area of business, digital initiatives have a better chance of succeeding if they’re properly planned, resourced, and managed.
Rather than begin a project because of a new exciting technology, it’s important to consider your business challenges, market trends, and what you’re trying to achieve. Strategic planning software can help you take all this into account and predict future outcomes. It can also help you understand what resources will be needed to meet your goals.
When it comes to money, budgeting software allows the organization and its sub-departments to set, monitor, and approve budgets for their projects. The tools allow you to be flexible to react to the unforeseen changes that so often happen with digital projects and ensure transparency across the business.
People can make or break a project, and our survey found that two-thirds of SMEs in Canada hired or fired employees as a result of their digital strategy. If you find yourself short of the skills or experience to make your digital projects happen, recruiting software offers a streamlined way to identify and hire the right talent. Among those SMEs surveyed that did hire people, developers, digital marketing specialists, and web designers were the most sought-after roles.
SMEs relish digital competition with large enterprises
Digital initiatives require both skills and investment, so it’s easy to see why larger companies might be in a better position than small or midsize ones. The larger firms typically have more dedicated IT professionals, not to mention the time and finances to recruit specialists or engage external experts.
72% of SME professionals we spoke to agreed that ‘big companies are more favoured than SMEs in the digital age’. But smaller organizations have their own advantages, too. Their size means they can move quickly, and they may have less costly (or smaller) legacy systems and processes to change when digitizing.
Opinions among SMEs depend somewhat on their view of the competitive landscape. 42% in our survey say their company competes against bigger ones in their industry. 41% say they’re indifferent to what their larger competitors are doing, while 17% say the existence of these big companies is an advantage to them.
Among those who do compete with larger players, most (66%) say the competition is a positive thing and drives business growth. Only 14% say that it’s unfair that the ‘big companies are stronger and take all the traffic.’ Around one-fifth (19%) say there are both positives and negatives to the situation.
Respondents that see the existence of bigger enterprises in their sector as a good thing gave three main reasons for this:
- They drive growth in the market at an overall level, which is good for us (46%)
- We learn by observing how they work (30%)
- Often their customers buy our products/services after them (22%)
Our research into the digital presence of SMEs in Canada, explored over two articles, has uncovered some important facts
- COVID-19 has been a significant driver of digital initiatives.
- No singular reason stands out as a driver or a benefit of digital transformation. The motivations and outcomes depend on the business and its own circumstances.
- Companies were more likely to hire people than they were to fire people as a result of digitization.
- Established marketing tactics, like email and social media are still crucial to SMEs.
- SMEs see the existence of larger businesses in their industry as being a positive thing, overall, helping to drive competition, customer awareness, and growth in the sector.
GetApp’s Digital Presence Survey was launched online in August and September of 2022. The survey was completed by 290 employees who fit our criteria. The criteria for selecting participants are as follows:
- Canadian resident
- Between the ages of 18 and 65
- Employed part- or full-time in a mid-level or higher role at a company that was founded before the COVID-19 pandemic and with 2 to 250 employees
- Employed at a company that adopted a digital strategy either before or since the outbreak of COVID-19
- Had not changed jobs between August 2020 and August 2022
- Have knowledge of their company’s business model and the design and implementation of digital strategies in the organization
Note: The applications or sites mentioned in this article are examples to show a feature in context and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations.