"In the old world, you could be excused for thinking that an SMB could never compete with a larger business... But the digital revolution has changed all that. The level playing field exists because businesses who get their online presence right, will attract customers no matter their size."

The following is a transcript of Sensis CEO, John Allan's welcome speech at the 2016 Digital Marketing Forum.


Good afternoon and welcome to the Digital Marketing Forum 2016.

I would like to extend a warm welcome to our panel:

  • Naomi Shepherd, Head of Brand, Australia & NZ, Facebook and Instagram
  • Kate Morris, Founder of Adore Beauty
  • Justin Dry, CEO and Co-founder, Vinomofo
  • Dan Gregory, CEO, The Impossible Institute
  • And our moderator Jackson Hewett, Associate Editor at The Australian

Most of all I would like to thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to learn more about the trends we’re seeing across the digital landscape and how you can promote and grow your business online.

There are many business owners in the room here today, along with peers from the digital media world and larger corporations.  Welcome.

So firstly, who is Sensis and why are we presenting a Digital Marketing Forum in partnership with The Australian? 

While many of you may know us for our print phone directories – the Yellow Pages and White Pages, we are also Australia’s leading digital marketing services business.  We help businesses large and small navigate the complex world of digital marketing, from building websites, to SEO, SEM and through our consumer brands, Yellow Pages, White Pages, True Local and Whereis.

This is the third year we’ve partnered with The Australian to host the Digital Marketing Forum and we’re proud to bring to you an insightful and thought provoking event today. 

Now wasn’t it exciting, surprising and even a little bit daunting to see the statistics in the video just now?

It’s exciting to think of all the opportunities that are there for us to grab with both hands.

Surprising when we see how fast the evolution into this digital world is occurring.

And daunting as we grapple with knowing where to start.

Consider this – almost all Australian households now own a computer and nearly everyone accessed the internet in the past year.  But it’s what we’re doing online that is really interesting…

While we are online to look for the usual maps and directions, check the weather, and pay bills, we have seen more activity in purchasing online than ever before.

This year, 7 in 10 Aussies made purchases online – a 10 point jump from last year. 

This is even higher in the 40 to 49 age group at 80%, and the 18 to 29 age group at 81%. 

Gen Xers and Millenials may well be the most influential shoppers in our country right now.

But that is only the start of the story…

Since 1994, Sensis has tracked the technological and digital progression of small and medium business in Australia. Our annual eBusiness Report provides a comprehensive picture of how SMB’s in Australia are embracing the digital age, the changing patterns of technology use among Australian households, and the intersections between the two.

Understanding these patterns provides businesses with a foundation from which to address their digital needs – and importantly, the keys to success.

And so far, I’ve only told you one part of the story…

There is no doubt that the smartphone has become the most powerful way to enable interactions between consumers and businesses.

The report showed that 78% of all Aussie adults own a smartphone, and 73% use it to access the internet. That number jumps to 91% in the 18 to 29 age bracket – our Millenials.

I must admit I am locked onto my phone at all times, working, yes, but also planning my next holiday, sourcing suppliers for my house renovation, or posting on social media.

While we are busy searching, purchasing and socialising online, there is a small or medium sized business seeking to reach us who wants us to purchase their goods or services.

At the same time there are larger businesses also vying for our custom.

In the old world, you could be excused for thinking that an SMB could never compete with a larger business, due to a lack of resources, footprint and scale. But the digital revolution has changed all that. The level playing field exists because businesses who get their online presence right, will attract customers no matter their size.

This year the theme is how can small and medium businesses use digital to win against the big guys. I realise there are some big businesses here today, and I hope you find this a valuable discussion – for the small and medium businesses in the room, I hope today becomes a catalyst for change.

One of the most interesting contradictions the report exposed is around how many Aussie businesses are connected to the internet – 93%, yet so few have a digital marketing strategy.

Put your hand up if your business has a digital marketing strategy – so about 20% of you… well that’s close to the official 19% in the report.

To truly harness the digital landscape the first thing businesses need to do is to engage with it and establish a presence – when we think of digital, we think website – and nearly two thirds of all SMBs now have a website (61%).

A website might not be the right strategy for your business, and for many having a social media profile is a better option.  Just on half of all SMBs now have a social profile. Compare this with 69% of all Aussies though, and there is a clear gap of opportunity.

Another opportunity is that of online e-commerce. Just over half of all SMBs currently make sales online, compared to seven in ten consumers making online purchases.  Online sales as a share of total sales continue to rise.

This is because ecommerce allows your business to connect with the always on, always connected audience, regardless of your official opening hours. 

The smartphone is not just a tool, it should be your best friend. Yes, you may do your payroll and banking on the run using your mobile, but consider it from your customer’s point of view.  If they go onto your website from their mobile and have a poor experience, are they likely to make a purchase or go somewhere else? We all know the answer, and once you’ve lost them; you’ll struggle to ever get them back to your site.

You don’t have to be a retailer to take advantage of this digital environment; if you are a law firm, a plumber, florist or a professional services business, the rules of online engagement remain the same.  Be clear about who you are and what you offer; ensure you take a mobile first approach and engage with your customer in an authentic way across the channels they use.

In this year’s Sensis eBusiness report we have seen significant leaps in many indicators of how businesses are engaging online, often by 8 to 10 percentage points.  Take for example the number of SMBs taking orders online, up 8 points on last year, and the leap in the number of SMBs making purchases online themselves – up 15 points to 75%. 

These are really good signs that businesses are making themselves more accessible and easier to deal with for the always on, always connected consumer – as well as showing they are prepared to use ecommerce for their own benefits.  

To quote the founder of Wotif, Graeme Wood: "Change has never happened this fast before, and it will never be this slow again."

I hope today’s session will provide insight and inspiration for the next steps you take with your business and I encourage you to take the opportunity to ask questions and interact with each other as you consider your digital future.

Thank you.