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Opinion: Irish Marketers. Your Time is Now!

While Irish marketing is in good shape, marketers will need to adapt considerably over the coming years if they really want their brands to grow to the full potential, writes Ian McGrath.

The collective of world business and finance leaders who met in Davos last month spoke about one big thing – “a new normal.”

Effectively the start of a new money cycle, which will not escape Ireland as a small open economy.

Pandemic and post-pandemic macro-economics have begun to normalise across international markets. And with that, not change, but an adjustment to how things are. Very like the 1980s, the decade of decadence, the forecast is for expansion across many industries in the latter half of this decade.

Across the last 10 years, both globally and in Ireland, marketing faced a revolutionary suicide. Rather than submit to the path it was on, marketing found its way by returning to its basic principles and applying them to connect with today’s consumer demands.

Marketers had become obsessed with channels, mainly digital, and not consumers or products. But the fight to move away from this being the existing state has been won. And marketing now stands as a top priority in how businesses will navigate the pre-growth stagnation and cultural polarisation of the current market and the boom that will follow.

Irish marketing has never in better shape as we face into the beginning of a new global money cycle. Marketers have more potential today to connect with the target audiences of their businesses, they have a broader remit to direct businesses to new growth opportunities, and they have more power to shape the proposition and ultimately the success of their businesses.

Previously, new media was treated as the big idea. Marketers prioritised digital channels over insights, reach, and persuasion. Causing their marketing efforts to lack creativity, fail to have a lasting impact with consumers, and generally not have a clear focus on outcomes. Now, however, the approach is to leverage the advantages that AI and technology delivers, integrating these with marketing, rather than prioritising just being there!

Understanding is what helps Irish marketers make the right moves.

Understanding Brand

Understanding of branding is key. Brand power equals price power. It’s starts with a clear marketing vision, which flows into positioning based on simple human truths, leading to a strategy that defines the challenge and the actions and resources needed to deal with this challenge. Strong brands sell more and sell more often.

One of the most notable Irish examples of understanding the power of branding is the success of Baileys across international markets. Baileys simplified its brand proposition to be an indulgent adult treat. In doing this, the brand broadened its appeal, becoming more relevant to more consumption occasions. The decade long increases in sales and profitability continues to follow the brand’s successful strategy and it is now enjoyed in more than 150 countries.

Ryanair is another example of a brilliant Irish brand. This is a business so clear on its brand that it is built into the company’s operating and pricing model. Ryanair’s brand has given it a competitive advantage that is difficult for other airlines to replicate, helping it become the third biggest airline carrier in the world.

The importance of brand equity only grows in a world where company valuations are highly weighted to intangible assets. As a result, many Irish businesses track their relationship with customers and detail their performance in their annual reports.

Understanding of Product

Product is what your target market wants and needs. Product design and development are more consumer centric these days. This will continue to be the case as businesses are cautious about their investments over the next 18 months. Marketers have spent the last 5 years cleaning their product portfolios. Focus has shifted to products and services that drive portfolio value, grow penetration, and grow organic growth through cross-selling.

Tourism Ireland and Failte Ireland are also great at taking the amazing raw materials that brand Ireland offers and matching them to the demands for authenticity, natural beauty, and heritage from both international and domestic tourists.

You don’t have to change a product to align to the tastes and behaviour of consumers. Consumer-centricity helps products get the timing to market right too. Over the previous decade the American food and drink industry changed radically. It shifted dramatically away from a few products blandly made efficiently and cheap to favour, and savour, providence, ingredients, and choice. The marketing team for Kerry Gold recognised this. Meaning that when the U.S. removed the high tariffs on Irish dairy products, Kerry Gold hit the market. It’s a continued success as the culinary choice in a market saturated with margarines. So much so that, in the two short years since tariffs were lifted, the U.S. now accounts for almost 15% of sales of Kerry Gold butter.

Understanding Creativity

Marketers collectively felt the impact of the gross shift to rational messaging. The tide has turned, now replaced with a blend of emotional and rational messaging optimised to enhance saliency and trigger incremental sales.

Irish creativity and storytelling are world renowned. What makes them so relevant to marketing is that they have always been heavily pointed to people. There is nothing more powerful than simple, timeless, human truths when it comes to creativity (see Bill Bernbach).

Vodafone has underlined its commitment to Ireland with several campaigns and sponsorships using local personalities like Dermot Bannon and the Irish Rugby Team. The people approach is further emphasised in a different series of ads that features people using the latest advances in technology to stay connected. Its real world, and it hits. Emphasis on local people allows Vodafone Ireland to promote adjacent campaigns without any loss of continuity. In fact, it’s more likely the opposite. The fresh takes allow Vodafone Ireland to avoid propositional fatigue in the saturated mobile and broadband categories.

Lego recently began harvesting the power of Irish creativity, taking it to the global stage for their “Play is Your Superpower” campaign. Developed by Droga5 Dublin, the campaign is based on an observation of a ‘play deficit’ that is a sad reality in most global markets. Simply kids aren’t playing enough and play time is important for the progression of their social skills and cognitive abilities.

Human truths and stories are important for helping marketing campaigns connect. But campaigns must also work on a heuristic basis, as so much of our consumption is sub-conscious. Distinctive assets or fluent devices are important in successfully delivering a campaign end-to-end. Three Mobile have been effective in the introduction of Jeff the dragon lizard. Jeff has made their advertising more recognisable and likeable over the last two years, while also making the concept of the connected home more tangible to a mass audience.

Understanding Media

Understanding media is also important. Marketers are now benefiting from the omni-channel optimisation of broach reach and targeted activation. We’re seeing improved data flows, less wastage, and tighter integration across the funnel. Meaning today’s media landscape offers the greatest ever opportunity to align sales and marketing, as every connected device is a potential transactional platform.

Ireland has a relatively high number of strong indigenous media brands and offers more high-quality campaign reach than other international markets. The likes of low ad-clutter, good industry measurement, and regulation ensures that the quality of Irish media will remain strong into the foreseeable future. Though it is worth noting that Irish marketing spend is following the same course of international markets, where an increasing amount of the investment is going to a few large platforms, the likes of Google and Amazon.

Not all impressions are equal. Irish marketers know and are alive to this. We see it in their actions. Percentage wise, comparatively more is spent on industry measurement in Ireland than in other markets and Irish advertisers over index in testing new measures such as attention metrics.

Understanding Sales

Distribution is a gold mine and there are greater number of channels today through which marketers win sales from consumers.

The number of sales channels available to small and large brands has multiplied. This growth brought, in many ways, experimentation. Fragmentation of sales channels should give brands greater control over their distribution, pricing, and customer insights. Irish marketers must look to consolidate their datasets with sales to capture these advantages.

Understanding Commercial Management

On-going business success is won across both short-term and long-term business cycles. Marketers now forecast and report on the business effects of their strategies over the short-term and the long-term. Many Irish businesses can now establish a clear link between their marketing strategies and their business performance.

Understanding Measurement

Everything we’ve learned has been underlined by greater curiosity and enhanced measurement. The number of brands in the Irish market employing econometrics has more than doubled over the last 5 years and the only thing stopping this increasing is a capacity issue.

So much progress in the past five years and so much potential over the next five years.

Irish Marketers. Your time is now!

Ian McGrath is a marketing consultant and former media director with the Flutter-owned Poker Stars. He is also a former managing director and director of strategy of the GroupM-owned Mediacom. In addition, he was a former board director and EMEA business director with the denstu-owned Carat.

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