Marketing and Branding

Any merchant, irrespective of the main channel of sales understands that marketing and communications are central to increasing market share. Google’s Consumer Barometer survey (2015) provides some interesting insight into the Irish consumer; including what communication channels they reference before making a purchase decision.

Search is obviously the biggest discovery medium, but that might point to different sources of insight and research; customer reviews, manufacturer’s websites, price comparison, video and advice sites / blogs.

Figure 10: Source of online information prompting purchase decisions. Source: Consumer Barometer 2015

Social networks are gaining in importance, but users are more likely to refer directly to a brand’s page than access them through ads; perhaps it is peer-input that is more important for product discovery. Amongst all of the other communication mediums, email still ranks strongly, quite possibly due to usage of deal-based content in these channels.

According to March 2016 data from IAB Ireland, digital ad-spend in the country was worth €263m in 2015, up 34% on the previous year. Of increasing importance, the growth of smartphone usage is driving mobile ad spend, itself up 132% on the previous year and now responsible for a third of total spend in the digital arena. At over €86m this is now a sizeable proportion of the total spend and requiring a different approach to ‘traditional’ digital ad-spend. Size of screen, browsing habits, attention span and functionality all impact how a mobile advertisement engages with an audience.

Display advertising on digital channels has grown by 35% in 2015 and represents 38% of total spend at €99m. The overall performance of display is being driven by the uptake of social media advertising, which lends itself to the format and reflecting users’ increased engagement via social channels. Increasing by 108% in 2015 over its 2014 value, the segment is now worth over €28m.

Figure 11: Growth in digital ad-spend, by category and comparing 2014 and 2015. Source: IAB Ireland 2016

Paid search, which at 53% takes the biggest slice of budget for digital ad-spend, is still increasing and worth €137m; 43% up on 2014.

With the IEDR actively encouraging smaller merchants to increase their online activities, paid search and social ad-spend are likely to continue increasing at these levels. PWC are quoted (2016) as estimating that total digital ad-spend is likely to increase by an average of 12% over the next two years while independent agencies are quoting 13-16% for 2016. These levels of growth in advertising are a good indicator that the online market in the Republic still has considerable expansion potential.

Digital ad-spend is one element of online marketing available to merchants. The following graph, taken from data compiled by, indicated the preferences for businesses advertising via digital channels. While these data-points relate to insight from 2011, the general themes are still pertinent in 2016.

SEO will continue to be an important focus for most businesses as this represents the main method of discovery. Interestingly, social media activity now ranks as one of the preferred promotional tools while email remains an important communications vehicle. The challenge with these indicators though is that they don’t always equate to expenditure or success. Search Engine Marketing (SEM) for example is a long utilised marketing technique, is a known quantity and therefore receives less attention compared to social, which is newer and arguably still emerging as a marketing tool.

Figure 12: Irish marketers preferred digital advertising channels. Source: AMAS, 2011

Social media

Social media is a board and rapidly-changing category covering personal activity, community, communications, text, graphics and video; Irish marketers are looking to make sense of this evolving landscape and planning resources accordingly.

Ad-spend by marketers in the Republic has already been shown to be increasing but there is a mixture of views as to what these channels should be used for. According to the latest data available, a 2012 survey by AMAS and the Marketing Institute of Ireland, building relationships (84%) was the biggest driver for merchants to get involved in social activity.

Building brand awareness, at 76%, came in second while understanding what customers were saying about brand / products was third at 66%. Interestingly, none of the responses involved selling more product. Indirectly they all have an impact but there was more concern around remaining up-to-date with developments in social media techniques (52%) although understanding customers better was also a key motivator (79%).

Why social media is used

Figure 13: Why Irish marketers engage in social activities. Source: AMAS/MII survey 2012

Irish consumers are flocking to social media in numbers that make other connected countries look pale by comparison. Facebook is by-far the largest platform at 60% penetration, nearly treble that of Google+. 65% of adults in Northern Ireland regularly use their Facebook account. Users of Facebook are accessing the platform predominantly via mobile devices, at a rate of 80% versus 20% by desktop according to 2016 research by Amárach.

Of the Facebook users, 79% access daily and a third of these add an update at least once per day. YouTube usage, at 42% reflects previous figures showing the rapid increase in popularity of VOD and viewing of video clips via mobile devices.

Figure 14: Popular social medium platforms for Irish adults. Source: Statista & Amárach Research March 2016

To provide some age-related context, Ipsos MRBI reported in June 2015 that the 15-18 age group in the Republic had a slightly different usage profile when compared to the overall online adult population. Facebook is still the biggest social network at 94% while Instagram scores strongly at 68% usage and Twitter at 61%.

There is a big drop to Google+ which is used by 37% of the group, Tinder by 17% and Pinterest at 14%. These differences are particularly interesting to brands targeting these groups and point to changes in interaction as this generation ages; a brand might not target this group now but they should be aware of the use cases when the users get older and ‘fall’ into the merchants’ customer demographic.

Twitter, the messaging service, is currently used by 26% of the online population in the Republic. A third of these users visit at least once per day and 11% add or respond to a comment. Despite the functionality aimed at mobile devices, only 25% of Twitter users access via a smartphone which tends to go against the ‘on-the-move’ use in other territories.

Messaging apps are going from strength-to-strength, particularly amongst younger users; although there is a usage case for older groups. In the Republic, 8% of 35-54 year olds have a Snapchat account, with about 20% using it daily according to Ipsos MRBI in June 2015. This rate increases in the 25-34 year-old segment to 35% having an account; daily usage is up too at 51%.

By-far the biggest user group by age is the 15-18s, with a significant 84% having an account and 85% using it daily.

In follow-up work in September 2015, Ipsos MRBI were reported by RTE to have found that, across all age groups, Facebook Messenger was the most widely-downloaded app in the Republic, with nearly 50% of adults having an account and half of these using it daily. By contrast, only 22% of adults have a Snapchat account but 68% of those that do use it daily. More adults have downloaded WhatsApp (37%) but more than half of these use it daily.


Search Engine Market Share in Ireland

Source: mvfglobal 2015

E-mail marketing

Although more up-to-date data isn’t widely available, research by Bluecast Digital in 2012 reflects behaviours seen in other markets. Personalisation is gaining momentum, with just over a third of Irish merchants not offering some level in the marketing emails they are sending out. It would be expected that more up-to-date data would show this figure falling further and the sophistication of personalisation increasing.

Figure 15: Levels of email personalisation used by Irish merchants. Source: Bluecast Digital 2012

Open rates in the Republic are also encouraging, with only a quarter of merchants seeing levels at less than 10%.

Figure 16: Email open rates. Source: Bluecast Digital 2012

The all-important click-through is promising, with nearly half of merchants achieving levels of 11% or more. 13% of merchants surveyed had rates higher than 21%, indicating that campaign planning and techniques are paying dividends to those investing time and effort in their implementation.

Figure 17: Email click-through rates. Source: Bluecast Digital 2012

The increase in social media usage is also being noticed by email marketers, with increasing numbers including social elements in their campaigns. This might be as simple as a ‘share’ button which helps disseminate campaign messages to friends or more closely-integrated campaigns which include elements of social media, links to product pages and encouraging ‘likes’ for products or brands.

Figure 18: Irish merchants using social media in their email campaigns. Source: Bluecast Digital 2012

It is important to note that different verticals will see varying results, as will SMEs versus well-known brands. However, Wolfgang Digital reported in January 2016 that email delivered 10%+ of total website traffic and 10% of total revenue. Email is still a key business driver and consumers in the Republic are just as likely as their international cousins to respond to well-crafted campaigns.





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