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Punching Above Our Weight

noel toolan
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“Ireland and the Irish are known for punching way above our weight”

A quick Q&A with brand and marketing catalyst Noel Toolan ahead of the IMAGE Mentoring Workshop in the Merrion Hotel next Wednesday, April 15…

Where do you get the thrills in your job?

I get a buzz from seeing the success of a client; where you start from zero and go through a true logical progression to find a product that fills a gap in the market. CarTrawler is one such example. In 2004, there was a great business idea, some great technology, and very little else. After a few days’ intensive work, we got the brand breakthrough and CarTrawler was born. Now, in less than ten years, CarTrawler has become one of the world’s leading travel technology platforms. The brand is still going strong, valued well north of €500 million, and had netted the founders and investors some pretty nice returns along the way. Another more recent and more topical project has been the development and launch of the RENUA Ireland brand … significant early recognition success; the next twelve months will be the true test. On a global level, the continued success of the Brand South Africa nation building project, where I had the pleasure of helping in its very early stages, is of continuing interest.

What advice would you give to a start-up?

Two things – define your “common knowledge”, and understand your “competitive set”.

In defining your common knowledge, I mean know what you want to be known for. As Jeff Bezos of Amazon says, “It’s not what you say, it’s what they say when you have left the room.” Think of how your target market, and others, would describe your business objectively, in simple terms. That forms your brand; your common knowledge. You need a clear message, and must be able to communicate it easily. And you always need to listen, assertively, to ensure that the message is received.

Understanding your competitive set comes down to what your key customers would choose if your product wasn’t available to them. What are their genuine alternatives? Understanding this will help you deduce where you’ll get business from. What will people stop doing/buying in order to get your product/service? What product/service will you likely displace (if any)? We did an interesting exercise with Baileys on this one; what would the customer drink if Baileys wasn’t available? As the brand held more than 90% of the cream liqueur market, the competitor clearly wasn’t another cream liqueur, but it was different drinks in different markets – different competitive sets, if you like. In Germany, it was mainly high-end German sparkling wines and brandies; in Australia, it was classical liqueurs. Information like that can help you focus your marketing strategy to ensure you really are fishing where the fish are.

What Irish brands have received real global recognition?

Although Ireland and the Irish are known for punching way above our weight, we have in my opinion very few true global brand successes. Brands like U2 and Baileys are clearly up there in terms of reach recognition and market stature on a global level. In geographic regions, we have a few real successes too, eg Ryanair in Europe, Digicel in the Caribbean.

Equally, there are some brands that are in my humble opinion somewhat overhyped. The classic is Guinness, who although clearly has some stature in some markets and certainly has brand recognition and association with Ireland; within its global market – alcoholic beverages – it is a complete minnow and has failed to penetrate most of the world’s key beer markets in any significant way. I would also say Kerrygold, which has had some success in the UK and France, and is clearly a power brand in Germany, has again failed to really make it on a global level. Well, so far at least.

Is it all about digital now, or does conventional marketing still have a footing?

Digital is merely a channel, but an utterly transformational one, in which the customer is now in essence controlling most of the communications. The brand message, the brand narrative, is still the key, and omni-channel trans-media is the way forward.

Noel Toolan has an acknowledged international expertise in strategic marketing, corporate transformation, breakthrough techniques and “marketing for non-marketeers” with experience across the EU, North America, Middle East, Japan, Asia and Australia, South Africa and the Caribbean. He has a wealth of experience and knowledge. Noel works across multiple sectors, including FMCG, food services, healthcare, luxury, tourism, software, healthcare, financial services and telecoms, making marketing change happen.

Noel presents #marketingrevolution – time to rethink everything! Part of the IMAGE Mentoring Workshop series, on Wednesday evening, April 15 at The Merrion Hotel, Dublin.

For information, click here, email business@image.ie or call 01 271 9653.

#imagemw in association with Enterprise Ireland.

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