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What Irish marketers can learn from China about the future in the Year of the Pig: scale, speed and convenience

Posted By Colin Lewis, Chief Marketing Officer at OpenJaw Technologies, Wednesday 6 February 2019
Updated: Monday 4 February 2019

What Irish marketers can learn from China about the future

Millions of Chinese people across the world are celebrating Chinese New Year this week. It is the beginning of a new year on the traditional Chinese calendar and is the most important holiday of the year. Each year has a name associated with the 12-year cycle of the Chinese Zodiac: 2019 is the 'Year of the Pig'.

China has been in the news a lot more in the last year due to Trump’s trade wars, problems for Huawei, population surveillance and slowing growth. Regardless of what is going on on a geo-political level, for regular visitors to China like myself, taking a deeper look at what’s going away from the headlines can help marketers understand how trends in China are going to eventually affect us all. As Peter Frankopan, Oxford historian, and author of the book ‘The New Silk Roads’ writes: “all roads used to lead to Rome, today they lead to Beijing”.

When it comes to China, it is hard to get away from the one thing the country is most famous for: size and scale. The statistics are always mind-boggling. Black Friday may seem like a big event in the international retail calendar but it cannot compete with the sheer scale of Alibaba’s Singles’ Day in November, which racked up more than $30bn in sales in 2018 - 27% up on 2017. Sales hit $1bn just one minute and 25 seconds into the event; just over an hour in and they had exceeded $10bn. Alibaba also set a world record for most payment transactions with Alipay, its online payment platform, processing 256,000 payment transactions per second. The number of delivery orders surpassed 1 billion. In just one day.

Then there is the scale of ambitions that western brands have for China: Starbucks announced in 2017 that it would open 2,000 new stores in China by 2021 – one every 15 hours. Or Prada is opening of seven stores in the city of Xi’an, three in just one shopping mall, with two stores alone for classic British shoe brand, Churchs.

Luxury brands are one thing. What about something a lot prosaic, like healthcare? Ping An Good Doctor, part of the huge Ping An insurance group, has launched China’s largest online healthcare services provider, Ping An Good Doctor. Good Doctors (what a great brand name!) has AI-geared “one-minute clinics” with online consultations, as well as 24/7 compact booths and more than 100 types of refrigerated common drugs available through smart vending machines. Each clinic has an ‘AI Doctor,’ trained to collect data on patient symptoms and medical history through voice and text input, with a human-doctors providing remote diagnoses, medical advice, and prescriptions.

If scale is one thing, speed is the other half of the equation. Part of the speed is driven by the work ethos: working on the ground in China and directly with Chinese customer has shown me that the mantra of 9-9-6 is true. Meaning 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., 6 days per week. Seriously. Not exactly the 40 hour work week!

And the city in China that symbolises speed is Shenzhen. In the 1980s it was a not much more than a fishing town. Today, Shenzhen produces 90% of the world’s electronics and has 12.5 million people.  The city’s real claim to fame is hardware – this is, after all, where your iPhone or drone is made. Shenzhen is now the go-to city for robots, drones, smart sensors, and wearable technology. Shenzhen has its own 70 million square feet shopping mall area called Huaqiangbei Electronics Market, where you can buy circuit boards, LEDs, microchips, sensors, mini cameras and microphones on the spot. Shenzhen is the place where you can then get your crazy idea turned into a real product: there are hundreds of factories that can turn hardware prototypes in manufactured products in a few days.

Aside from size and scale, there is one thing that Irish marketers can look on in envy at China: convenience. The words ‘friction-free’ are the best way to describe the everyday reality of many transactions in China – to a level that is extraordinary compared to Ireland.

To understand convenience in China, you have to understand the influence Tencent and Alibaba have in China. The vast majority of online activity in China happens through proprietary applications run by Tencent and Alibaba – and nearly all this is done by phone. Mobile is ubiquitous in China – a way of life, not only a medium of communication.

Alibaba’s online payments system, Alipay, controls about half of China’s online payment market. Aside from, Alibaba also has its Tmall marketplace for business-to-consumer, and Taobao marketplace for consumer- to-consumer. Combine eBay, Paypal and Amazon and you get an understanding of Alibaba’s brand portfolio.

Tencent owns WeChat, which has 1 billion+ users, an incredible combination of Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, WhatsApp, Paypal and YouTube, as well as gaming that come together in one ‘superapp’. WeChat was recently called the ‘operating system of China’.

Most Chinese companies have recognised this, and build their advertising and marketing, social communication, shopping, purchasing, and payment programmes around mobile. Brands are not just purveyors of products and services, but partners helping consumers with daily living. You can use your phone for literally everything. On mobile, consumers talk, text, shop, hail taxis, book travel, trade stocks, pay for utilities, deposit money into their bank or transfer money.  

As a result, China is increasingly a living insight into a future of ‘frictionless living’ – and consumers expect it: jumping a bike, ordering a meal from a huge range of restaurants, giving money to beggars on the street — all can be done at the touch of a button. From a pure payment perspective, WeChat and Alibaba’s Alipay are making cash obsolete. On a recent trip to Dalian in North East China, I found it difficult to pay cash even in modern supermarkets and convenience stores. As Duncan Clark, venture capitalist, author of the definitive biography of Alibaba founder, Jack Ma, and longtime resident of Beijing writes: ‘I feel on returning to London or Silicon Valley that I’m going backwards in time’.

And the thinking about convenience has extended beyond just payment. Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, coined the phrase “new retail“ to explain Alibaba’s vision of blurring boundaries between the online and offline shopping world. The company put this into action with the purchase of the Hema supermarket chain. Each of the 50 Hema grocery locations can deliver within 30 minutes. All the aisles have interactive, digital screens to give customers product information, show similar products and what the most popular items in the aisle are (by age group if that is what you want!) Prices on the screen can be changed via wi-fi – including products such as seafood where prices are determined by supply and demand. If you want, each store will cook the food you buy at one of the in-store restaurants rather than the shocking inconvenience of actually having to cook it yourself! And, of course, there is automated checkout that recognises each product and accepts Alipay. 

Next stop is facial recognition: Alibaba's Ant Financial has teamed up with KFC to debut a "smile to pay" service, which  allows customers to pay for their deep-fried chicken simply by smiling after placing their order at one of the fast food restaurant's self-serve screens.

However, even if you don’t believe that China today gives us a glimpse into the future, one thing you might have heard of is slowing Chinese growth, and how Trump’s trade wars mean that Chinas is going through a downturn. A look at the percentages about China annual growth make interesting reading compared to Ireland: in 2018, retail sales growth was 6.9%, compared with an increase of 9% in 2017. Not exactly a crisis!

So, happiness and prosperity to you for the year of the pig or 恭喜发财 (gong-sshee faa-tseye) in Mandarin, or if you prefer Cantonese, 恭喜發財 (gong-hey faa-choi).

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The top 10 trends shaping 2019

Posted By Meabh Quoirin, Co-owner & CEO at Foresight Factory, Wednesday 6 February 2019
Updated: Monday 4 February 2019

Foresight Factory Trending 2019

We are barely into the year and yet already one of our trends for 2019 has exploded. Thanks to Gillette’s ad, which claims the best a man can get is now being woke to the #metoo era - the outrage dragons are officially out (looking at you Piers Morgan). Social media sentiment analysis shows a predominantly negative online conversation (69%). This is due to a few people raging online about their damaged masculinity and an even smaller number pointing the finger at Gillette for hypocrisy (because it produced this ad while simultaneously contributing to #pinktax with their more expensive and, ironically, literal women’s pink razors) - all the while the vast majority of consumers back out of the conversation. Why? For fear of backlash and in favour of Neo-Civility.

Of course, not every brand will be jumping into the hot waters of gender politics. If you are looking for alternative trends that will kick off over the next 12 months, look no further. Our report is designed to track emerging consumer behaviours for strategic decision making. What is more, this year it received the top score from Forbes. If you want to see how opinion shifts over the year the full report on our site will update with supporting trends and data in real time - because these trends are relevant now - not just in five years.

So what are the top 10 consumer trends for 2019?

1. Neo- Civility

 In the woke era knowing what is “safe” or “unsafe” speech and behaviour in any given situation can become a mindfield. It’s not just Gillette getting flack from both sides of the opinion spectrum here. Individuals are not immune either - the indignation sparked by Jesy Nelson of Little Mix dancing to R Kelly is proof of that. What will you dare to say in 2019?

2. Sustainable Me

 This is about surviving in style not survival. Consumers adopt a prepper mindset to deal with life no matter what flux awaits - and writing from a pre-Brexit Britain, I can tell you that a lot of flux awaits. Check out the FIRE movement to see how far some consumers will go to attain the lifestyle they desire.

3. Titan Brands

 Will Amazon disrupt family law following the Bezos/MacKenzie split? But in all seriousness, is there any category this company can’t rattle? Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, Amazon, Apple, Google - these giants are challenging brands across multiple sectors. More worrying, our research shows that when a customer has multiple services from one company like Amazon, they are much more likely to consider using the brand in categories Amazon hasn’t even sniffed at yet.

4. Light Relief

 Are you watching people tidy their homes on Netflix rather than doing the dishes? Whether Marie Kondo can actually inspire more people to use her method is debatable, as consumers ask for the permission to just do nothing.This is a backlash to the culture of constant optimisation and a desire for unproductive (and mind numbing) activity. “Trashy” TV programs become self-care in a society where people just want to relax.

5. Educator Brands

Did you know that in the UK the most searched for “what is?” phrase on Google last year was “what is bitcoin?”. Consumers were seeing this term and hearing their friends talk about rising investments, but they didn’t have the tools or understanding to act on it. We expect more brands to fill this gap with rich content, becoming empowering advisors. This has a significant impact on Mar Comms and the CX consumers expect from brands when they are dealing with something perceived as difficult.

6. All Inclusive

 In a similar vein, did you know that the most searched for movie in the US last year was Black Panther? Between the roaring box office success of Black Panther and the continuing debate around Me Too - diversity continues to be top of mind. Even if your brand doesn’t take a strong stance externally, having to close your entire company for racial bias training (starbucks) is less than ideal. Brands can’t ignore the debate. The identities that we will be talking about in 2019 include intersectionality, neurodiversity and citizenship privilege.

7. Prescribed Life

 If that all sounds like hard work you might be a fan of this next trend. The Prescribed Life helps you to stay on top. Whether it is the new way to talk about diversity, the must listen to podcast that you have to check out now or the trainers for this season (Veja, Allbirds, what was wrong with Adidas?) the Prescribed Life has your back.Trusted brands will use individual and contextual data to make decisions for us - leaving only the joy of the big reveal.

8. Healthy Habitats

 From my outlook it seems that Health trends will never die. At our global conference we showed that nearly every single sector has been influenced by health trends. The latest? The environments we inhabit. Homes, shops, offices and hotels are embedding ambient solutions into their design. Light and air pollution are banished in favour of plants, healthy lighting and biomes. 

9. The AI Leap

 Google debuted Interpreter Mode at CES 2019 giving hotel front desks a literal AI concierge. As consumer facing AI tech improves, consumers expect AI enabled concierge style service in multiple areas of life. This won’t just show you what is trending - it shows you the best option for you. There is more on how this works for Retail and Hospitality in our report preview.

10. Ancient Rituals

 Paleo diets, ancient grains, circadian rhythms...consumers are looking back at a pre-modern or even pre-civilisation age for lifestyle lessons. This doesn’t mean consumers will be anti-tech, quite the opposite in fact as we expect to see technology assist us in our goal to reconnect with nature.

Why these trends for 2019 matter now?

It’s clear that trends are a necessary tool in a brand’s arsenal to innovate and be on top of your game. Shifts in consumer behaviour hold the answer to key strategic questions and we would love to know how you see the 10 trends for 2019 impacting your business and sector in the comments below.

If you want to find out more about the 10 trends for 2019, a preview is available here or the full report is live for Foresight Factory clients.

About the author

Meabh Quoirin is CEO and Co-Owner of Foresight Factory. A bi-lingual and experienced public speaker, Meabh is a key voice on consumer trends and analytics. Named as a ’top voice’ on the LinkedIn Influencer network in 2016, 2017 & 2018, she specialises in helping businesses profit by better understanding consumers.

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The 60-Minute Media Audit

Posted By Pt78, Wednesday 23 January 2019
Updated: Tuesday 22 January 2019

60-minute media audit

So, turkey and Christmas pud are a distant memory, 2019 is well underway and you are in full-on execution mode with your 2019 marketing plan.  

Ensuring that you and your wider team know exactly what to stop / start /continue this year and beyond is important - but all too often it’s a job that gets put to one side as your to-do list gets longer.

Carrying out a review quickly and effectively is critical.  One key component is an audit of your full year media spend - after all, this is usually the biggest part of your annual marketing investment.  Review of this investment would seem not only wise, but imperative.

Our approach to media audit is that it should always be streamlined and focus on the big wins. 

If you had 60 minutes to review your media investment processes, here are 4 key areas we’d recommend you consider:



  • Effectiveness - Do you have a consistent approach to measuring effectiveness? 
  • Waterfall of objectives™ - Do you differentiate between overall business objectives, campaign critical success factors and media metrics?
  • Communicate - Does everyone who touches the business share this effectiveness framework?


  • Spend match - Do you have a single real-time view of budget and regularly match planned v invoice v delivered? How well was this controlled?
  • Delivery check - Do you have a systematic approach to checking delivery? Did you get what you paid for?
  • Campaign control - Do you have structures for changing and optimising mid–campaign? How agile are you?


  • Set targets - Have you detailed required outcomes and are they amended regularly?
  • Think about the metrics - Are you measuring value or price?
  • Save the date - Plan & diary reviews.


  • Understand your contract - Read it, ask direct questions, expect full disclosure.
  • Key watch outs - Are you talking the same language around costs, trading and fees?

If, after 60 minutes, you’re happy that :

  • you have answers to the relevant questions
  • you and your agency partner have processes in place to extract maximum value from your media investment
    ..….then give yourself a gold star and move to the top of the class!  

More often than not, you will find areas for improvement.  The specific areas will be different from organisation to organisation, but the common theme will be increased focus on this significant investment.  

Here’s a resolution for your 2019 list - add a little more scrutiny.  This alone will not make you more effective but, as we said, it is one piece of the jigsaw – find some efficiencies here, and you’ll free up budget to invest elsewhere, in activity that has already proven to have a strong ROI.

If you’d like to chat more about this, please don’t hesitate to contact us at or call us on (01) 556 3678


About Pt78:

Pt78 offers a range of services designed to maximise the return on your marketing and media investment.  We provide expert consultants who drive increased performance in Marketing Procurement, Marketing Operations and Marketing Capability.  

We are passionate about marketing effectiveness and we believe in a no nonsense, jargon-free approach to the evaluation of all marketing investment.  To find out more, please contact us.


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A Day in the Life of... Joe Cleary, Sales & Marketing Director at Mr Binman

Posted By The Marketing Institute, Wednesday 23 January 2019
Updated: Tuesday 22 January 2019

Joe Cleary Mr Binman

What does the Sales & Marketing Director at Mr Binman do?

Well, when I keep costs down and sales up it seems to keep the shareholders relatively happy. So I try to do that mostly!

We have a mixed type customer base – currently 37,000 household residential customers and 3,000 commercial businesses – and I lead all our sales and marketing activities to ensure that we are delivering on our promises to these customers. I would decide on our new campaigns and how those campaigns will generate leads for our sales team. We have invested a lot into sports sponsorships in the last few years to build recognition and equity in our brand and I would develop our marketing activities around these sponsorships with the rights holders.


What were your key career moves to get your current role?

I have had a very varied career even though I haven’t worked for too many different businesses. I worked my way up in different departments and developed invaluable experience along the way. I have worked in roles within administration, internal sales and logistics planning before progressing into a general manager role where growth in new markets was my main objective. This is where I really caught the marketing bug and especially directly linking marketing activities to sales made which is something we look at daily in Mr Binman now.


What is the biggest challenge you face in your role?

Wheelie-bins and waste - we are not exactly a “sexy” industry. So we need to be extra innovative to be seen and remembered. Our customers are busy so we measure our customer effort score regularly to come up with ways to simplify our service and processes. The challenge we have set ourselves is to give customers a “frictionless” experience with us.  No one wants hassle from a service provider. The easier we are to deal with, the happier the customer will be and more likely they are to recommend us to friends and family. 


What key skills do you need to be effective in your role?

You can’t be afraid in our line of work. Is that a skill? Now, I don’t mean an irrational fearlessness which puts everything at risk. What I mean is that you can never learn anything about your industry, your customers or your even own best attributes if you are afraid to go outside your comfort zone. Be willing to test, be willing to try new things. If they work –great! If they don’t work, you have learned for the next time. Marketing innovates and customers always want more so just because you are currently on the right track now doesn’t give you an excuse to sit on the track and get run over by someone else.  Having a clear vision of your customer and how they want to consume your service not only today but in two or three years time leads to having good focus and planning, which are important skills in any role really.


Describe a typical working day.

I would usually start early and get the sales metrics consumed over a bowl of cereal. I can digest them on the drive to work then and plan out any changes that may be required. I do travel a bit from time to time for meetings or having site visits with clients. Now, these meetings would vary in my role. They range from going to the head offices of some of our blue-chip clients for a coffee and catch up, to heading into a waste yard or building site in full hi-viz gear, estimating tonnes of waste so that we can tender for a contract. 

I don’t do long internal meetings and we have a small team who are all used to my direct approach so we don’t spend hours around Powerpoint slides. I see my role as facilitating others in coming up with good ideas and encouraging them to test ideas to serve our customers better.

Our business is similar to a bus operator who is reliant on passengers’ “bums on seats” to become profitable - but we collect bins rather than passengers – the more bins on the route, the more profitable it is. There is a lot of technology in our industry now so I review this data to ensure we are maximising our fleet to collect as many bins as possible. 


What do you love most about your role?

I really like working on the sponsorships we are involved with. We are a partner with Munster Rugby for two seasons now and we get great traction from our “SinBin” in Thomond Park. This has been likened to a “child’s bold chair” and can’t be missed as it is bright yellow on the touchline. The players hate it but the fans get a great kick out of it. It even has its own Twitter account!

I have a great team who believe in a customer-first philosophy so that makes it easier to get new projects and campaigns operational quickly which is something I like. 

I really enjoy organising the logistics around a special clean-up event we are one of the sponsors of every year in Limeric,k which is called Team Limerick Cleanup. This gets 18,000 volunteers out on Good Friday picking up litter, cleaning up Limerick City and County and generally showing pride in their community. Great event with high stress levels for us but it is worth it when we get all the litter collected by the end of the day from all over Limerick City & County.


Looking ahead, where might your career path lead to next? 

I see my role is to facilitate others to develop themselves and grow with us to feel comfortable suggesting new ideas, new approaches and help us continually improve. 
I am currently up-skilling myself in digital marketing and I believe that there is even still value within this space for innovative campaigns. I think we have some interesting marketing activities in the pipeline to test in this regard. I have an entrepreneurial spirit too and recently founded a business in the mobile technology field which specialises in removing the need to queue in venues. 

To whom do you look for professional inspiration in your role?
 I read quite a bit and I like Mark Earls, Byron Sharp for their work. I tend to go back to leaders of the marketing tribe such as Seth Godin. I enjoy reading and listening to Seth because the clarity of his analysis and advice is unique in my view.  I also watch how the larger brands in the world such as Nike are trying to re-launch themselves to a new generation with staying relevant being a key part of that.  I think that is something that all businesses in utilities sector need to focus on because relevance to the consumers of the future is critical for us to connect with them.

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3 Global Bakery Trends to Look for in 2019

Posted By Mintel, Wednesday 16 January 2019
Updated: Tuesday 15 January 2019

As consumers cut their consumption of carbs, brands need to make bread memorable – or at least healthier – through vivid colours, ethnic flavours and better-for-you versions.


Colourful vegetable bread

Bakery products containing vegetables are a strong way for brands to tap into interest in positive nutrition. Using brightly coloured veggies, such as carrot or beetroot, makes the vegetable content more tangible and helps to provide an overall flavour boost. Despite this, vegetable-based bread currently remains niche in Europe at 6% of all bread launches in the last year, according to Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD).

Leivon Leipomo Flat Rye Bread with Root Vegetables, launched in Finland, is 30% made with vegetables including beetroot, carrot and parsnip. While Brazil’s Fhom Veg Super Thin Toasts’ green, pink and orange hues come from spinach, beetroot and carrot. Catering to raw and paleo diets, Raw Wraps Spinach Soft Tacos (USA) are made with four simple ingredients: apples, spinach, onions and psyllium.

mintel bakery trends


Low carbs

Cutting down on carbohydrates has become popular in recent years as many adopt diets that encourage higher intake of proteins and vegetables. Health-related concerns are key barriers to more frequent consumption of bread. As a response, bread producers are shifting their efforts towards positive nutrition in the hope to connect with health-conscious consumers.

Hovis has introduced a range of naturally low carbohydrate breads in the UK: Softy and Tasty White, Tasty Wholemeal, and Deliciously Seeded. Each loaf is said to contain 30% less carbohydrates than ordinary loaves, as well as added wheat protein and fibre. Another notable example is cauliflower crust pizza, a popular low-carb recipe on Instagram and food blogs. A packaged version has been launched in Canada by Caulipower, founded by the mum of two gluten-intolerant children to provide them with delicious alternatives to carbs.

mintel bread


World flavours

As ethnic restaurants and street food stalls take over the foodservice scene, world cuisines can expand usage occasions for bread and bread products. Specifically, cuisines with a ‘dip culture’ (eg Spanish, Mexican, Indian and Middle Eastern) could help drive demand for specific bread types.

Santa Maria Street Food Kingston Style Coconut & Pepper Tortillas are described as soft, thin tortillas with a delicious coconut flavour and a hint of pepper. The tortillas are said to be ideal for Jamaican jerk tacos and feature a recipe suggestion. They’re likely to appeal to consumers seeking fun, adventurous and customisable food solutions. Tesco Finest Ras El Hanout Flatbread (UK) is said to be bursting with authentic North African flavours, featuring sweet raisins, apricots and a blend of nine spices. And to prove that the definition of ‘exotic’ changes in every country, South Korean Sajo Royal Pretzel looks to Bavaria for inspiration for this microwaveable, chocolaty-filled pretzel.


 About Mintel

Mintel is the world's leading market intelligence agency. For over 40 years, Mintel's expert analysis of the highest quality data and market research has directly impacted on client success. With offices in London, Chicago, Belfast, Düsseldorf, Kuala Lumpur, Mumbai, Munich, New York, São Paulo, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo, and Toronto, Mintel has forged a unique reputation as a world-renowned business brand.

For more information on Mintel, please visit Follow Mintel on Twitter: or join the Mintel LinkedIn community:

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