Digital Insights Conference

The Irish times is Hosting a conference in the RDS on the 14th of October (Next Friday) about the Digital Marketing Industry. Conference starts at 1.15pm and goes on till 7pm.

I’ll be Joined on stage by some of the top minds in the Digital Marketing space for the Industry Panel discussing Strategies and best practices for return on Investment in Digital Marketing. The panel consists of David Sneddon (Google), Roy Pryce (Microsoft), Darren Glynn (Paypal) and Myself.

Also on the day will be talks from Done Deal, The Telegraph and Hostel World as well as the key note address from one of Ireland’s top Digital Entrepreneurs Dylan Collins.

The conference is a bargain price at €135 as I’m confident that attendees will leave with actionable information to increase their business massively. Normally at this time of year I’m complete out of the speaking circuit as it’s peak Halloween Costumes time, but I really believe the digital arena is an area where Ireland’s economy can be dragged up by the scruff of its neck. Hopefully I’ll see some of you at the event.

Tickets Available here

Halloween Costumes – A Branding Opportunity

In the Halloween Costumes industry there has been a recent fascinating development that should make all marketeers stop dead in the tracks. It’s become a real game changer this year. Companies who have developed characters, cartoon or otherwise, to use in the TV and marketing campaigns are starting to awaken to the new social economy. By Licensing their costumes to be manufactured and sold to loyal customers who love their marketing / brand so much that they are willing to pay to dress up and represent their brand for the night, they have living social endorsement. This is the kind of marketing that we as the business community spend hundreds of thousands trying to achieve and mean while there is a queue of people, willing and ready with cash in hand to pay for the pleasure in promoting your brand.

Now the arguments are vast why many brands will turn down the opportunity of this new form of customer engagement, what if The Burger King was to be photographed eating in McDonalds or The Honey Monster was to make a wholly show of himself on the dance floor doing a funky chicken impersonation. To me this is yesteryear thinking and trying to control the conversation. People are smart enough to know it’s the guy in the suit who can’t dance and either way, the brands just given them a bit of a laugh and will be at the forefront of their mind for the next few days.

The Juxtaposition of customers adopting brands that represent them in their Halloween Costumes isn’t suitable to every brand, but if you have a brand with a character it could be massive untapped potential. Certainly for a new brand wanting to make a splash and that has a decent TV and Billboard budget, it’s worth considering should you create a character with this as part of your strategy. At the moment my industry is actually paying the brands to license their characters, however I expect come next year the tables may turn and they will infact be aggressively encouraging it.

The Costume – Best Irish Online Trader 2011 Nomination

IIA Net Visionary Awards

The Irish Internet Association have shortlisted one of my businesses, The Costume, and myself for the award of best online trader 2011. The annual competition is part of their net visionaries, which celebrates leaders in the online and digital market place. It’s a public vote to decide the winner so if you have a spare 5 seconds, a click and a vote on the below would be most appreciated. – New Business Launch

This weeks sees the launch of my latest venture, a very niche specialist firm in Radar technology and other Marine electronic equipment.

Marine Electronics Website

Marine Electronics Website

This is the first web venture taken on by Zatori which is specifically targeted at more than one country as today all are ventures, while big exporters, were developed to predominately serve one country – Ireland or India in the case of The Costume Shop India.

We’ve teamed up with several of the industry market leaders such as Raymarine, Lowrance, Simrad, Cathelco and B&G Marine, to offer a wide and varied range of equipment to suit every size and shape of small boat, yacht and fisheries vessel. We’ve also started to partner with installation firms accross Europe who our customers can use to fit the equipment on the vessel.

Using our experience, superior technology and extremely lean distribution center, is shaping up to be a great success with much interest from customers from every corner or Europe already visiting the site. It’s early days and the sites content is growing rapidly, but these are very exciting times in the Zatori Offices.

Changes from Laser to Debit – Increase Fee’s 5,100%

It seems in the recession businesses are being squeezed for every drop they can get from the proverbial stone. However the the merchant banks increase has to take the biscuit. Banks are in the very slow process of changing Laser cards over to Visa Debit cards, in a move that most people assume was just re-wording a card that does exactly the same thing – allow you to spend money which you already have in your account, without the need to write paper checks.

Merchant Bankers Profits

Merchant Fee Increases

What myself and nearly every other retailer in the country didn’t realise was that some were infact positioning themselves for instant, supernormal gains.

A €500 purchase last year paid by Laser card would have cost the retailer roughly 15c. The same purchase for the same customer & amount this year, using their spanking new Laser replacement, Visa Debit Card, would cost the retailer €7.75 – An astonishing 5,100% increase in their fee’s on the transaction with the flip of a switch! The change happened because by moving from Laser which is a fixed fee charge to a Visa debit, they “can” charge a percentage commission on. Banks are one of those institutions which you tend to have as little contact with as possible, you assume if there is a change in their rates they will pass them on, like when the ECB change interested rates your mortgage changes too.

The above is a personal example from My Merchant Bank – Elavon, however other banks are also benefiting, some only taking double digit increases in the fee’s. As I’ve said before Merchant bankers are probably our least regulated banks in Ireland.

Now what really gets me is when I happened to stumble across this injustice and bring it to their attention, they “offered” to reduce the 5,100% rate increase to a MERE 360% increased fixed fee, but there is a further cost too for this mere increase. If you fix the fee at 54c, up from 15c, but better than 1.55%; Should someone spend only 5Euro, their cut on the transaction is over 10%. One way or another they will squeeze some money from the stone.

Now put this in perspective of your business. How much is this change in a technicality going to cost you? And were you aware of it? If you want to fix your fee on transactions via Visa Debit it is possible, so you will need to approach them and request to negotiate the deal. The problem with negotiating with these banks is there is no real leverage. They hold all the cards and competition amongst them is extremely poor, in my experience it’s been a tale of who’s the least incompetent to preform what is an automated function once you’re set up.

So rather than just take it on the chin and complain, I propose we do something about it. Lets get some leverage and form a buying group, with this group we use the combined buying power to not only lower or bring back transaction prices to, wait for it, “the good old days of the 2008”; but also we could insist on basic common decency like responses to calls and emails within 48 hours and advanced warning on when ‘minor’ changes in their industry are about to set us back tens of thousands on our balance sheets.

Very interested in your thoughts and comments below, If your interested in the buying group for merchant services (companies big & small welcome) send me a message on Twitter @Ronanob.

———————————–# Update 12/08 #———————-

As a further comparison, UK retailers are paying 12p to process visa debit cards Vs our 1.55% variable or 55c fixed fee options. Its yet another reason why Ireland is such an expensive country to do business in and has difficulty in competing in the export market.

———————————–# Update 16/09 #———————-

Thanks to all who have joined the buying group, I’ll be sending around information next week via email. In the mean time I really must stress that if you have a merchant account you should contact your merchant bank to find out if you are on a fixed or variable rate for visa debit and make an informed choice which provider is now offering the most suitable rates.

All of the merchant banks have been very willing to participate in quoting for the group so I believe we have a very fair process in place now, buying rates will reflect the merchants risk level, turnover and industry so that everyone is treated fairly. In the process Elavon have met with me and taken on board suggestions to address other concerns I had and make improvements in their security, which is a very positive step forward. I’ve also been impressed with AIBMS who have changed a good deal since we worked with them some years ago.

I still believe the industry has a long way to go however there is signs of competition and “a customer centric” approach, which is a very welcome insertion. Thanks to all of those in the media who featured this blog post in their newspapers, radio shows and tv news.

Conversion Optimization Talk at the Athlone Conference 2011

Recently I was asked to speak at the Athlone online business conference on conversion optimization and converting online traffic to sales, below is my talk from the conference and the Q&A session at the end.

The talk focuses on the basics of online business and how to use data to work out conversion rates, then implementing an equation to make the requirement of a “marketing budget” a thing of the past as the marketing cost becomes a variable sunk into the sale price on each unit sold.
Ronan athlone presentation 21.6

Disruptive Technologies and Shifts in Business Models

Lately I’ve been studying the difference between new business models that improve on the current model of how an Industry does business Vs a business model that is so different compared to what the industry is currently doing, that the existing players are unable to take them on because doing so would admit that the model and strategy that they currently rely to deliver results is no longer relevant. As such by reaching far out past incremental improvements in strategy and model adjustments, an entrepreneur can create an uncontested field where they can thrive in the fledging years. Ofcourse as their success grows others will replicate their models, however the initial period of an uncontested market means margins that allows them grow at supernormal rates.

The below lecture by professor Clayton Christensen (HBS), of the Innovators Dilema fame, gives great insight to competitive markets and strategy when faced with the 3 year mark after the introduction of disruptive business models.

The Benevolent Dictator

It’s rare in these day and ages that you get to read a business book that really causes a shift in thinking, It’s because these rare gems exist that It’s worth reading the other mediocre books just to find them.

The Benevolent Dictator by Author Michael Feuer, is a no-fills book that doesn’t deal with the theory, but the facts of what Michael did to turn a business into a 5Billion (USD) company. All nice and an interesting read but where this book really sets itself apart is in what happened next – Feuer sold the business and decided to do it all again, but here’s the good part during THIS economic recession. This isn’t a historical account it’s fresh and actionable ammunition.

The Benevolent DictatorThe timing of this experience is why this book is on my must read list for start ups. Banks aren’t playing ball with their customers and frankly many can’t be trusted anymore, so VC’s and Angels have more suiters to their money whilst being very cautious. Feuer offers his experience and insights as to how he found and executed a start up in this new, never seen before business environment. By using clever financing such as vendor financing under what he calls the “stalking horses” – the investors or partner that when someone see’s their involved want a piece of the action. For example any company that Warren Buffet invests in sees a boost as copy cats follow in to raise the share price, known as the “Warren Buffet factor. So rather than look for any investment, target investors with a “rifle rather than shot gun approach” and this books tells you how to do it.

So what exactly is a Benevolent Dictator? As a start up business or any business in start up mode (Virgin is renowned for always being in start up mode despite its size), A Benevolent Dictator is one who is willing to just get on with making the decisions. It’s not to say they don’t rely on staff input but a decision should rarely be a reason for slowing down progress to get to a goal. Staff have their career’s to worry about if they make a wrong move, think civil service – usually the most dangerous think one can do is make a decision on your own because a group decision offers a shared responsibility if it doesn’t work out. As a leader you have an obligation to make a decision and go with it. If it turns out to be wrong you can always reverse it. Once your company grows, empower your leaders to make these decisions also, mistakes are usually cheaper than paralysis by analysis.

The book is an insightful, enjoyable and actionable read from a person who has done it all and is doing it all again.

The Benevolent Dictator is available in Amazon and all good book stores.

Disclosure: This book was gifted to me as a pre-launch copy, no affiliate links, no payment or requirement to review have been made.

Getting Irish Businesses Online

This morning Google announced a new project called “Getting Irish Businesses Online”. I was fortunate enough to be included in Googles case study as an example how Zatori has successfully mastered the e-commerce experience.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny popped over to Googleplex Dublin for the launch with two other ministers, which shows great support and intent for Irish businesses.
Getting Irish Businesses Online - Press launch

The atmosphere was refreshingly positive with a mix of fledgling entrepreneurs and industry experts, mingling alongside Googlers, politicians and the obligatory press and twitterati.

The initiative designed to get more business moving into the digital market place online and to start doing more business via online. Blacknight are offering free .ie, .eu or .com domains for a year, hosted and there is a basic website site creator tool available for those who want to get a quick online presence. I’ve been told it takes an average user with no experience in design about 20 mins to set a site up with the tool, which is impressive by any measurements.

Google Getting Businesses Online - Ronan O'BrienGoogles Get Business Online Project

Featured in the Photo’s (to the left) Ronan Harris, Director of Sales at Google Ireland and (below) Brendan Harris of Dillion Solicitors with myself.

Hopefully this initiative along with some talks arranged by the local enterprise boards will add a huge amount of new businesses to the online sector in Ireland. I’d strongly suggest for those that are in business with no online presence and could benefit from one that they should take advantage of the immense opportunity this program and hopefully with the power of Google behind the project you can learn from the best in the different fields of going online. I’m hoping to get involved with speaking at some of the events in the different regions and if possible I’ll try to make sure that they get put up online so that the most people possible can benefit.

In the mean time check out the site and what’s on offer.

Could Groupon Help Ireland Out of the Recession?

When businesses have too much supply or perishable products, they often turn to the likes of Groupon or Facebook deals to stimulate demand. The deal generally works on the basis that the customer can get an extreme deal, on something they would not otherwise be buying. The business pay Groupon / Face book a large chunk of the realisable amount so the business only generally gets about 25% of the regular selling price. Saying that Starbucks and other big firms have been able to use this model to stimulate demand and make money on the back end. So could we as a country do the same???

The answer is surprisingly yes in my opinion. So lets assume the country is a private company with a mission to create jobs and make profit – big stretch I know but bear with me. As a marketeer here’s how I’d structure the deal for maximum effect.

The Irish Gov own 25+% of former state airline Aerlingus and the Majority of our hotels have less than 50% occupancy due to the government incentives to create them. Now the Irish Government is effectively broke at the moment, so assuming it was a business with cashflow problems, part of the remit would be not to spend any cash. Impossible you may say? Not really, I’ve done it many times! The government has other assets it can barter with.

Remember the remit create jobs and bring money into the country. To incentivise the airlines and hotels to come into the scheme and give free seats and rooms – the government can barter PRSI credits which is a tax on jobs. In other words the airline and hotels can reduce their outgoing expenses in exchange for using a perishable good that would otherwise not be sold. So for no upfront costs they could get airline seats and places for the tourists to stay, these tourists then spend lots of money while in the country, called the back end potential. Which eventually makes its way to the government in VAT and income taxes. The tourist sector will need to hire more staff to cater and entertain the visitors to the country so more jobs are created. Hotel owners fill their rooms without any upfront investment either, sell the residents food and beverage; all while increasing staff numbers and decreasing PRSI costs.

The beauty of this model, is that is sustainable. Groupon and Facebook deals are geographical target-able. Every week they could target a town or state in a different country. We could turn them off for St. Patrick’s day when demand is high and ramp them up to all of the USA for the quiet January period.