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Changing consumer and working habits create opportunities for Irish marketers

National Retail Federation’s annual symposium marked by 40,000 attendees while 1,000 exhibitors ponder future of shopping

Chronic uncertainty, reckless leaders, a post-truth society and inward individualism are driving a new reality that Irish producers of food and drink need to recognise and address if they are to maximise brand potential and stay competitive, a specialist in trends and insight has said.

Addressing a Marketing Society talk on harnessing signals for change, Bord Bia’s Grace Binchy referred to how Irish people now accept the need to rely on their own intuition and trusted sources in distilling misinformation. Inward individualism is seeing the abandonment of mainstream and generic choices for new, personalised identities.

Binchy referred to how trends come and go, highlighting the need for marketers to pinpoint where businesses ought to concentrate their efforts. Irish consumers were now changing their behaviour by focusing more on themselves. They strive to live better, simpler lives while at the same time pushing on and progressing, seeking joy in the gloom.

When Covid-19 ended, people put a premium on live events and shared cultural experiences. A study by SeatPick ticket seller in the UK showed that one in three Britons were willing to dip into their rent money to pay for tickets to a live event. People continue to shake off the social rust of the pandemic. The vaunted success of Taylor Swift’s Eras tour highlights the importance of live shows as shared moments.


Binchy leads the Cultivate platform at Bord Bia’s Thinking House. The programme is built on several components: from seed, feed to thrive; its purpose is to help Irish food and drink producers keep up to speed on trends and allows them harness signals for change by spotting behaviours as a route to brand innovation.

The former Publicis planner touched on how this year’s Cultivate surfaced 40 behavioural trends that represent current and future opportunities. They can be categorised into seven innovation pathways spread across three themes: something to believe in, the focus on me and control in the chaos.

Retail strategist and owner of Think Plan Do consulting Sharon Yourell Lawlor explained how in a world where change was the only constant, the retail narrative was being rewritten. Lawlor said that physical retail adapted by using digital and sustainability tools. At the heart of the transformation was the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) annual symposium.

The NRF gathering sees 40,000 attendees and 1,000 exhibitors converge to try to decode the future direction of shopping. Lawlor said that the event serves as a compass, pointing out how to harness signals for change. As consumers evolve, so do their expectations, leaving many to ponder the fate of physical retail.

Far from fading into obscurity, physical stores must reassert their relevance by adopting practical updates. Consumers are digitally savvy, sustainability conscious, intolerant of inefficiency, and on a tireless quest for inspiration. Today’s shopper profile demands a response from retailers which relies on a series of interwoven trends.

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First, consumers want connected journeys integrating online and offline experiences. They seek storytelling with narratives that capture and engage. Shoppers and retail staff must be empowered with the right knowledge and tools. Informed retailers will leverage precise and personalised data.

The shopper profile list covers new experiences, where buying goods is an immersive adventure. Consumer demands around ethics and sustainability must be addressed. One of the most challenging responses would be a new start in customer loyalty. Lawlor sees the need to reinvent rewards for deeper connections.

Lawlor said the future of retail is not on the horizon; it has arrived. It’s where retail is unified and insightful, driven by data and tailored more to addressing individual needs — an era where automation and efficiency are championed, with results that benefit retailers and shoppers.

To thrive in this landscape, one must know where to look. Research studies have shown that consumers will still want to experience quality: to touch, feel, learn about and engage with craftsmanship. They may not buy in-store on the day, but the retail space they visit will encourage them to consider the brand, wherever they purchase.

Úna Herlihy, Indie List co-founder, a collective of marketing and advertising freelancers, said digitalisation and the pandemic reshaped traditional employment, opening a door to a new way of hiring. Freelancers enjoy autonomy, allowing them choices around work-life balance. For clients, it was a chance to embrace change as a strategic advantage by harnessing a new pool of self-employed talent.

Gone are the days of lifetime loyalty to a single employer, said Herlihy. The old-style full-time, nine-to-five job no longer holds the same allure. Covid-19 was a catalyst, prompting people in adland to reassess their priorities and redefine success, coining terms like “the great return”, “loud lay-offs” and “quiet quitting”.

The talent pool extends from AI specialists to UX/UI designers. Ireland’s marketing and advertising services sector now employs about 18,000 people. About 8,000 of these work in client-side marketing and brand management roles. The remaining 10,000 include 3,800 agency staff, spanning creative, digital, design, PR, and event agencies, along with about 6,000 freelancers and independent marketing consultants.

For Irish marketing, the shift presents challenges and opportunities. Freelancers offer creative breakthroughs, nonetheless, their integration demands thoughtful strategies and supportive policies. The role freelancers now have in adland is not just as a stopgap to fill in for someone while on leave but is a step forward in helping live and work on one’s terms.