Ciaran Vipond | Creating Memorable Marketing

Ciaran Vipond’s ecommerce shop sells a very specific type of item, within the already specific niche of jewelry. We already know that purchases like this are a need… not a want.

So, the product – and all the marketing – must appeal to emotions. For Ciaran’s product it’s nostalgia, pride, and a sense of belonging. By linking people to their past… their heritage… his company’s marketing helps people connect to their products in a very potent way.

The result is a target audience that feels more like a community than just a customer base. We talk about exactly how they do that, as well as… 

  • An email sequence that results in tremendous conversion rates
  • The biggest mistake he made in hiring
  • Why he’s concentrating on this marketing channel instead of Google or Facebook ads
  • The types of emails that build long-term customer relationships
  • And more invaluable tips regarding niche targeting to establish bonds with your customers that are sure to endure

Listen now…

Mentioned in this episode:

Episode Transcript:

Joris Bryon: Hey, this is Joris of the Ecommerce excellence podcast and today I’m really excited to talk to Ciaran Vipond. And Ciaran. he’s the CEO of My Irish Jeweler. That’s an Irish online store that sells, well, Irish jewelry. Mainly to US customers, actually. My Irish Jeweler initially started as a traditional bricks and mortar store back in the 60s, I believe. 

And I believe that was under the name of College House Jewelers. But I’m sure Ciaran will tell us all about it. He didn’t join them more than 10 years ago, and he helped them to take your business online and he turned it into a big success. Ciaran, welcome to the podcast. Really happy to have you here.

Ciaran Vipond: Thank you Joris. So delighted you invited me. And yeah, looking forward to our conversation.

Joris: Yeah, cool. So maybe just to start off, I’d love for you to tell everybody a bit more about your background, where you come from in your career so that people can understand a bit more about you. How did you get started in ecommerce? How did you get to this point?

How Ciaran Got Where He Is Today

Ciaran: Absolutely. Okay, so I was a freelance web designer in the year, well, the early 2000s. And I was looking for business. And I met a jeweler here in Dublin, Ireland, who was from a generation ahead of me. And I’d had run a couple of bricks and mortar jewelry stores in Dublin for decades, and had really successfully sold to the tourist community here in Dublin, and had kind of specialized in, you know, Irish themed jewelry. 

He also really loved doing mail order at the time. So he was kind of really ready to jump online. So he and I, you know, started working together set up a little website, you know, we had that relationship whereby he was the jeweler and I was his web designer. And a few years later, he kind of became frustrated with that relationship, because, you know, he thought that he couldn’t move the business forward the way he wanted to online. So at that point, you know, we got together and we settled My Irish Jeweler together. And we took it from there.

Joris: Cool. So you’re an Irish company and you mainly sell to s US audience. And then, yeah so that was, so I understand, already the idea from the beginning. So Peter, who started the business in the 60s, he already sold many to tourism markets in Dublin, right?

Ciaran: Yes, absolutely. You know, Peter inherited his jewelry business from his father. So it’s, you know, it’s really a family business here in Dublin. And, you know, and Peters’ got a very entrepreneurial spirit. And he saw a little gap in the market here in Dublin in terms of, you know, there wasn’t a shop in the city center here that was really catering to the needs of visitors to Dublin. And Peter settled various things with kind of tour operators and stuff like that, that would swing by his store. And other really kind of creative ways to pull that business in to him. And he also had some exclusive arrangement here with kind of local jewelry designers. And you know that’ll be sold through his store as well. So, yeah, so he kind of curated a really nice selection of Irish jewelry from local designers and presented them to that international audience that was coming in here to Dublin.

Joris: And this bricks and mortar store still exists?

Modernizing the Business

Ciaran: It doesn’t actually and Peter is that he retired from his bricks and mortar store. So at that point, we’ve been running by our studio for about four years. And Peter was ready then to kind of give up the day to day bricks and mortar. So we took a little office for My Irish Jeweler, and we grew it then every year, so we’re in a much larger office now. 

And we’ve now taken a step back towards our origins by opening a showroom here. So we do have members of the public come to the office by appointment. And you know, we invite them to do that on the website. And, you know, and we’re here for people to drop in to look. And yeah, so we’re taking a step back towards bricks and mortar. After.

Joris: Okay, and why is that? Is it to get more of a feeling with your target audience? Or?

Ciaran: Yes, so the showroom really does get our target audience. The confidence, you know, that even though we’re far away here, that we’re real people. That we’ve got a real kind of location and that we’re, you know, they can come and see us if they want. And many do. And so yeah, I think it adds a lot to our online presence to have a physical location that welcomes our customer base in to see us.

Joris: And was it already back, it’s a time when your bricks and mortar stores still existed alongside the online store. Did you feel it made a difference at that point? Having them? 

Ciaran: Well, yeah, I mean, at that point, I suppose, you know, things were a lot different. You know, that store closed in 2011. So, and it was kind of winding down for a couple of years before that. So, you know, I feel that 10 years ago, the landscape online was very different. And, you know, and seeing as, you know, the branding perhaps wasn’t as important back then, you know, as much as having the friendly customer service policies. 

And the, you know, the excellent kind of response rates, the email and, you know, all that having all that stuff in place, along with a kind of a well-curated selection of products was probably an awesome 2009/2010. And I think, you know, if it were today, I wouldn’t be closing that brick and mortar, down because I would see it as a really kind of valuable part of the, you know, the brand.

Joris: Yeah, and I can imagine because you had direct contact with your target audience that you learn a lot about the way they look for jewelry, as well, and what they find important or whatnot, and what kind of questions they have. And you can feed that back into your online store, right?

Ciaran: Absolutely. And, you know, a large part of the value kind of we had as a business has been Peters decades of experience in doing that. You know, like he has heard every question under the sun. And so he has that kind of, he brings that knowledge to the business. So, I would agree with you that if we did you know, if we didn’t have that kind of residual knowledge in house, you know, getting it every day from your customers And even though we do you know, it would be very kind of beneficial to get that daily feedback.

Joris: Yeah, that’s really what I like about your site as well, as you see Peter a lot on the site. And I think it’s important because it gives a very personal touch to it. And I think a lot of people might have some hesitations while buying jewelry, but just seeing a friendly face. Because Peter is a friendly face on the other side. 

It makes it very personal and very approachable. I think that’s a really good moving, it’s probably some leftovers from the bricks and mortar approach. Or, well the origins of My Irish Jeweler. And then in your marketing, you focus a lot on the Irish heritage, right? Especially in your content, marketing, or emails. And can you tell us a bit more about that?

Ciaran: Yes, of course, well, for anybody who isn’t Irish themselves, that, you know, a brief rundown of this is that we’re an island with only four and a half million people, you know, like 60 million people around the world call themselves Irish. So, you know, there’s do the math. There’s about 10 to 12 times as many people around the world that call themselves Irish of comparison, people live on the island. So you know, a large part of that is the huge Irish American community. 

And these are people who strongly identify with their parents, grandparents, and great grandparents who emigrated from Ireland. And many of them would have done so during our Irish famine in the 19th century. And so, you know, there’s a strong current nostalgia in America towards Ireland. And, you know, what we want to do is to tell Irish stories, and to help people feel connected to Ireland. 

Because you know, that brings a lot of value to people’s lives. And, you know, that’s what we’re trying to do throughout all of our communication. And, you know, because our personal tastes would not need to be so kind of cliched or, you know, we like to avoid stereotypes. We like to try and give a flavor of what Ireland really is today, as well as its history. So, yeah, we feel we’re doing a good job in that.

Joris: Yeah, absolutely. And do you see the results? I mean, for instance, if you look at your email marketing, you get emails, there’s a good mix between, or a healthy mix between, like, the promotional emails and the content emails. I can imagine those content emails, probably convert less, but in the end, it evens out and it keeps people engaged. Good. Yeah. Do you have any experiences down the, do you see any impact of having that mix between content and promotion?

Ciaran: Absolutely. And, you know, we have a member of our team here, who spent a lot of time researching and writing our content emails. And, you know, what we’re trying to do is differentiate ourselves. We’re trying to provide value to our community. We’re not trying to sell, sell, sell, you know, some of our competitors do that. Like we’re on their email lists of course, and, you know, and we want to avoid that kind of hard-sell approach. We believe that that’s the way to kind of grow a community long term. And, you know, we do have excellent engagement rates. 

Excellent open rates, great click-through rate. And, you know, we are kind of routinely surprised by what emails. We send out just a weekly kind of content email along these lines. And it’s always surprising when the sales that you get through them. And in some cases, you know, we get sales from every email we send out. And in some cases, you know, a long-form content email without kind of you know, massive calls to action and different, you know, a long-form content email will outperform our, you know, kind of standard offer email. 

You know, certainly in terms of click throughs and engagement with the email itself. But then also in sales. And a lot of times, you know, you have to remind yourself that your email landing in somebody’s inbox, you know, it’s just reminding them of your brand. And if they’re associating positive things with it, you know, they are looking forward to receiving that email because they’re getting some value from it. You know, you can kind of remember that birthday that’s coming up or whatever, and they click through, and they make a purchase on our site.

Joris: I really love that approach. Because we as digital marketers, we sometimes are too focused on sell, sell, sell. And I, what really strikes me here is, you say, like, okay, they have to look forward to my emails. And I think if you only send promotional emails, at some point they’re gonna get bored of you and like, Okay,  I’m not buying any way right now. But if you send out content emails and just stay in your inbox and give them a reason not to unsubscribe, then in the long run, yeah, that definitely pays off. 

I remember, like, one of the emails that you send was about how would you say Happy Father’s Day in Irish. And that’s, I mean, obviously it’s not going to convert right away, but it’s just a nice touch. And it connects with your audience. So yeah, I think you guys did a really good job on that. And it’s an approach that you don’t hear that often. Usually, we all go for the sell, but at the end of the day, it’s people. 

You want to engage them and respect their inbox as well. Because if you do too much of the promotions, they’re going to unsubscribe at some point anyway, because they feel it’s not relevant to them at that point, but if you send the content, emails that they can enjoy, it’s still relevant. It always is. When Yeah, especially people who are nostalgic about their Irish heritage. So cool.

Targeting Your Niche

Ciaran: Certainly, you know, works extremely well, in our nice, because we have that, you know, we’re helping them identify with a part of themselves. And with also, you know, work extremely well, and kind of interest related, any interest related niche. But I’ve seen people do amazing things with storytelling and email in things like, you know, the pet food space and stuff like that, you know, so anybody can do this. You know, but by finding an angle, excuse me, and just gently injecting the personality into it. 

And I think, you know, the key thing for kind of a small brand, like us is to kind of use every opportunity to be memorable. And for me, you know, you’re not memorable if you’re just sending I discount and an offer, because, you know, we all get dozens of those in our email every day. And yeah, there is a look at it depends what your strategy is as well, of course. And kind of long term, if you want to, you know, cycle through customers, and, you know, at a fast pace. 

You can acquire them easily and you have a product that anyone will buy, you know, and offers, and everything is great. But for us, you know, our product is niche-focused. If we, you know, we don’t have a product that everybody in the world will buy. So we have to kind of, we have to nurture our audience, you know? And we have to retain them. So that’s why we take the approach we do.

Joris: Yeah, right. You have like a fixed balance between promotional emails and content, emails? Or is it something you evaluate along the way? Or do you select one promotional email for every two content emails? Or the other way around? How does it go?

Ciaran: Yeah, yeah. I would say, you know, if anything, we’re skewed kind of too heavily towards content. You know, it’s just that the team that we have here, kind of feel so strongly that this is the right way to go with us. We all we don’t really have a kind of up to this point. We don’t have like a professional marketer in house who maybe would be, you know, tempted to kind of use those tactics more often. 

Yeah, I feel like, at the moment, our ratio would probably be, you know, on the kind of offer based email to every four or five content. And, you know, and I feel we could make a few more offer based ones that it wouldn’t hurt us. But, uh, but yeah, we definitely been much happier towards the content. 

Joris: Okay. Yeah, just about growing and ecommerce in general, what do you believe are like the keys to grow an ecommerce business in today’s environment?

Ciaran: And yeah, so for me, it’s all about nurturing your brand. You know, if you are lucky enough to make your own product, then that’s wonderful. And you can bring it directly to the consumer. And, you know, if you’re not, then you have to add a lot of value. And you do that through telling a great story to your audience that they can identify with. And you do it also through, great, you know, the best media production. 

So, you know, your photography has to be better than the competition. Your copy has to be better, and every aspect of your communication. And so yeah, so if I were to pick for starting from nowhere at the moment, then I would pick a business that made its own product, and I can tell a great. You know, those, if you’ve got those two things in your arsenal, then everything else is just tactics after that.

Joris: Yeah. Okay. Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. When you look back at all the marketing you’ve done over the years, is there anything that comes to mind that has worked exceptionally well for you?

Email Is Evergreen

Ciaran: Let me see, within marketing. You know, it really is the email is the thing that’s written a lot are driving a lot of our growth over the last couple of years. And, you know, I would particularly, not only these campaigns, you know, they would be 50% of that success, but also kind of email flows. So, we use Klaviyo which of your listeners may be familiar with. And, you know, that really helps us to build out some email sequences, which, you know, once you set them up, set them and forget them for a while at least. 

They, you know, so for example, we have a nice promo on our website, where we send out a free ring sizer. It’s a reliable plastic ring sizer that we will send out to anyone on our site. And, you know, we have an email theories connected with that, which, you know, over the course of while they’re waiting for their ring sizer we’ll send them a couple of emails, both our statistics on average ring sizes and then we’ll check in with them via email flow after week. If they’ve received ring sizer, and you know, we get terrific conversion rates from those emails. 

So yeah, that would be the best kind of marketing success we’ve had so far would be through that. And we actually still have a long way to go to optimize that even further. And it’s definitely, that one is also you know, something you own yourself as well, you know, once you pay your Klaviyo fee each month, you know, which are based on how many subscribers you have, then, you know, you can send as many emails as you want. 

And you’re, you know, those emails are yours. You know, so, whereas if you’re talking about Facebook, or Google Ads or any other platform. And obviously, we’re all susceptible to kind of changes in there. How they evaluate things, and what they want to charge us. So I think that emails have been superb. I haven’t kind of gone into any Facebook Messenger or an ebox or anything like that yet. And something to explore in the future will need to keep up with.

Joris: Yeah, absolutely. But I think email is evergreen, right? It is, as you said, you don’t depend on platforms like Facebook or Google who change their algorithms all the time. And who can actually put you out of business, if you rely too heavily on just one of those platforms, and all of a sudden, an algorithm hits you. And yeah, it’s gone. And email is just, yeah, I know, especially for ecommerce. And it’s just we see proper clients. It’s just one of the main drivers of revenue, and especially when you make use of a platform like Libya, which is absolutely awesome for that. But yeah, I just wanted to touch upon the three ring size that you mentioned. 

I absolutely love that idea. Because, I mean, there’s a lot of lead magnets or ways to capture email addresses. And a lot of ecommerce sites, and you just land on them. And they already throw a 10% discount at you. And oftentimes, and that is a little bit off one. That’s also because I’m looking at it from a conversion optimization point of view as well. But you just land on the site, you don’t even know yet what they’re selling. 

And they’re already offering you a 10% discount. And usually, I just clicked them away, because I’m like, I don’t even know what you’re selling it I don’t want the discount. And you’re already giving away some of your profit. But what you do with the ring sizer is a great way to capture email addresses. But at the same time you solve one of what I can imagine is one of the main problems that someone has when they have to pick a ring online, is it going to fit or not? And you solve that problem. 

And you send them to ring sizer. And it’s actually I’ve done it myself. I’ve received the ring size or with a nice booklet. It was super fast as well. Namely, a really good email flow afterward. And I think it’s it’s a, yeah, one of the best lead magnets I’ve ever seen. So hats off to you for that. So um, it Yeah, maybe if you would start over again, is there anything you would do differently?

Ciaran: Yeah, I can only really go back to that question of whether closing the store was the correct thing to do. And yeah, if I was to start over again, with this business, you know, in this day and age, I would see the value in that and probably keep it open. And that’s the first thing that comes to mind. 

Joris: Yeah, that makes sense. Somewhat related to that, although it’s not exactly the same question. But what’s like, the biggest mistake you made?

Biggest Mistake During the Growth of My Irish Jeweler

Ciaran: The biggest mistake I made was hiring somebody before we were ready. Now, I suppose, you know, we’re still a small team here. We’ve been growing over the last couple of years, and we plan on doing some hiring in the next year or two. So yeah, our first attempt to hire here was just when it was myself and Peter on our own. And we attempted to hire a marketing person at that time. And what I tried to do was to hire somebody who could do it all. And that was very misguided. 

And I’ve kind of since learned that, you know, I was looking for a unicorn. And we certainly didn’t have the position to pay for a unicorn at that point, either. And so yeah, I made several mistakes during that process. I, first of all, in believing that I could get somebody to do all of that after all I did to start a business. And then secondly, and, you know, we actually did kind of go a long way towards hiring somebody for the wrong reasons, which was, you know, based on the kind of availability and, and salary and stuff like that, you know? 

Yeah. So, yeah, that would be the biggest mistake I made. And that was about six or seven years ago, and, you know, made sure to learn from basket and kind of bring it forward into our hiring practices and try to think a bit more clearly about, first of all, what role we want somebody to fill when they enter business? And, you know, approach the hiring process in a more holistic way. So, yeah, bad hire was the biggest mistake I made.

Joris: Yeah. And I think it’s a very common one. I think most people have made a bad hire at some point in their career. So maybe the last question is, if there was like, one piece of advice you’d have to give to people who want to grow your ecommerce, what would it be?

Ciaran: Yeah, one piece of advice would be to double down in your email. And there’s you know, there’s huge value to be had from it. So if you don’t want to do it yourself, then I would hire somebody specifically for that role if you have the resources and or at least make it an important project but you’re going to outsource and focus on building more. Think of as many scenarios on your website that could trigger email sequences that could be educational for your visitors. And you know, for me, that’s it. That’s if you’re not doing that already, then get going.

Joris: Yeah, that’s actually excellent advice. Thank you Ciaran. This has been absolutely great and we could probably go on for a few more hours but we’re running out of time and just want to make sure that people know how they can find you and learn more about you. What’s the best place for people to connect with you?

Ciaran: Sure, well you know coming to our website at myirishjeweler.com  And if you want to contact me personally, I’m on LinkedIn at Ciaran Vipond. And yeah, I welcome any contact or correspondence. Just get in touch. And yeah, that’s how they find me Joris.


Joris: Okay, perfect. Thank you so much for being here. It’s been absolutely great.

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