Brands to watchTrans Tasman

Australian social enterprise Thankyou Group to launch in NZ
Australian social enterprise Thankyou Group to launch in NZ

First published in New Zealand Herald 3 March 2016

Australian social enterprise Thankyou Group is coming to New Zealand and if it pans out the way it has in Australia, FMCG brands have reason to feel apprehensive.

Founded in 2008 by a then 19-year old Daniel Flynn and his friends Justine Flynn (now his wife) and Jarryd Burns, the Thankyou Water they first launched seemed a perplexingly unnecessary product that was going to disappear in amongst the many other bottled waters in the market.

Instead, Thankyou Water proved to be the cause and metaphor that young, socially engaged consumers were looking for.

New bottled water in a market flooded with bottled water (where tap water is 100% safe to drink) for the sole purpose of funding safe water projects in developing nations.

Positioned as David versus Goliath in the brand and supermarket wars, Thankyou Water tapped into a social media generation, created a social storm and won distribution through perseverance; firstly through the Australian 7-Eleven network, then Australia Post and eventually the major supermarkets.

They might have been young when they launched the business, and they’re still only in their mid-20s, but this is no wishy washy Not-for-Profit hoping y’all reach deep into your pockets for some loose change.

Thankyou Group is a skilled operation that develops highly desirable products that customers want.

Today, that includes 34 products in categories as diverse as body care, food and water.

In fact, Flynn tells me that according to Coles’ data the Thankyou hand wash is both number 1 and 2 in its category.

Highly impressive stuff given the multinationals they’re up against.

It also explains why Coles and Woolworths continue to support the brand’s ever-expanding product ranges. They sell, and they sell in vast quantities.

The enterprise has always maintained that 100 per cent of profits are distributed to local and global charitable endeavours. As it’s a private company, turnover is not publicly known but to date AU$3.7 million profit has been raised for causes, with AU$1.5 million last year alone.

Thankyou Group has also proved to have an incredibly elastic brand and is ready for the next step.

As the extremely charismatic Daniel Flynn announced to a rather swanky cocktail soiree of over 800 supporters on Friday, that step involves two things: expansion to New Zealand, and taking on the big guns of the baby industry with the launch of Thankyou Baby, starting with nappies.

Flynn estimates a combined $1.2 million is needed to launch the new projects, and Friday’s event kicked off a crowd-funding campaign that has so far raised $420,000.

So what will New Zealand make of the brand when Thankyou enters the market?

Will it resonate with Kiwis the same way it has with Australia? I’m predicting yes.

Over the last year, Flynn and his team have been travelling to New Zealand and meeting with prospective partners to understand whether the business model can work over the Tasman. They’ve engaged a former Unilever executive and New Zealander to develop the local market, and engaged Masterchef Brett Macgregor as ‘Chief Taster’. They’re working on local products sourced from Kiwi ingredients and companies, and will be raising funds for both local New Zealand and international charities.

But first, they need the people to get behind the cause once more and make it all possible.

Find out more here.

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Questionable marketingTrans Tasman

Bunnings Jack-of-all-trades; Masters master of none
Bunnings Jack-of-all-trades; Masters master of none

First published in New Zealand Herald  5 February 2016

The demise of Woolworths’ Australian hardware experiment, Masters, is not going to devastate too many customers because not too many customers ever went to Masters.

Take me (as a sample size of one). I love DIY and I’m the hardware buyer in our family. Every weekend I feel a project coming on and so I jump in the car and – head to Bunnings. We all do. In fact the only person I know who ever goes to Masters is my father, mostly when he’s with my 5-year old son and pretty much for the racing car shopping trolleys.

Masters truly failed to deliver anything new and spectacularly so – $700 million in losses since its 2011 launch.

That’s not to say that Bunnings is an infallible brand.

What it doesn’t offer is locations everyone knows off by heart, the ridiculous power that being largely competitor-free has afforded Bunnings for all these years and the many years of marketing that drilled that name into our head. And that eponymous strapline: Lowest prices are just the beginning.

Almost twenty years since leaving New Zealand and I still sing the song whenever I see that red Kiwi icon; The Warehouse. Bunnings is our Warehouse, supersized.

It is our loss that we didn’t have more reason to support Masters and it’s disappointing that the combined retail experience of Woolworths and Lowe’s couldn’t create something better.

I can’t tell you how many times I slowed the car down and almost turned my indicator on to go into the Masters car park. Instead I drove on thinking, what’s the point, I’ll just go to Bunnings which is a few minutes away, has the same stuff and I know it inside out. And I know they kept saying it was targeted at women but how that was ever communicated is something else I couldn’t tell you.

I also wish I could offer that golden suggestion on how they could have done it differently; I just don’t have that insight into the workings of the hardware industry. Problem is, neither did Woolworths when they entered the hardware race.

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Brands to watch

The Good Beer Co. brews for a good cause
The Good Beer Co. brews for a good cause

First published in New Zealand Herald  20 January 2016

Most of us start the New Year with grand resolutions, but not too many of those ambitions see the light of day.

James Grugeon, formerly part of the team that launched Powershop into Australia, has kicked off the year with the launch of a social movement around craft beer, The Good Beer Co. He’s winning a lot of support in Australia and soon-to-be New Zealand with the concept.

In a nutshell, The Good Beer Co. picks a cause, names and creates a boutique beer after it.

Supporters like us donate funds to brew and launch the beer, including a crowd-funded and a corporate donor element.

Once the dollar target is reached the beer is brewed and we receive our 6-pack or whatever else comes with our level of support. Meanwhile, the cause receives at least 50 per cent of the money raised.

Regardless how you may feel about it, these days we all want something in return for our charitable gestures. It might be evidence of how our money helps, or a bit of kitsch merchandise we receive in return. Instead of calendars and badges, Grugeon is giving us beer.

With so many charities out there (obscure, corporate-like or those that should never see the light of day) we can surely all agree that volunteers with clipboards knocking on our door asking for money, really isn’t viable.

Grugeon gave up his job for this venture, with his wife bankrolling the business as principal breadwinner right now. He’s based the organisation in Brisbane, partnering with local craft breweries to create the product. Eventually he hopes to set up a dedicated brewery, as inspired by the work of US and UK ventures Finnegans and Two Fingers Brewing. Both brewers have encouraged and advised James, going as far as to share business plans with him.

The first beer due to launch in March is the Great Barrier Beer, supporting its namesake Australian reef. Crowd-funding for the inaugural product closed last week with over AU$36,000 raised.

Grugeon says the reception has been encouraging, with supporters lobbying local pubs and bars to stock the beer, and the bars equally enthusiastic knowing there’s a customer-following for the product.

More importantly, the venture has the support of its initial charitable partner – the Australian Marine Conservation Society, for whom backing a beer wasn’t a decision without some risk. After all, supporting the sale of alcohol in the name of a charity isn’t exactly selling T-shirts and posters. But Grugeon hopes the risk pays off and that this model and product becomes a legitimate, successful and profitable one.

Having worked with a New Zealand brand as Head of Strategic Partnerships of Powershop Australia (where we first met) Grugeon is keen to capitalise on the Kiwi interest in the business. It’s definitely a concept that would appeal to New Zealand brewers, Kiwi causes and drinkers, and Grugeon plans to spend more time in New Zealand working on local partnerships.

Meanwhile, this March all craft beer connoisseurs have just that little bit more reason to feel good about the Great Barrier Beer, knowing it’s all for a good cause.

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Questionable marketing

Frozen berries unsavoury crises
Frozen berries unsavoury crises

First published in New Zealand Herald  10 December 2015 

Australian business Patties Foods sells its embattled frozen berries business just as New Zealand brand Fruzio pulls its frozen berry range off shelves in its own Hepatitis A scare.

According to the FSL Foods website this is a voluntary recall with no definite link as yet, but a precautionary measure on berries sourced from the same Chinese provinces as Nanna’s.

That Australian crisis saw more than 30 people infected with an identical genetic strain of the Hepatitis A Virus and “very strong evidence” by the Department of Health linking it back to Nanna’s berries. Patties media releases claimed to have found no link between the outbreak and their brand. However, the heavy toll of the crisis wiped A$14.6 million of net profit from the business, despite overall growth in revenue when combined with Patties’ savoury business.

I guess they decided it was simpler to cut off the diseased part of the business and focus on the untainted bits.

A good choice.

Patties could spend years and millions of dollars turning the story around and rebuilding trust with customers. Or they could exit fast, lose a chunk of revenue but invest in other brands they own and build those up instead.

In a way, if history is anything to go by Nanna’s would eventually have recovered. All you have to do is look at other, far worse brand crises of the past to see that we’ve become surprisingly ambivalent about them.

Think BP’s colossal 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, one of the world’s worst and one they were fined a whopping US$18.7 billion.

Are you boycotting BP? How about just last month and Volkswagen – are you surprised to learn that Australian sales figures have rebounded and in fact now increased by 11 per cent on last year?

I don’t know what it is about us as consumers. We’re a confusing lot. Maybe it’s just easier to block out the big stuff than it is the little things. We all know electric cars are better for the planet, but we’re not buying those in any great hurry. Yet my knee-jerk reaction to Nanna’s, followed up by this ‘two strikes’ Fruzio news is that I’ll just skip the frozen berries on the shelves thanks.

As far as I’m aware the Fruzio brand isn’t sold in Australia and the first I heard of it was in the New Zealand papers surrounding the product recall. But if this made the Aussie news, talkback radio would be running wild with fiery opinions.

The hot buttons in Australian food news are country of origin labeling and food imports from places with far more lax regulations than our own. Current crisis or not, it’s pretty clear that a lot of our food isn’t what nana used to make.

Which leads me nicely back to Nanna’s. The brand granny of the frozen berry world will soon reemerge under new ownership, but I’d say she’s likely to have had a little cosmetic work done. A little nip here in the brand name. A little tuck there in the packaging. And all will be forgotten and forgiven – until the next crises.

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Marketing & Brand StrategyNew Zealand Companies in AustraliaTrans Tasman

Foodie phenomena – the end or just the beginning?
Foodie phenomena – the end or just the beginning?

First published in New Zealand Herald  25 November 2015 

An article in last week’s New Zealand Herald referred to an agri-business think tank organised by KPMG and one suggestion to Kiwi farmers to become foodies.

I haven’t yet read the Agribusiness Agenda 2015 that brings the words of these emerging leaders together, but if the comments in the article are anything to go by it’s going to be a great read.

The foodie phenomenon is far from over. Not in the celebrity chef sense, but in our genuine interest in the provenance of our food.

Both New Zealand and Australia continue to be in a great position to export our food to the rest of the world and the advice for New Zealand farmers to deliver to higher consumer expectations, with greater transparency and business acumen, is sound advice.

In Australia right now, it’s the food festival season.

The Age Good Food month in Melbourne, Margaret River Gourmet Escape in Western Australia and the Taste Festivals, a successful franchise established in London in 2004 and now in over 17 countries, including New Zealand.

It’s extraordinary just how many people each of these festivals attracts. Food is simply huge.

Taste of Melbourne had close to 24,000 attendees and I read that the Auckland counterpart more than 20,000.

My involvement in this year’s Taste of Melbourne was professional, working with the Audi brand that was one of the festival sponsors, with a strong connection to food and many of the top Australian chefs as brand ambassadors.

But it was also my first time there as a punter, and the kids and I spent a small fortune sampling the many foods on offer and just soaking up the atmosphere.

With a $30 general admission price, tasting plates from many of Melbourne’s well-known restaurants, and food & wine brands serving from around $10 a pop (all niftily paid for with a preloaded, forget-how-much-you-spend points card) – the Taste festival has certainly positioned itself at the premium end of town.

That’s not to say it wasn’t good. It was a lot of fun. The sun was out, Melbournians came out in droves. We ate, drank and spent a lot of money.

There’s usually a New Zealand brand or two, on hand at these types of festivals and events. And I had a good chat to the team from Pic’s Peanut Butter whose progress I’ve followed over the last few years.

It’s always good to see a Kiwi brand represented in Australia and this Taste crowd is an interesting one. Certainly not afraid to spend some serious cash, so the opportunity to reach them is a good one for a boutique food or drink brand.

Australian trade shows and festivals can be hit and miss for New Zealand exporters.

I’ll certainly be interviewing Pic’s team in the next few months to find out whether Taste was worth their while and to learn more about their business development in Australia, which I sense is going to be huge.

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Marketing & Brand StrategyUncategorized

John Lewis Christmas long running narratives
John Lewis Christmas long running narratives

First published in New Zealand Herald  11 November 2015 

The John Lewis Christmas television ad has just come out in the UK.

Every year, the English department store creates a much-talked about advertisement and rings in the upcoming retail season with its iconic commercial.

Last year the ad starred Monty the Penguin and the penguin featured throughout the store and throughout the brand’s marketing. This year the ad, Man on the Moon, tells the story of a lonely, elderly man stuck on the moon and a little girl who spots him through her telescope. The connection to John Lewis’ product might be miniscule, but the sentiment is timely and topical.

Not many companies can keep a narrative going over a number of years and turn it into something people look forward to.

Staff come and go, new staff feel they have something to prove by starting from scratch, different agencies pitch for the creative business – temptation to dump one positioning for another is always strong.

While there are many reasons marketing narratives, iconic straplines and recognisable codes get dumped, something rather special happens when a brand sticks to its unique “thing” and builds on it.
In Australia, the Myer Christmas windows are one of the redeeming features of an otherwise lackluster retail experience. Cadbury limits the release of its Creme Eggs to a few short months, and has its annual Easter egg hunt. Gorman has found its magical formula in limited edition collaborations with artists. However, the list of great Australian brands that create an experience people look forward to is not one that rolls off the tongue.

It’s unfortunate that more brands don’t create unique experiences for themselves, because so much marketing right now is formulaic and far from unique.

It’s challenging and requires guts to do something different (and often counter intuitive). For example, when – on the back of the success of those Creme Eggs – Cadbury decided to sell them all year round, sales dropped.

We’re all vying for the same customers, in the same industries and pretty much selling the same products or services as our competitors, then we’re using the same channels to reach them. Now, in such a global marketplace, we’re likely sourcing from the same suppliers too.

If you look into a product category or industry and review what others in that brand are doing; if you remove a logo or company name from an ad or a catalogue; a sign from a storefront – you’d be hard pressed to distinguish the company it belongs to.

Seemingly risky though it may feel, creating product scarcity, limiting sales activity or putting money into a handful (or even a single) owned activity just feels like the right thing to do now.

That’s not to say kill everything and focus on one thing only. It just means identify what that magical something is for your brand and put some effort and budget into bringing it to life. Find it, own it – and don’t overdo it.

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BrandingMarketing and CommunicationsQuestionable marketingTrans Tasman

Loyalty programmes cry out for disruption
Loyalty programmes cry out for disruption

First published in New Zealand Herald  28 october 2015 

Woolworths supermarket in Australia is introducing a new loyalty programme.

The appropriately named Woolworths Rewards offers immediate money off shopping rather than point collection and redemption over many months. This is in response to what has been called “points fatigue” – and I totally get it.

So few loyalty programmes are of any genuine value to customers, yet every company contemplates them at one time or another.

They make us feel good as marketers to introduce, but unless they are super simple – like when your local café gives you that fifth coffee free, the administration quickly kills the best intentions.

Unfortunately most of them are overly complicated and the benefits marginal compared with what we spend to take part.

I won’t even bother trying to calculate what I spend to earn enough points to get a return ticket from Melbourne to the Gold Coast. I wouldn’t be surprised that my $300 flight cost me closer to $30,000.

However, of all the loyalty schemes out there air points remains popular, mostly because our credit card company’s partnership with air points makes it a no-brainer to opt in. Just don’t look at the other prizes they offer for redemption. I looked once and am pretty sure a toaster cost me several thousand dollars in expenditure.

Loyalty schemes feel like a concept ripe for disruption. Or maybe they just need to be parked for a while. I’m on the fence on this one, but definitely over having a wallet jam-packed with plastic cards. As I think many of us are.

I’m also wary of all that data my little plastic card collects on my purchases and how it’s used to market back at me. I don’t feel either Coles or Woolworths warrant my loyalty, and half the time I can’t remember which programme belongs to which supermarket: Flybuys, Everyday Rewards. All the same to me.

I don’t feel either Coles or Woolworths warrant my loyalty, and half the time I can’t remember which programme belongs to which supermarket: Flybuys, Everyday Rewards.
I think more and more of us are looking for the simplest and most honest solutions. In the supermarket world that’s why Aldi continues its Australian domination – no loyalty card necessary, just cheap prices.

Loyalty is such an overused word these days. I feel like we’re all a bit over it.

The irony of it is that a brand’s best customers tend to be the ones that need least incentive to purchase. Loyalists intend to buy from your already and can be rewarded without dropping prices. For example, offering exclusive access to new products, limited ranges, first to preview items and so on.

So if you’re contemplating loyalty schemes for your own business, thinking you’re missing out on all that purchase data from the plastic card, or administering an increasingly complicated and cumbersome scheme with little gain back – don’t be afraid to kill it and go back to basics. You don’t need to collect points, just give your customer something tangible. Maybe buy them a coffee.

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New Zealand Companies in AustraliaTrans Tasman

Does Manuka Honey need rebranding?
Does Manuka Honey need rebranding?

First published in New Zealand Herald 15 October 2015 

Cornish Pasties, Cheddar cheese and – Manuka Honey? News that Manuka Honey producers are seeking to trademark the name is no surprise given that the manuka brand has been a victim of its own success over the years.

It has been copied, its unique positioning misappropriated by lesser rivals, and more recently Manuka Honey has been discredited for the very reason it created such repute in the first place: does it actually do more than regular honey or is it all just placebo effect and great branding?

Whether you believe in the authenticity of its magical medicinal benefits, Manuka Honey is very much a brand, having crafted a great story over the years and gained extraordinary awareness in numerous international markets, including of course Australia.

Should this trademark petition be approved, manuka producers who are permitted to put that name on their jars, stand to make rather a lot of money.

Scarcity is a great marketing tool for the very obvious reason of its, well, scarcity compared with demand.

Anything bearing the name Manuka Honey commands a significant premium over regular product.

In Australia, it’s not unusual to pay $100 or more for a 500g jar.

But goodness me it’s confusing as a customer to know what’s real and what isn’t. The labeling has its own language and the cheap knockoffs in supermarkets put in a good effort to replicate the UMF ratings with their own meaningless accreditations. The end result is total customer bewilderment.

Unfortunately, as with a2 milk, there’s a real challenge ahead in proving outright health benefits through independent research. There will always be a grey zone of uncertainty.

From what I can see, there’s little peer review research for Manuka Honey’s antibacterial qualities over other honey. The only real comments I can find from medical practitioners say all honey is pretty good for your wounds, even if it doesn’t come from the manuka tree flowers. (To make things even more confusing, I’ve now learnt there’s something called Kanuka, which shares many qualities with its more prestige cousin and cannot always be differentiated in labs.)

So the industry need not worry too much yet about skeptics purchasing less product. With massive markets like China demanding good food from what it perceives to be clean and green countries, like New Zealand and Australia, potential is not yet fully realised.

If anything, news of the trademark request will generate some press (and it has) and remind us all to question products we buy and what the labels actually mean. It may even bring some protection on paper to this New Zealand originated product.

And we may see more and more of these types of cases over the years. As manufacturing continues to go global, not only companies but entire regions will seek to protect the very products that distinguish them in an increasingly indistinguishable business world.

I for one, will not mind paying a premium for authentic quality products. As long as those businesses don’t confuse me but show me something unarguably, genuinely, good.

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New Zealand Companies in AustraliaTrans Tasman

Retailers should be more like Liberty of London
Retailers should be more like Liberty of London

First published in New Zealand Herald  24 September 2015 

There’s a beautiful department store in London called Liberty and it contrasts so dramatically with what we have here in Australia.

In the last few weeks, it’s as though Liberty’s integrated marketing strategy has suddenly reached me and I’ve been activated. Like I’ve followed the path of that diagram from a prospective customer, with arrows from all the different marketing channels pointing at me, gone down the funnel and am about to come through the other end with a purchase.

Myer and David Jones could learn a lot from this iconic English brand, because Australian retail need not be as dire as people make out. Both DJs and Myer have an opportunity to pull away from one another and instead of repeating each other’s dull actions, go deep into their own histories and pull out something great.

With Liberty, it all started several years ago when I caught their fly on a wall series on Foxtel. It could have been tacky and destroyed the store’s reputation, but instead I think it introduced Liberty to a whole new audience – a young and also international one. Which makes sense given how many of us have a soft spot for London, have visited Liberty and wish for something as beautiful back home.

The move into reality TV seems to have been initiated by new managing director Ed Burstell, a New Yorker and former senior vice president at Bergdorf Goodman. He has a quiet and focused energy in the show and you can see the decisions he’s making are anything but stuffy.

Liberty could very well have continued to age and lose its sheen, a la Harrods.

Instead, it has maintained the vital Britishness while remaining fresh and dynamic.

While embracing new marketing channels, Liberty has held on tightly to the very things it has always been known for. The Christmas windows, the wild floral prints, the scarves.

They’ve introduced some amazing collaborations. With Roberts Radios, Kenzo, Nike, Supreme, Dr. Martens, Edwin, Fred Perry, The North Face and more. Featuring their distinct florals in various details across the partner brand’s products.

The Liberty print, the brand’s code, is now so recognisable and yet not at all stale. Just as good as Burberry’s work in taking a brown check and creating something desirable, season after season.

The next channel that has worn me down (in a good way) is Liberty on Instagram. I’m not a big proponent of social media for many companies, but following Liberty is not like following, say, Heinz. The imagery they post is of course beautiful, the products are new and colorful, bang on brand, and I can see how good retail with integrated Instagram (or other relevant social media) really can drive a sale straight to the website.

It’s a smart and holistic strategy, and it’s just executed so well.

And here’s a fun fact that you may not know. London-based New Zealander and musician & composer Chris White, wrote the Liberty of London TV theme music. There’s something we can all be proud of.

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Brands to watchMarketing & Brand StrategyTrans Tasman

Heston Blumenthal – master chef and master marketer
Heston Blumenthal – master chef and master marketer

First published in New Zealand Herald  9 September 2015 

Last week, my husband and I finally made it off the waiting list and into Attica, one of Australia’s best restaurants and run by New Zealand chef Ben Shewry.

For eight months, we’d been waiting for the famous Tuesday night table, as that’s the night Shewry and his team experiment with new recipes, and diners are the guinea pigs to these concoctions.

On our Tuesday, we had some delights (including the house-made bread, which was incredible) and some disasters (an asparagus dish that looked – and kind of tasted – a little like cat sick). But that’s the risk you take on a Tuesday, as Attica refines recipes, moving the best ones to the weekly menu and discarding the duds.

Melbourne has a solid reputation in Australia as the foodie city and like Auckland, is quite snobby about its food credentials compared to the rest of the country.

So it was a major coup that Heston Blumenthal chose to relocate Fat Duck to Melbourne when his cultish English restaurant underwent a redesign.

In a sea of “celebrity” chefs, Blumenthal is a master of marketing.

Several years ago when Heston’s Feasts first screened on Australian TV, I thought surely there’s no more room for another big personality chef. I was content with my affable and uncomplicated Jamie, however, as my English husband pointed out to me at the time, Blumenthal stands alone. Fat Duck has a repute that’s bordering on mystical.

Fat Duck Melbourne launched with Willy Wonka style, creating a frenzy that saw over 300,000 people apply for the privilege of paying $525 (excluding wine) to dine during its 6-month Australian tenure. Nearly 15,000 managed to experience the mind-blowing cuisine that Blumenthal is known for, and now the restaurant has closed and is returning to the UK.

The genius of Blumenthal’s marketing takes a leaf straight out of the luxury brand recipe book.

First of all you need a product that’s actually desirable and well made. There’s no bluffing that bit. You may fool the people once, perhaps even twice, but they don’t say “three strikes and you’re out” for nothing.

Next, you create more demand by limiting the supply. Whether it’s an Hermes bag, a Ferrari or entry to your restaurant with an ever-changing theme and menu, the result is the same. Limited Edition equals waiting times, equals buzz, equals higher price, equals greater perceived (and in some instances, retained) value.

Finally, you have a founder that’s a unique personality with a great story who personifies the brand. Blumenthal’s food is like a jaw-dropping, edible science project. His dining experience totally immersive, with no detail overlooked. If there are candles on the table, chances are you can eat them. Blumenthal himself wears the mad professor look like a uniform and when you picture him it’s usually with big glasses, surrounded by test tubes and Bunsen burners.

Now that his Australian project is over, Blumenthal returns to the UK with an even bigger following on this side of the Tasman. So much so that he plans to open a permanent restaurant, Dinner by Heston.

He also returns to a hungry English market with his fresh concept, a totally new menu and a reminder of why he’s just so good at running such a highly desirable brand.

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Trans Tasman

Quintessentially Kiwi Clip ‘n Climb strikes an Aussie chord
Quintessentially Kiwi Clip ‘n Climb strikes an Aussie chord

First published in New Zealand Herald 2 September 2015 

Several months ago, I came across a New Zealand business in Australia by pure accident. It was a birthday party for a friend’s teenage daughter at Clip ‘n Climb, and it’s such a quintessentially Kiwi business that learning about its heritage came as no surprise.

The indoor climbing centre has hit a lot of the right notes in Melbourne. It is garishly bright and cheerful, with blaring music that makes it part nightclub, part amusement park, and it does something many other brands would kill for: it appeals to kids of all ages (including adult ones).

It seems the perfect antidote to the usual indoor entertainment complexes, places like Luna Park, which feel pretty tired these days and in need of serious makeovers.

Clip ‘n Climb comes hot on the heels of trampolining brand Bounce, which popped up about 3 years ago in Australia and underwent an epic national expansion.

Both brands have tapped straight into traditionally fickle and difficult markets and they’ve worked a bit of magic by appealing to both girls and boys who are primary school aged, teenagers and young adults – all at the same time.

And it’s not just the kids who are happy. Parents are delighted to take their kids to a sporting place or outsource their kid’s birthday party somewhere age appropriate and fun. The power of word-of-mouth and social media has played a big part in the success of both Bounce and Clip ‘n Climb.

I took my kids to celebrate a 13-year old girl’s birthday. I watched the teenage girls climb with equal enthusiasm as the boys, I saw kids in their late teens enjoying the place, and then my 5-year old son scaled some serious heights in his little harness too. You can’t fault a business that engages so many groups and gets them out and active.

I got chatting to the managing director of the first and only Clip ‘n Climb in Australia. She told me a little of the history between serving giant pizza for a booked-out birthday for 80 kids. I learned that the business was launched in Christchurch in 2006 by John Targett and Tim Wethey, an Irishman and a Kiwi, and that the concept is now in the Europe, North America and Asia. She also told me that the harness equipment is manufactured in New Zealand, with safety a huge priority.

The Australian business has a connection to the original New Zealand founder, but it is run independently. In fact I’m pretty sure the MD introduced me to the founder’s brother, who is also working on the Aussie business.

Clip ‘n Climb operates under a licensing model and different climbs or “challenges” can be bought individually to recreate a centre of whatever size. Right now there are 28 challenges across a number of levels, with names like Leap of Faith, Speed Climb, Dark Tower and Big Cheese.

Having been to so many of these places for my own kids and taken them to a multitude of birthdays, right now Clip ‘n Climb is in the lead. It’s reasonably priced at AU$18.50 for one hour (or $12.50 for under 5-year olds), serves pretty decent food that you don’t mind your kids eating (in other words, not reheated hotdogs and nuggets) and you don’t get the injuries that Bounce has become known for.

Next time I might leave the kids behind and give it a go myself.

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Questionable marketingTrans TasmanUncategorized

Has prestige become too affordable?
Has prestige become too affordable?

First published in New Zealand Herald  8 August 2015 

When you next visit Australia, you’ll notice an inordinate number of sale signs in store windows. The retail “perma-sale” has been evident for so many years that it’s left an indelible mark on all of us as customers. It’s a wonder we buy anything at full price any more.

In combination with the very liberal use of marketing words such as unique, prestigious, exclusive, we’ve all been conditioned to view everything as a cheap and cynical marketing ploy and nothing more. Even as a marketer of many years, it’s hard to distinguish brands I want to buy and whether they are genuinely well made and deserve their prestigious reputation and price point, from the pretenders.

In retail, the sale mentality began innocuously enough with the fast moving retailers that created ranges that span weeks rather than seasons. International retailers like H&M, Zara, Uniqlo were (and still are) always on sale because their stock churns every few weeks.

The local retailers eventually followed suit in different ways. Some, like Country Road, introduced incentive programmes like Spend & Save, offering discounts on spending incrementally more in their stores. Spend $150, get $50 off; spend $300, get $100 off and so on. This was great in the early days but I would be very surprised if the effectiveness of this campaign wasn’t waning.

The problem with frequent sales is that there’s simply no reason to buy outside of a sale period. We’ve all been conditioned that if we wait a few weeks we can buy an item for its true value.

While it used to be the mass and middle market brands that followed this sale model while luxury brands stood firm, more of the traditionally prestige-positioned brands are caving in. As a customer I love this. As a marketer I think they’re causing serious long-term damage to their brands for short-term volume gains.

If I go back to Country Road, once upon a time this was considered a premium Australasian brand. In New Zealand it was priced high, located in high-income areas and catered to a small segment of the Kiwi population.

Country Road has not been that prestige brand for a long time. If that was a conscious decision to drop it a notch and follow a Zara-esque model, they’ve achieved that. But not many companies want to compromise a prestige reputation, however that’s exactly what’s happening across so many industries.

Another prime example of this is in automotive right now. Show me a so-called prestige car brand and I’ll show you a sale that’s coming up. Instead of once or twice a year, the industry seems also to be in permanent sale mode.

For brands such as BMW, Mercedes and their compatriots, all this sale behavior may stimulate volume temporarily and put the car within the reach of more people. But that sounds like the opposite of prestige to me.

When the market is flooded with once unattainable and aspirational product, it’s no longer either unattainable or aspirational.

Surely this sale extravaganza must be reaching its tipping point, though it sure is going to take a long time to un-teach this behaviour in all of us spoilt customers.

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New Zealand Companies in AustraliaTrans TasmanUncategorized

Warning – Australian opinion on NZ flags
Warning – Australian opinion on NZ flags

First published in New Zealand Herald 11 August 2015 

I was very tempted not to write this week’s column about the New Zealand flag debate, which is either a really big deal or a non-event, depending on totally subjective beliefs.

I imagine that this topic has been discussed by numerous Kiwi commentators and every opinion has been covered.

Is there room for one more?

In reading different opinions on this debate, I noticed that late last year an Australian commentator, Tom Burton – Head of the Flags Society of Australia – was either feeling very game or had no idea his comment would make the Kiwi papers, as he remarked that the favoured black flag with silver fern was reminiscent of Islamic State’s own flag.

His opinion went down as expected in comments left by Kiwis. Comments by Australians on New Zealand themes tend to have that effect.

This entire debate feels to me a little like the logo debate that companies love to have. Should we change our logo? Is anyone else sick of our logo? Shouldn’t the logo be bigger? Can we move the logo a little to the left?

Ask any graphic designer and they’ll tell you that designing logos and identities is often their favourite type of work. As long as client subcommittees and extended stakeholder networks are left out of the decision-making.

Well how fun is this little logo project! An entire country gets to say “Hmm. I (don’t) like it, but wouldn’t it be nicer with a slightly deeper (lighter) shade of blue (green/red/grey)?”

Logos and identities are always fun to look at. That’s why so many companies with long histories and logos etched in people’s minds often get sucked into the buzz of a total rebrand.

I’ve lived outside of New Zealand for a long time now, long enough to no longer vote there as I don’t know enough about the people running. Also it doesn’t seem right for me to vote in a country I don’t live in. So, I feel like I’ve missed the ‘mood of the nation’ in regards to this flag changing.

Do New Zealanders genuinely want to change the New Zealand flag or is it primarily momentum driving this?

Call me old fashioned, but I have absolutely no issue with the current New Zealand flag. In fact I love the New Zealand flag. I have an extremely vivid memory of waving my New Zealand flag with total excitement in 1983 when Princess Diana and Prince Charles came to Eden Park Stadium.

I have no issue with the Union Jack on our flag. I have no issue with the fact that it’s almost identical to the Australian flag.

That beautiful New Zealand I grew up in that was progressive, inclusive and connected to the environment. You know, all those same qualities the new flag is meant to represent.

Doesn’t our current flag already represent all this because that’s what New Zealand stands for?

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New Zealand Companies in AustraliaQuestionable marketingTrans Tasman

GST thresholds no deterrent to online shopping
GST thresholds no deterrent to online shopping

This article first appeared in New Zealand Herald 4 August 2015

Forgive me if I’m missing a much bigger picture here but changing the GST threshold of overseas online goods won’t in any way deter me from spending my money online overseas.

Both Australian and New Zealand papers and politicians have been debating this GST thing for a number of years. The argument seems to have taken off again in the last few weeks, with John Key joining Joe Hockey’s chorus on changing thresholds to $20 “or even zero”.

The first time I heard this debated in Australia was around 2010. Back then Gerry Harvey started fanning the flames and complaining about this-Interwebs-thing that spelled the end of all Australian retail as we know it.

In that same year, the Australian dollar hit parity with the greenback and I can tell you, shopping overseas was a delight.

Not because I saved some marginal $10 in GST, but for exactly the same reasons I still buy online overseas despite the dollar, pound and euro packing a punch against the Aussie dollar. I buy overseas because the selection on many items is exponentially better with the world at my fingertips, because the price difference is usually significant, and because it’s fun.

Of course I feel empathetic towards some of the lovely little retailers whose stores have closed down over the last few years. But many strugglers I feel far less sympathetic towards. Harvey Norman, Myer, David Jones – the bigger chains that left things very late and, even now, are too uninspiring in too many qualities such as customer service, product choice, pricing. And then there are those other stores that, lets face it, often sold crap that people stopped buying.

I think the GST debate for many local retailers (on both sides of the Tasman) hides something that’s a lot more difficult to deal with. That many brands are pretty average, in-store experiences aren’t all that interesting and too often as shoppers we wander around stores that have limp product selection and prices that don’t justify the goods.

There are few brands these days that inspire great loyalty, or deserve it. I’ve worked in marketing for a number of years and conducted the research to find markets for products, worked to position them properly and appeal to the right customers. And still there are times when you just say to yourself maybe this brand has just had its day?

GST may be a band aid for many little local businesses that think they’re competing with overseas retailers. More likely it’ll be a wake up call that it’s not the economy, not the dollar, not the customer who doesn’t get it but that it’s time to evolve and find a way of doing things better, becoming more relevant. Or close shop.

Just this week one of my favourite writers on the topic of brands, Mark Ritson, wrote a piece for UK’s Marketing Week about how marketers have lost the meaning of some of our most basic principles. That we’ve rendered the important concepts of exclusivity, differentiation and brand loyalty to near uselessness. Retailers who think GST will bring them back from the brink should read this piece and decide whether they have bigger issues to address.

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Marketing & Brand StrategyNew Zealand Companies in AustraliaQuestionable marketing

More bang than whimper in Australia please
More bang than whimper in Australia please

First published in New Zealand Herald 29 June 2015

Social media is a media darling when it comes to column inches. So, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s the only media channel a company needs to reap mega rewards. In fact, it couldn’t be further from the truth.

In Australia, evangelic social media companies and commentators spring up on a daily basis. This wouldn’t be a problem if their argument was balanced: social media together with other forms of media does indeed create a complete marketing picture, and you reach target customers in all the places they’re likely to be.

However, far too many social media zealots are determined to convince you that advertising on Facebook is the solution to all your woes.

There’s no silver bullet.

I don’t blame many New Zealand companies from holding on tight to their wallets when they bring their business to Australia. Consumer brands that need to market to reach customers will find Australian media immensely expensive.

I live in Melbourne and when I drive to the city there’s a massive digital billboard on the iconic corner of Swanston and Flinders Streets across the road from Flinders Station & Federation Square. As far as outdoor media goes, it’s one of the biggest. It’ll also set you back $200,000 a month and put you in rotation with 7 other brands. Clearly not for the meek or uncertain.

Unless you’re Fonterra, not many businesses have the luxury of “giving it a go” for two hundred grand. At that monthly spend you want to be pretty damn certain that your advertising investment reaches the right people and generates sales.

But herein lies the challenge for New Zealand companies that want to get big in Australia. While it’s good to come in quietly and ensure all the groundwork is set, there comes a time when you need to speak up. If your customers don’t know about your business, you have no business.

I feel like all too many Kiwi consumer brands put money into the Australian set up, but then struggle to go the distance.

You might celebrate that a supermarket put your product on its shelves, or the opening of a new Aussie store, but customers don’t magically appear. Now more than ever people want to be informed about what they’re buying and they need to be reminded of it. Whether it’s a car or a packet of bagel crisps for kids’ lunchboxes. You need to be out there reaching your buyers.

From time to time the New Zealand papers write about Kiwi brands and their impending big entry into Australia. I keep an eye out for these both out of professional interest and also out of expat nostalgia and a desire to support Kiwi business over here.

In supermarkets I’ve watched Jed’s Coffee appear, Abe’s Bagels, of course Whittaker’s, ecostore. I’ve also seen how the supermarkets muck around with these and other brands simply because they can. One day on a top shelf, next day on a bottom shelf, next week no longer there. It’s brutal. Same goes for fashion retail.

But I can’t help thinking I don’t hear enough from some of these guys when it comes to Australian marketing. As a customer I need to know why I should keep buying the products I do, because there’s no loyalty any more and just appearing on a shelf simply isn’t enough.

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Marketing & Brand StrategyTrans Tasman

Sports’ stylish showdown
Sports’ stylish showdown

First published in The New Zealand Herald 21 July 2015

The Rugby Championship kicked off this week, at the same time as three of the world’s biggest football clubs landed in Melbourne to play in the International Champions Cup.

The fact that Cristiano Ronaldo, Francesco Totti, Gareth Bale and their mega superstar friends are cruising around the city is certainly not lost on Melbournians.

The uber stylish showdown featuring Real Madrid, AC Roma and Manchester City at the MCG this week has been hotly anticipated by many and bolstered by Melbourne’s large European community. So, if Saturday’s first game with Real Madrid versus AC Roma is anything to go by, this week may bring a lot of style and a little less football substance.

Now before you leave comments about my lack of sports knowledge, let me state clearly that I’m no sports authority in any way, shape or form. However, when it comes to style surely we can all admit that Real Madrid practically owns the word.

Have you seen photos of the team in made-to-measure Versace suits when they’re on official business? Sharp.

Ideally marketing and branding should leave sports alone, but that’s never going to happen. Sport and sports teams are now run like the world’s biggest global brands. They attract massive global sponsorship, generate huge advertising dollars and as individuals and teams are money magnets.

Take the mighty All Blacks. If I had to define them in one word, it’s that one I just used. The All Blacks are mighty in every way. From the haka, to the black uniform and unfussy fern. They’re manly, powerful and about as far from Versace as it gets. As a sponsor when you align yourself to the All Blacks brand you hope a little of that mightiness will rub off on you.

I’ve written about the All Blacks before as one of the world’s most successfully managed brands. Over the years their management has aligned every part of that story with the performance on field and positioned them around their 80 per cent win ratio.

It has been a formula for success with both fans and sponsors, and it’s why the All Blacks brand was valued at $108 million in 2011 by global valuation firm Brand Finance. The Real Madrid brand was given a $1.2b value by the same firm last year. (As a comparison, Brand Finance’s number one global firm is Apple with an estimated brand value of $195b.)

You can take that brand estimate with a grain of salt. Brand valuation is an iffy measure and competitive firm Interbrand varies significantly in its own estimation. However, there’s no denying that sport and branding are tightly interwoven.

Personally, I’ll be keeping a sharp eye on Ronaldo and friends on Friday, as I join the masses at what’s expected to be a full capacity crowd of 100,000 watching Real Madrid and Manchester City.

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Questionable marketingTrans Tasman

Oz’s major telcos hung up on wrong issues
Oz’s major telcos hung up on wrong issues

First published in New Zealand Herald 14 July 2015

My company moved office last month and went through that nightmare that we all dread in Australia: setting up a broadband network through one of the telcos.

I cannot even begin to tell you what an epic farce this was, particularly not in 500 words or less.

I’d love to say that you wouldn’t believe me, but I suspect even agile and creative New Zealand has some bureaucratic tendencies? Perhaps ‘Spark’ is not quite as sparky as it purports? It can’t be as bad as Australia.

Let me try and summarise it for you. It’s 2015 and it took one month to get an office ADSL2 connection in a busy retail strip of Melbourne.

In that time we went with Telstra, within one day switched to Optus, one week later switched to Telstra, and have ended up with Optus.

We’re also the new owners of no less than 3 unopened Telstra modems. I think they send those babies out to anyone who calls. (I’ll give you a good price if you want one.)

In my month of telecommunication fun, my office colleagues and I had lengthy chats with a number of Telstra and Optus staff from all over the world. Some rather delightful and hapless call centre staff who shared my frustration. Other less helpful staff who were determined to send me down the happy end of their phone scripts despite unresolved issues. (“So Ms Katz, is there anything else I can help you with today?” “Why yes there is. It’s the same issue we’ve just been discussing. You know, the one we’ve been talking about for an hour and you still haven’t helped me with.”)

I’ve learned there’s such a thing as not being able to get broadband because there’s no room at the exchange. Did you know this was a thing? I didn’t. I had no idea that in 2015 an Australian household or business could be told that Telstra is fully booked and that it may take up to one year for space to become available in an area. (I’ve also learned that if you tell them you’re going with Optus they suddenly have space available at the exchange.)

But listen to me, Ms Negativivity. I’m failing to celebrate the success of these organisations and acknowledge a part of the sales process that both Telcos have perfected. It’s called the Net Promoter Score.

Without fail – no matter how long my hold time, how many call centres I was transferred to and despite no one understanding why our office broadband was slower than a 1990 dial-up connection – a clockwork text message would arrive to cheerily ask me on a scale of 1 to 10 how likely I was to recommend Telstra/Optus to a friend. That part of the process works a charm. Thumbs up.

In 2013 I heard an inspiring talk from Kevin Russell. He was then newly appointed CEO of Optus Australia and, quite genuinely, made me feel excited for the brand and believe that Optus could become a true challenger to Telstra. Unfortunately Russell resigned one year later.

As for Telstra, they own most of the phone lines, so all roads lead to them eventually.

And the much-anticipated National Broadband Network? The Aussie government aspires to have all Australian homes on the NBN by 2020. In the meantime, I’ll admire New Zealand’s fast speeds and your wired up cities. And I’ll keep my mobile fully charged in case I need to call Optus again.

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Brands to watchNew Zealand Companies in AustraliaTrans TasmanUncategorized

Could Briscoes inject Kiwi hunger into Aussie retail?
Could Briscoes inject Kiwi hunger into Aussie retail?

First published in New Zealand Herald 7 July 2015

It’s school holidays in Australia right now and practically half the population is on the move in search of warmth.

Especially the South East Coasters, with a lot of us landing in Queensland. And a lot of us – including myself – asking the same question every year: Why do I choose to live in Melbourne when it’s 21 degrees in and out of the sea in Gold Coast winter?

From this week’s Queensland location, I was going to write a column on how different the Australian States are from one another and to consider this in your strategy.

However two things happened.

First, even more “very Melbourne” restaurants and bars have appeared here on the coast. Just in this little pocket where I’m holidaying in Burleigh Heads, I’ve had dinner at a great, Melbourne-style tapas restaurant. I’ve been served good coffee by heavily-bearded gents from local roasters. Not to mention Robina Town shopping centre seems to have quadrupled in size into a mini Westfield.

And second, Briscoe made a bid to buy Kathmandu.

I’d all but forgotten about Briscoe while living in Australia the last fifteen years. But I’m reminded of its success every time I read the New Zealand papers and visit. The Briscoe team, led by Rod Duke, has turned an ailing business into one of New Zealand’s most successful retailers. It’s an impressive business in any country.

I had a chance to meet some of the management team when I was in New Zealand last year. To get to the boardroom we walked through almost an entire Briscoe store, weaving through customers on a busy retail day. I couldn’t help but think this seems like a management team that’s totally immersed in the day-to-day running of the business and not removed in a satellite office, at a safe distance from customers.

That may not sound like much to go on, but I challenge you to find many CEOs and senior executives who spend their days surrounded by customers. The good ones? Absolutely.

That’s why if I was a Kathmandu shareholder I’d feel chuffed about the Briscoe bid.

Briscoe Group don’t strike me as impulsive risk takers. Despite wanting to bring Briscoe to Australia, they’ve resisted and have taken their time to understand the landscape and wait in the wings for the right opportunity.

There was speculation that Pumpkin Patch may be that opportunity, but I suspect even they saw it as too far gone.

Kathmandu gives them immediate entry into Australia, and will hopefully inject some Kiwi hunger into pretty lackluster Australian retail chains.

That’s not to say that Kathmandu is a guaranteed winner. The brand has good bones, a strong presence and high brand awareness across both sides of the Tasman and in the UK, but there’s still a lot of room to improve.

Sport and active clothing has been fashion friendlier over the last few years, with more blurring of pure active and pure fashion categories. Kathmandu hasn’t done much to capitalise on that trend. And as more niche sport and outdoor retailers jump into the fray with boutique products, it becomes harder for a mid market (really pretty mass market) brand like Kathmandu to differentiate. There’s also the potential to build a greater online channel, which at the moment is only 5.8 per cent of Kathmandu’s total sales.

In any case, even if it’s a strategic play for Briscoe Group to enter Australia and bring that retail business here, Kathmandu could do far worse than have a group with a history of business success like the Briscoe team in the driver’s seat.

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Marketing & Brand StrategyProfessional servicesTrans Tasman

Brand building necessity for Australian architectural firms
Brand building necessity for Australian architectural firms

First published in New Zealand Herald 2 July 2015

Not too long ago, professional services firms were like the poor cousins of product and retail firms when it came to effective and strategic marketing.

We’ve come a long way since desk pads and yellow pages ads amounted to marketing strategy. Many in the professional services industry are themselves a benchmark in great brand management (think how valuable the McKinsey name is).

One pocket of professional services that’s in a state of change in Australia is the architectural practice.

Few mainstream, small to mid-sized firms have the good fortune of a “Starchitect” on their team, so differentiation is a major challenge. After all, the image of the visionary design leader pushing boundaries and sparking great discussion in wider society is a possibility for a small minority of architects only.

For the rest, it’s too often a race to the lowest quote. Pace and output have increased rapidly and the architect now has multiple roles as sub contractor, partner to developers and builders, and increasingly in competition with the international Starchitect, who is invited with more frequency to lead iconic Australian projects.

While a growing number of architects opt to go into development or client-side – a culture change that some feel enables collaboration and partnerships – others believe this is a blow to the very essence of what an architect is.

In Australia, the last 20 years has seen the rise of project management and new contractor-led procurement agreements, which has led the fragmentation of professional practice. Modelling, computational design and generative software to design and produce buildings has completely shifted the way architects work.

Developers too feel the pressure and need to change business models to survive. They face funding difficulties and consolidation as smaller players disappear from the market. Where once they may have led a project, substantial pressure from clients and end users is leading to concessions just to get projects off the ground.

More often is the case that lines are blurring between architect and developer, no longer just the stereotyped visionary versus the commercial realist. More architects are crossing the line, working for clients and developers, driving change from within.

Nowadays, to get a building off the ground there’s a strong element of marketability as well as ‘buildability’. One developer architect I spoke with said while there’s compromise in how design fits in, there’s even less joy in having a fictitious project that never gets built.

For many firms, knowing how to position themselves is a real factor. It’s not enough to have the architectural capabilities, but commercial acumen and stakeholder engagement is a necessity. It seems that architecture needs to be a commercial discipline.

Developers have told me they look at the real estate and then straight at the back end: who’s buying it, who’s leasing it.

From the client side, trade offs and pressure can come from government regulations within industries. For example, in aged care, industry supply and demand is fixed by the government. From the number of beds a facility has, to the number of dollars they can charge per bed.

In many cases, when architects are invited to pitch, the business case has already been made and a particular price point set. The service model then informs the design, the functionality and the maintainability, so architectural teams selected are those that have all bases covered: the pragmatist, the dreamer and the manager.

From my view as an architectural outsider, I’ve often come across this word ‘pragmatic’ as a quality that developers and clients insist on from their architectural partners. I’ve also found it can be a word architects lament.

Personally, I’m torn between how truly great architecture can be challenging, but also everlasting and emotionally powerful; versus the commercial reality that drives and distils those grand visions.

I don’t think mid-tier architectural firms with unknown architects or lack of signature style can grow in the current market. Without a clear point of difference and commercial acumen they, like many companies with non-distinct positioning, will be replaced by niche or big-brand firms.

The next five to ten years will certainly be interesting times for the industry. The general consensus is that at least for now and perhaps the foreseeable future, the pendulum favours the client and the market over the architect and the developer.

If the developer needs to have a vision of land and its use, the architect the creative wares to be able to document that and maximise its potential, the end result of a property is now very much determined by whether it makes a profit.

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Brands to watchTrans Tasman

Pizza box puts NZ AR firm on the map
Pizza box puts NZ AR firm on the map

First published in New Zealand Herald 25 June 2015

When you work for a large multinational brand, you’re likely to be rather popular. Companies and suppliers of all shapes and sizes, who flog all manner of products and services, constantly knock at your door.

If you’ve worked on either side, you’ll empathise with both the hapless shmuck doing the pitch and the hapless shmuck being pitched at. It’s a tough gig getting in front of the right people in a large organisation, especially when you’re representing a small business with a quiet voice.

This is one of the first challenges New Zealand companies face when they land in Australia.

That first part – to identify the decision maker – can be fairly uncomplicated. And even step two of getting a little face time with them is challenging, though certainly not impossible.

However step three is where a lot of companies fall over. To get across quickly and clearly how you are different from the glut of competitors, is something many businesses have yet to perfect.

Rupert Deans, CEO of One Fat Sheep is into his second year in Australia, having transplanted part of his Christchurch business here after the earthquake. He realised early that having a point of difference and extreme focus was going to be critical for his company in Australia.

One Fat Sheep specialises in augmented reality. The technology, while still in early adoption stage, has been an Australian door opener and caught the eye of some major international brands.

Australia is more advanced. It’s obviously a larger market so companies are more strategic than in New Zealand where I think they wing it a lot more.

In fact they recently won a New York contract for one of the world’s greatest luxury brands and are now creating an interactive retail space to bring the brand and its range of products to life in 3D.

That piece of business was won when CBS ran a segment on the world’s biggest collector of pizza boxes (yes, really) and featured One Fat Sheep’s augmented reality game on the HELL pizza box.

Like a New York fairy tale, the reporter’s husband worked for an agency, loved the work and engaged One Fat Sheep for a piece of business Deans says he can only announce when it launches in several months time.

Deans calls himself a ‘creative technologist’ and says he has always had an interest in new ideas and technology that pushes boundaries. He believes the visual industry always appealed because, as a dyslexic, it gave him an alternative way to digest information and identify his own skillset early in his career, which he believes is bringing people together, winning work and managing a team.

Today that team includes 15 core people and another 15 working remotely. His brother leads the Queenstown office, soon to relocate to Auckland.

“Australia is more advanced,” he says. “It’s obviously a larger market so companies are more strategic than in New Zealand where I think they wing it a lot more. You can’t quite do that in this market. So while a lot of good innovation comes out of New Zealand, I think from a digital marketing perspective they seem to be further behind.”

One Fat Sheep is in capital-raising mode right now, developing a new augmented reality platform that’s due to launch in three months.

They continue to build their Australian portfolio on the back of New Zealand clients such as ASB, but now have a growing repertoire of stand alone Australian clients including Mirvac, Deakin University and the Australian arm of British luxury car brand, Bentley.

“We live in a 3D world and content can be represented in 3D. Sectors like retail, FMCG and education recognise that they can do more to give their customers, companies and students rich immersive experiences. And that’s what we’re really very good at,” he says.

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a2 Milk sues ABC, but still lacks evidence
a2 Milk sues ABC, but still lacks evidence

First published in New Zealand Herald 17 June 2015 

I wrote about the rise of the a2 Milk brand early last year.In March 2014 the company held 8 per cent share in the fresh milk category of the Australian grocery channel by value. Now they hold around 9.3 per cent with their premium-priced milk.

(IBISWorld Australia has them well behind the big four of Lion, Parmalat, Murray Goulbourn and Fonterra, with only 2 per cent total share of milk and cream processing, compared to the combined might of 78.2 per cent of those four producers.)

When it first launched, a2 Milk came in with a unique point of difference and created a need where there was none. They introduced some new words to the consumer vocabulary and suddenly people were talking about this A2 beta-casein protein we’d never before heard of but was supposedly better for us than an A1 / A2 combination. Cows were bred to produce only A2 protein in their milk. This commanded a premium price.

Whether that point of difference is scientifically correct is still inconclusive. a2 Milk always had challenges in its messaging. One of the main issues that their much-cited report was funded by a2, which never stood in good stead as a basis for independent evidence. Also the sample size was very small, with only 41 people recruited into the double-blind study.

After all, when the Parmalat CEO comes after a small business, as a consumer who do you trust? The little guy who claims to have discovered something that’s really good for you or the nasty big corporate that stands to lose millions?

However, word of mouth generated an impressive level of goodwill and the brand certainly rubbed some up heavy hitters the wrong way. The big milk conglomerates came out swinging, which gave a2 Milk a great publicity boost in the early days.

Australian consumers made their choice and a2 had a tremendous period of growth. They launched their baby formula, entered China and listed on the Australian stock exchange.

If you thought milk was boring there’s even a touch of Hollywood with Fairfax Media revealing recently that Parmalat engaged Tony Abbott’s former spin doctors to discredit the a2 brand. Then Lion rolled out their Pura milk brand with a new on-pack strapline that read ‘Naturally contains A2 protein.’ The plot thickens.

I’m sure a2 Milk is not expecting to win the legal battle against the ABC, if indeed it even goes further than angry letters from lawyers. The response is just a process and one that a2 Milk has always been very good at. They have punched above their weight both in the way the brand was developed and control of the message.

But now they’re not such a fighter brand any longer and have become a bonafide corporate in their own right. How they play this next hand is very important and, to be honest, some science and independent evidence wouldn’t go amiss at this point.

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Marketing & Brand StrategyMarketing and Communications

You bought a Jeep? But definitely not a Mitsi
You bought a Jeep? But definitely not a Mitsi

First published in New Zealand Herald 9 June 2015

There’s a question that market researchers ask when they want to understand how customers perceive a brand. “If X was a car, which car would it be?”

You get a pretty good idea what your customer thinks of you when they say your shoes, architects or widgets, are more like a Toyota than a Ferrari; perhaps a Volvo but definitely not a Maserati.

Automotive brands have huge personalities, which of course is a big part of the appeal in driving one.

A few years back when I was in the market for a new car, people who knew cars told me to buy a Hyundai. I listened to all the practical comparisons and of course I knew it was true. But I wanted a Volkswagen. End. Of. Story.

You could have told me a Volkswagen was a Hyundai in everything but name. I didn’t care – I still wanted my Volkswagen.

The seed was planted many years ago, when as a university student driving my practical Toyota, my heart was crying out for a Golf. It was the aspirational brand for many young women in the 90s: a bit of a goofy and rebellious teenager, but with serious engineering at its heart. (That’s the VW, not me.)

Volkswagen’s brand positioning was spot on. And yes, dad, I know the Toyota was a better investment, held its value and parts were cheaper. But I just wanted a Golf.

So now as a marketer I enjoy observing how the automotive brands battle one another for supreme position. It’s the ultimate marketers’ play land: big brands, big prices, big personalities and big budgets.

As we approach the end of the financial year, car advertising hits fever pitch here in Australia as it likely does in New Zealand. Every brand desperately works to distinguish itself with run outs, sales events, drive away prices and irresistible finance deals.

This year Mitsubishi has come in with a loud voice and a polarising new ‘It’s a Mitsi’ tagline. On high rotation during peak times, the ads are impossible to miss, though it’ll be some time before we see if the irritating tag does its job.

Or whether it cheapens the Mitsubishi brand, as Cummins & Partners co-executive creative director Jim Ingram suggested at last week’s Mumbrella360 media conference in Sydney.

As part of the team on the also irritating but ridiculously memorable ‘You bought a Jeep’ creative, Ingram himself is no stranger to polarising campaigns. Love it or hate it, Jeep has grown significantly in Australia, opening up a formerly pretty masculine brand to a new female buyer. It is tongue in cheek and you’re not quite sure who it’s making fun of, but you still get the feeling it’s pretty cool to own one.

Mitsi on the other hand is kind of confusing. Who are they targeting? The ads feature men escaping from boring situations, like looking after a girlfriend’s poodle or shopping with your wife and mother-in-law. When the “Mitsi” drops out the sky with some blokey mates behind the wheel, our protagonist is rescued. I get the premise, but I don’t know that any bloke is going to refer to his Mitsubishi as a Mitsi. Feels a bit naff to me.

But who knows, perhaps Mitsubishi Australia’s research team have uncovered a whole new segment that likes its grunty Japanese cars to be like that friendly mate who saves the day.

Or they’ve just lost their way. After all, I’m not sure what I’d mean if I said brand X was “just like a Mitsubishi”.

What would that be like?

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15 secs to pitch video company
15 secs to pitch video company

First published in New Zealand Herald 2 June 2015

I met a very enthusiastic and hopeful group of New Zealand technology companies last week. They were in Melbourne for a 2-day workshop organised by NZTE and ended the event by pitching their business in 15 seconds.

It can be incredibly hard to simplify. And for most businesses the temptation to weave an epic tale of complex technology and twinkly features is too great. At the receiving end of these cumbersome explanations sits the consumer of this technology (and the finance person who signs off on the purchase).

The long-winded explanations don’t make a business sound more knowledgeable. Instead they leave an audience confused and more likely to come to their own conclusions, which may be a lot less favourable.

One of the companies I got talking to was 90 Seconds. Founded in Wellington in 2010, it is a cloud-based video production company. They have a core management team dotted around the world that wins the business and then brings in suitable contributors from a 3500-strong freelancer pool to create the work.

The company was founded by serial entrepreneur Tim Norton, who – as CEO – continues to have hands-on involvement in the business across their multiple international markets.

There are a couple of reasons why I’m interested in their business.

First, a lot my clients and a lot of Australian companies in general use video content much more frequently and in a much better way than before. Second, it’s a perfect example of how our working lives have changed in the last decade.

Freelancers, micro businesses and virtual global teams are relatively mainstream. From banks to retailers to not-for-profits – Australian businesses are open to working with teams across different business models, as long as there’s substance behind the curtains.

90 Seconds established a UK office in 2011 and moved into Sydney, Singapore and Tokyo three years later. They have an impressive roster of Australian clients that includes Big W, eBay, Tabcorp, Uber, Rio Tinto, BHP and Fairfax.

Their work for Paypal global sums up what I think they may do best: pull together and coordinate an international video shoot on the same weekend in 12 global cities over 4 continents without paying for a single flight. For global brands it’s a pretty compelling value proposition, especially if you can produce high quality works consistently at a competitive price.

The work quality is endorsed by a rating system clients give after production, as well as a vetting process that 90 Seconds HQ runs for all freelancers. The pricing is competitive because a pool of talent in the thousands means budgets of all shapes and sizes can be matched to a freelancer anywhere in the world.

But most importantly, after speaking with former Australian GM (now Growth Director) Dave Insull, new Australian GM Daniel Littlepage and Melbourne Growth Director Nick Teulon, it’s pretty clear that making sales is a real strength in this business.

Insull, who has been with the company from the start says the team had been servicing Australia from New Zealand for several years when they decided exporting him to Australia would not impact the New Zealand business.

“The plan was to get $1 million revenue, build a team, repeat the local market set up with the intention of hiring myself out of a job,” he says. “Twelve months to the day later, we achieved revenue target and will shortly relocate to a new Pyrmont office overlooking the Sydney Harbour Bridge.”

A very strong business at the core is what Insull believes sets them apart, and being in a global headspace since inception.

The business has a replicable model for their subsidiaries in local markets, with a talent pipeline driven from a global talent manager based in Singapore.

Each team has a GM, success managers (production managers who deliver video), growth managers (sales team) and content directors (who straddle sales and production, are client facing, experienced with building content strategies and selling in work and an ability to deliver).

“We were speaking to an NZTE rep recently and quizzed her about companies breaking into Australia,” says Insull. “We asked what the biggest issue Kiwi companies need to work on and she said sales, sales, sales. We have focused on sales since day one, to fund our growth and to confirm our direction. With our focus on sales and building the business one client at a time, and great customer service & end product, that’s what has brought us success in this market.”

There’s something else Insull mentioned that made clear these guys know their business. He mentioned that the company recently reviewed the whole Australian market, segmented the value of each industry and reviewed how much content is created in each space.

They identified a number of key segments worth targeting that include not-for-profit, retail, technology, government, education, banking & finance and advertising agencies. Not a small list.

But now they have a marketing strategy that includes speaking to decision makers on camera at the right events, using their own created content and therefore showcasing exactly what it is they do best.

Sounds like a plan to me.

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Brands to watchNew Zealand Companies in AustraliaTrans Tasman

Refocusing on Aussie baby category
Refocusing on Aussie baby category

First published in New Zealand Herald 26 May 2015

I’m not a huge fan of social media from a business perspective, despite the fact that I do use it personally. Simply because to me most of these networks, apart from LinkedIn, are my channels for talking with far-flung friends rather than having ads targeted at me.

I might follow a handful of companies on Facebook and Instagram – favourite designers or magazines. But even though I love chocolate, I’m just not interested in what my favourite chocolate brand has to tell me on a daily basis.

However, when it comes to newborn babies and the mummy market, social media is a match made in heaven.

A couple of things happen to you (me) when you have a new baby. You spend a lot of time online Googling things to make sure what your baby’s doing is the same as other people’s babies are doing. You share your horror and delight with anyone else who has a new baby (and is still interested in hearing this stuff). You search online for other mums’ recommendations. And you buy beautiful things for beautiful prices, just because your little bundle of joy deserves everything organic, fairtrade and Is. Worth. It.

Also if you were like me when you had your first baby, you pretty much stayed in the house for the first three months. Social media becomes your connection to the world of adult conversation and a link to your former life.

So when Diana Kerr, Merino Kids General Manager of Australasia, tells me that social media is a very important channel for the business, I believe her.

“We’re having amazing success with our own Australian newsletter database,” she says. “Our repeat customers are driving new ones and it reaffirms that word of mouth is taking off there. We’re focusing more on targeted campaigns and remarketing and doing less with print media.”

Merino Kids was founded more than ten years ago by Amie Nilsson and the merino sleeping bags for infants became an instant hit in New Zealand. The company continues to hold major market share in the baby sleepwear category in New Zealand.

Australia has been more difficult to crack, but Kerr says the business is now refocused on Australia for several reasons.

“We experienced significant growth in 2007 and even made the Deloitte Fast 50 with 400 per cent growth. It was stressful and exciting,” says Kerr. “We then launched into the UK in 2008 and in retrospect that was early. We should have focused closer to home and gone into Australia.

“Everything at that point was going really well, but as soon as we were in the UK our focus changed and we put time into that. On top of it all, the day I arrived in the UK they went into recession.”

Merino Kids has restructured the business with one part focusing on product distribution for Australasia (with Kerr at the helm) and the other part overseen by founders Amie and husband James. They cover the rest of the global market and focus on design, R&D, manufacturing and management of distributors.

Kerr is also working with Katabolt, a consulting firm that specialises in helping Kiwi companies develop export strategies outside of New Zealand. I’ve worked with Katabolt before, they’re a hands-on team with a good reputation.

“Rather than just doing a standard quantitative survey online, we’re trying to find as many Australian contacts as possible who aren’t customers of ours,” Kerr says. “This time we want to know what triggers Australians to purchase particular products, sleeping bags and products in our category.”

Merino Kids has always positioned as a premium product and at around $150 for a Go Go Bag, it’s certainly seen as an investment purchase. But again, this is a category where price is not the number one factor and a good story and good quality product can do well without ever seeing a sale. As long as the marketing tells the buyer why it’s worth the price. And Merino Kids has been good at telling that story, they just need to tell it a little louder in Australia.

This could be the year of Australia for the brand and Kerr hopes that by the end of next season Merino Kids will have a local office and distribution centre.

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Brands to watchNew Zealand Companies in AustraliaQuestionable marketingTrans Tasman

Facing off Australian business sharks
Facing off Australian business sharks

First published in New Zealand Herald 12 May 2015

There’s a show on television in Australia right now called Shark Tank. If you’ve seen Dragon’s Den in the UK, you’ll know the formula.

An entrepreneur seeks funding to take a business idea to the next level and presents to a panel of judges hoping one, or all, will front the cash without completely taking over the business. The judges too are business owners; hoping to find the next big thing, share their knowledge or maybe just get their own faces on the telly.

Last week a rather hapless gent presented a rather badly thought out mobile app called Mobilyser. As he pitched his idea to the sharks, and to us viewers, my overwhelming reaction was is that it?

Firstly, the founder developed an app that separates personal from business phone calls and allocates them for tax purposes. Is this an issue for businesses? Because I can’t say that separating my calls has ever been a concern.

It begs the question, has this guy done any market research on whether the app has an audience? Does anyone actually need it and are they prepared to pay and invest time into using it?

Secondly, the app has already cost $450,000 to develop. Say what? Without a single customer or dollar generated to date, half a million has already been burned. That’s extraordinary and I keep coming back to the same point, that some people don’t know when to kill a bad idea and start over.

Not all technology ideas are winners and not all apps are going to make the founder millions. A dog is a dog is a dog.

Thirdly (and this one’s kind of a kicker), the Mobilyser app only works on Android. Now I’m not a techy, but even I know if your app doesn’t work on an iPhone it’s kind of irrelevant.

I bring up the Shark Tank example this week for several reasons. The main one being that a lot of New Zealand technology companies use New Zealand as a springboard to Australia. Australians enjoy meeting Kiwi techs and they recognise that New Zealand has a talent for developing good ideas.

Especially when the companies have a clear point of difference, an impressive team and some happy customers to use as case studies.

For example, a few months ago I had a call from the owner of an Australian social media agency. Earlier that day he’d met with Shuttlerock, an aggregator of social media content with headquarters in Rangiora. I’d met with Shuttlerock VP of Global Partnerships, Jonny Mole, several times in Australia and could see the business offered some really cool functionality that brands and their agencies would love.

The Australian agency was in awe. The owner told me this platform was everything he’d been looking for – the icing on the cake to his own business. It didn’t surprise me that a tech company from Rangiora could strike a chord in Australia. It’s what New Zealand does best: prove time and again that size and geographic location are no barriers to great ideas.

Later this month, New Zealand Trade & Enterprise will bring a group of young technology companies to Melbourne as part of a Path to Market program. There’s certainly support here in Australia for Kiwi companies, with advice aplenty on how to keep the Aussie sharks at bay.

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New Zealand Companies in AustraliaQuestionable marketingTrans Tasman

The ugly side of design in Australia
The ugly side of design in Australia

First published in New Zealand Herald 28 April 2015

Several times a year Australia plays hosts to trade shows many New Zealand businesses use to launch their brand here.

In the design world, the calendar includes Melbourne International Design Week and Indesign. They can be a great platform for New Zealand designers to showcase their work and form partnerships with retailers, distributors and media.

Like many of you, I love great design and could spend many-a-happy-day wandering around these shows picturing how much better my living room would be with a hand-carved chair from Milan or hand-beaten copper light out of Denmark.

It may have been at one of these shows that I came across the work of New Zealand-based David Trubridge. His distinctive, kitset wooden lights and curved furniture pieces have graced many Australian magazine pages.

But it appears being distinctive doesn’t protect you from being copied, with Australian Intellectual Property laws more lenient than those of Europe and the US.

I have to admit that I was fairly naïve to this issue until very recently. With so many Australian retailers peddling replica furniture, advertising in the design magazines, winning business awards and sponsoring TV design shows, it somehow legitimised the industry.

Even the word ‘replica’ suggests tutelage and support from the original designer or patent holder. But as the somewhat rare articles on this issue have said (Australia’s BRW had a good piece) and from my conversation with Trubridge, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

“I’ve been talking to a lot of people about this,” Trubridge says. “On one hand you don’t want to sound anti-business and anti-competition or denounced as whinging but the gist of it is that Australia is totally out of step with the rest of the world. Australia is in fact a laughing stock to the rest of the world.”

In Australia, there are apparently no real repercussions to selling fake furniture designs. I have to say, the retailers who do so – Matt Blatt, Sokol, Clickon Furniture, Milan Direct, Replica Furniture – enjoy a reputation almost on par with original designers. I always assumed the designs were out of copyright and reproductions permitted – how else could they sell this stuff? In most cases, the prices of reproductions are not even that cheap.

Just type David Trubridge Replica into Google and you’d be forgive for thinking Trubridge himself signed off on his copies, it’s that blatant. A cheap Chinese knockoff of a 400mm Trubridge Coral light will set you back $289 compared to $402 for the original. There’s not that much in it dollar wise, but according to Trubridge and his team the quality is incomparable.

“Australia is the only country in the world where you can say ‘David Trubridge’ when marketing the fake version,” he says. “What people don’t realise is that we use environmentally sound processes and constantly improve on our designs and production techniques, whereas the Chinese fakes make them in factories with no filtration, no air cleaning, cheap materials. The air in China is unbreathable because of this and the Australian mavericks buy into it. We’re constantly trying to get these brazen fakes off the market through Chinese lawyers and they keep signing documents that they’ll stop, but doing it again and again.”

Trubridge says there are two main courses of action available to designers. One is to send cease and desist letters to people who have stolen the designs. The second is to educate people to make informed decisions.

Despite the negative experience, Australia accounts for 21 per cent of Trubridge’s global sales with equal representation in residential and contract markets. The company has long-standing relationships with distributors Studio Italia and Lumen 8, in particular the lighting due to ease of shipping in kitset form. All manufacturing is in New Zealand.

His advice for young designers considering a launch into Australia? Think again.

“I’d seriously question designers wanting to go into Australia first. You may just be better off going into the US or Europe first. While there’s awareness in the Australian media about this issue, it has to come from the government; they have to change the rules. Australia used to be our biggest market, but America and Europe have overtaken.”

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Anathoth taps into Kiwi expats for Oz growth
Anathoth taps into Kiwi expats for Oz growth

First published in New Zealand Herald 21 April 2015

According to Australian government statistics, there were 640,770 New Zealanders living in Australia in 2013. There is a bright side to that massive diaspora: New Zealand companies coming into Australia have the advantage of a ready-made market.

Many companies effectively use the expat community as part of their Australian strategy. Earlier in the year Briscoes tapped into Kea’s Australian network to evaluate their business case for an online shopping site in Australia.

Others, like Anathoth Farm, also rely on that familiarity and New Zealand heritage to build customer connections with Kiwis outside New Zealand. That pull for home is a strong one and Anathoth’s wholesome image has worked in its favour on Australian supermarket shelves.

As consumers, most of us run on autopilot in the supermarket, reaching for brands that are top of mind and in the same spot every shopping trip.

Companies want their marketing to help them get into our consideration set – the top three brands we can quickly name in a category – and then leapfrog into first place.

Add to that the brutal Australian supermarket behaviour and you can see why FMCGs often employ some of the most sophisticated marketers around.

I’m not a big jam buyer, but Anthoth’s New Zealand heritage usually has me reaching for them on the shelf. So I was keen to hear how a boutique kiwi brand maintained its prominent position on Aussie shelves and some of challenges they’ve faced along the way.

I spoke with Danielle Esplin, Sales & Marketing Manager of parent brand Barker’s of Geraldine. She told me the expat link played a big role in the brand’s Australian success and is something they intend to focus on more. She also felt consumer interest in authenticity and moving to a simpler way of eating, traditional recipes and quality produce was swinging buyers in Anathoth’s favour.

“We’re pretty lucky that many kiwis live on that side of the ditch. That was our seed, but if you’re not going to appeal to mainstream Australia you won’t appear on shelf. We were one of the first to extend country of origin labelling and we tell people where our fruit and veges come from. That issue was never more apparent than during Nanna’s berry recall. People want to have a trusted product to feed their family and we’re all about telling people where the fruit comes from as it provides an element of trust.”

Country of origin labelling is a major debate that comes up frequently in Australia. In recent times New Zealand has – rightly or wrongly – been accused by Australian consumers of using overseas ingredients and labelling them as New Zealand.

Esplin is open about the fact that although Anathoth prefers to use New Zealand fruit, it is becoming more difficult. For example, although Anathoth have always sourced apricots from Central Otago, in 2014 a bee pollination problem resulted in a poor crop. So for the first time, the business was forced to import to meet demands. This, says Esplin, is a real risk to any business and especially where quality is concerned.

“It has been totally challenging to keep our products in the Australian supermarkets,” says Esplin “and it has become tougher since 2007. We have a small Australian base and it’s tough. We really believe some of it is a bit of luck – right time, right place and a category manager willing to give you a shot.”

The main skill, she suggests, is in maintaining presence on the shelf and taking every opportunity to build on it. If you don’t perform, the supermarket will be quick to drop and replace your product.

Despite being number one in New Zealand and growing in double digits, Esplin says replicating that in Australia has been very challenging. The company’s chutney range hasn’t had the success they hoped for in Australia and Esplin believes this is down to different tastes.

Whereas New Zealanders’ largely English background makes sweet chutneys familiar, Australians’ cultural influences have been broader and favoured the more savoury tastes of European cultures such as Italy and Greece.

Right now Australia is the second biggest market for Anathoth Farm though the business continues to be run from New Zealand. Esplin says with the current exchange rate it doesn’t make sense for them to set up an Australian office. Instead, brand building and marketing comes largely from media relations, social media designed to resonate with foodies and leveraging Australian awards to continuously build credibility in this market.

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Aussie’s Freedom Furniture on going native in NZ
Aussie’s Freedom Furniture on going native in NZ

First published in New Zealand Herald 14 April 2015

Every week I write about the New Zealand experience of doing business in Australia. This week I thought I’d look at the view from the other side and how an Australian brand adapts in a Kiwi environment.

Having said that, there are two disclaimers. One, is that Freedom Furniture is hardly a newbie on the Kiwi scene having launched 20 years ago. And two, it’s actually one of a number of brands owned by South African parent company Steinhoff International.

Well known and established on both sides of the Tasman, Freedom’s positioning is different across the two markets.

While in Australia the furniture brand tries to maintain exclusivity, in New Zealand it’s working hard to change that perception and appeal to younger buyers who think they can’t afford to buy Freedom pieces (hence, sponsorship of The Block).

Australia’s Freedom is in an increasingly precarious position, prodded from every angle by competitors big and small. Too expensive to be cheap and cheerful like Ikea, Super A-Mart or Fantastic Furniture. Not exclusive enough to stock uber trendy internationals as do Space or Coco Republic. Unable to stake a locally-made position like, say, Jimmy Possum and without the new-brand-in-town advantage of a West Elm / Pottery Barn.

And that’s just the first brands I thought of. There’s a furniture retailer off- and online for every Australian and every taste. It’s a homemaker extravaganza here in Oz.

I think it makes good sense that in New Zealand Freedom would want to downgrade the positioning and appeal to as many customers as possible. As Jeff Karger, Head of Marketing for Steinhoff Asia Pacific (Freedom Furniture NZ and Poco Australia) says, New Zealand doesn’t have the population size to afford being too niche.

However, New Zealand is big enough to warrant a dedicated local approach including buyer, advertising agency and other partnerships.

But it wasn’t always this way. Karger says mistakes were made in the early days with the Australian attitude to New Zealand partly to blame.

“When we first went into New Zealand, we kind of went in saying ‘we’re here to take over and you’re going to do it our way,'” says Karger. “That big brother attitude created some real challenges for us that we’re now turning around.

“Before I came on board, we were literally changing the address of our Australian shipments and sending the same stock into New Zealand. Sure you can learn from Australia, but the market definitely needed its own focus and local knowledge. New Zealand is not another State of Australia and deserves to have its own point of view. There are some incredibly intelligent opportunities and people. It’s another country of equal standing.”

Karger, an Australian, is based in Sydney and travels to New Zealand every three weeks. He says this works for him and doesn’t matter that he’s not permanently based there as the local team add local knowledge.

He tells me there are definitely differences between the two business cultures and qualities that make New Zealand better, such as the openness of communication.

“It’s a terrible term,” he says “but New Zealand has a very open-door policy. The MD is very approachable, everyone we deal with – the printer, the ad agency – there’s not this ridiculous change of command to prove yourself. Even with competitors it does feel a bit like everyone’s in it together.”

Another Kiwi strength that Karger has also picked up on is the Kiwi attitude to trying new things. He says Freedom customers are happy to try new products, and management is keen to support new initiatives. In fact he thinks New Zealand companies are more likely to give something a go if it has never been done before.

For many companies, including Freedom, New Zealand is seen as a great test case for new business ideas. Freedom has an augmented reality app that first launched into New Zealand and then back into Australia. This week the retailer launches the Style by Freedom blog to its Kiwi market and will watch to see what happens and whether it could work in Australia too.

Karger, like others of us who work with both New Zealand and Australian companies, agrees that Kiwis have no reason to be timid in their approach to Australia. He says he’s now a big fan of New Zealand and finds it ridiculous that New Zealanders are intimidated by Australia when they should stand on their own two feet.

“Styles are merging, the market has changed a lot and it’s nice to now see pieces in New Zealand first,” he says. “I know our New Zealand customers really appreciate that too.”

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Australia to see a more mature Jucy
Australia to see a more mature Jucy

First published in New Zealand Herald 8 April 2015

Australians, like Kiwis, love to go on road trips. The campervan and motorhome industry is thriving and each year retired legions of grey nomads hit the road in ever-growing numbers.

I don’t imagine New Zealand’s Jucy is primarily interested in this group, as retirees are more likely to buy their RVs outright.

However, they’ll be very interested in the young families, international travellers and university students who favour shorter holidays, tend to rent vehicles and represent a combined 50 per cent of a $168 million Australian industry.

According to IBISWorld, Jucy has indeed made a mark with an estimated 4.8 per cent Australian market share. It seems like they’ve only just scratched the surface.

Jucy has been in Australia since 2008, though it’s really only the last couple of years that I’ve noticed the distinct campers here in Melbourne.

The same can’t be said for New Zealand. Over the years, on every trip back the green and purple vehicles seem to have multiplied. I’ve watched the Jucy brand with interest, both in New Zealand and here in Australia, wondering if it would resonate with Aussies as it seems to have with Kiwis.

I spoke to Tim Alpe, one of the two brothers and founders of Jucy, to ask how business is going here in Australia. (Co-founder and brother Dan was in the US launching Jucy there.)

Given the Aussie passion for campervans and for national tourism, it seems like Jucy would be a good fit and according to Alpe, the brand was well received from day one.

There’s the proximity of course, but more importantly when Jucy analysed its customer base they found their biggest customers in New Zealand were in fact Australians. Given many of the European wholesale travel operators that send Jucy New Zealand business send three times as many people to Australia, it made a compelling case.

Jucy in Australia is half the size of its New Zealand operation but Alpe is excited about tapping into the potential and significantly growing the Australian business. The “well-oiled machine with a funky front end” currently has 750 vehicles on Australian roads built by tapping into existing customers and relationships that were already in play.

“At the start, we launched slightly differently in Australia,” says Alpe. “We went in there and did deals with local suppliers and they handled the business for us while we paid them a fee to turn around the vehicle. After one year we quickly understood that if we wanted to be serious we had to own the customer experience ourselves. Our brand is unique to Jucy, it’s excitable and people relate to it and share content, so we focus heavily on creating that community as that’s where we get the business.”

Jucy set up their Australian head office in Brisbane, not for any strategic reason according to Alpe, but simply as a way to access the Eastern seaboard where the majority of road trip clientele are. They now have an Australian GM (a Kiwi) and sales reps, but marketing, sales, finance, IT, innovation and social media is run out of New Zealand.

Though Alpe tells me it works well now, I’d imagine with greater success and growth, the Australian office and its independence from New Zealand will be reconsidered. As it is for many New Zealand companies that reach that next stage of the maturity cycle.

Alpe also believes Australia has made them tougher and prepared the business for going into the US.

“People who go into Australia thinking it’s exactly the same as New Zealand have rocks in their heads,” he says. “As much as we’re similar, we’re equally very different. In New Zealand, we may compete with one another but we have a real respect for other businesses we go up against. In Australia, it’s a lot more dog-eat-dog. It really toughens you up and has been the biggest eye opener for us. If you want the business you have to go after it and be prepared for competitors to tell lies about you and back stab. It has hardened us.”

Jucy has done a great job to create a unique position for the brand and I bet if you asked their customers to define them in a few words they’d all say the same thing: fun, quirky, low cost. It reminds me of another company that started out as a cheeky challenger. Virgin.

Virgin is very different now to when it first launched, rebellious and full of promise. Nowadays Branson’s baby is trying to find its place somewhere between industry-shaker and mature corporate.

In its own way Jucy too has reached the edges of maturity. Those young backpackers they launched to aren’t spending as much and new, older markets show greater potential.

One of the challenges for Jucy will be maintaining that distinct identity and sense of fun while targeting a more mature customer segment that may want something a little more subdued from their rental.

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Australia one of Blunt’s easiest markets
Australia one of Blunt’s easiest markets

First published in New Zealand Herald 31 March 2015

When I was still at school and earning meager babysitting wages, Country Road was selling $50 umbrellas. I remember those so clearly as, at the time, it seemed an extraordinary amount to pay for something so disposable.

Even a few years ago I never thought I’d pay more than $15 for an umbrella. Let alone care about the design attributes of what most of us consider a throw away item.

But that’s the beauty of a product that’s well thought out and, more importantly, well executed. It opens up a new market and suddenly you want to own it too.

Blunt founders Scott Kington, Josh Page and Greig Brebner have been working hard to build an international name in the premium umbrella category, and the way they’ve gone about it is a great story to share.

Right from the start all the parts of the Blunt story seemed to come together. From the design to the marketing, from the sales channel and distribution model they use. It’s so cohesive and makes sense at every point, so not surprisingly their target customers have responded well.

Some companies (and individuals) have an instinct for these things. Others get it right because they document and follow a precise strategy. Lets just say when a business is positioned well, the contrast with a confused brand is patently obvious.

As Kington explains, the Blunt team makes products for the person who appreciates design, appreciates something good and is proud to use it.

The basic answer, he says, is they design and market to an iPhone user.

“The approach we took,” he says, “was to create a website to the world, create an image, develop a buzz and presence with bloggers and on social media. So we appeared in places like Gizmodo, Wired magazine and the Museum of Modern Art. Places people would be looking for design-led products.”

In Australia you’ll find them in higher-end stores like top3 by Design, Henry Bucks and Minimax. (Though oddly, there seem to be quite a few Blunt umbrellas on eBay. I wonder if that’s a legitimate channel for them?)

When they first entered Australia they used an agent with mixed results. They’ve since moved to a distributor model, forming a close partnership with Aussie distributor Joel Schuberg, who came highly recommended by retailers.

Schuberg is equally positive about the Blunt team and product, and says it gets a great response from both retailers and customers. He believes the partnership is also successful because Blunt are committed to working with a distributor rather than direct sales and they have a clear strategy.

Part of that strategy, includes some pretty cool past, present and future collaborations. Any day now the Blunt + Tile limited edition “smart umbrellas” will be available in partnership with the Silicon Valley Bluetooth tracking brand. And there’s even a Marvel collaboration in Taiwan.

Not only are these great for publicity, generating a lot of interest and media attention for Blunt, but the limited edition products are popular in themselves.

The US is currently Blunt’s largest market, but Kington says Australia was one of their easiest. He says Australians understood the product and “just got it” straight away. Whereas another early market, Japan, was one of the toughest, with very high quality controls that demanded product improvement to meet expectations.

“We find that we learn something new from each market that we can then take to the next one. For example, our first Japanese umbrella was a bit heavier,” says Kington, “so, we designed a lighter one and it works in other markets too. We avoided the collapsible model for a while, because strength is the whole basis of our business. But we then created one that allows us to keep that key quality. Then we designed a golf umbrella because the Scandinavians wanted something bigger, as they’re taller. And Germany has taken some time for us, as they have to warm to you.”

Kington believes they’ve only just scratched the surface and that there’s still potential to keep improving the umbrella design.

So, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the copycat fake products are surely a testament that Blunt have “made it”.

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New Zealand Companies in AustraliaQuestionable marketingTrans Tasman

Final lifeline for Pumpkin Patch?
Final lifeline for Pumpkin Patch?

First published in New Zealand Herald 25 March 2015

The recent talk of a Pumpkin Patch takeover feels like a lucky lifeline and possibly the company’s last chance for survival.

Profit may have gone up from $106,000 in 2014 to $749,000 in 2015, but the company is a very long way from the highs of 2009 when EBIT was $22.6 million.

Year after year, Pumpkin Patch sales have declined and not just steadily but rather dramatically.

I’ve written about them in the past, wondering whether the brand still had a future or if its time had come. Here in Australia – their largest market – the retailer’s performance is mediocre. If Pumpkin Patch is to survive, it needs to make Australia work.

In light of the takeover talks, I thought I’d imagine what a successful comeback might look like for the children’s retailer. Could Pumpkin Patch rise up from the ashes and surprise us all?

This late in the game it would take a massive overhaul to rescue them. With the right backer and the lights about to go out, the desperation may just result in positive action.

Over the last few years, Pumpkin Patch has cited many external factors for its decline. Various CEOs have attributed losses to poor economic conditions, high cotton prices, restrictive leases, Middle East instability and natural disasters.

But how critical and brutally honest have they been about what’s inside the organisation? Is it all because of the recession or have they simply stopped making products that people want to buy?

Parents’ tastes have changed. If you look around at Australian and New Zealand children’s wear you’ll see a mini-me look of latest fashions, hence the frequent extension of adult clothing brands into kids wear.

Far less sparkles and froth. More limited colour palette and simplicity. Even department stores like Target stock more of this grown up look. (And I don’t mean inappropriate grown up style, but just a more classic design.)

About five ago, ex-employees of Pumpkin Patch shared their gripes with me and said they felt new ideas and suggestions were ignored by then-management. There was a perception that young designers with ideas that didn’t toe the line, were walked out of the organisation.

Whether this was true or not, perception is everything. And if staff don’t believe in the company direction, what hope do they have to convince customers?

Imagine if Pumpkin Patch had a fresh team (or just an empowered team) who sat down with a blank page and said, “Right, what do people want to buy for their kids and what can we create that brings this customer along for the great new Pumpkin Patch journey?”

My gut feel is this would mean a total product redesign, smaller stores, hugely consolidated product lines, slightly higher prices but a complete experience that justifies that. Young designers and illustrators producing new looks and limited edition runs of beautiful clothing for kids. Quality fabrics and quality production. Unique collaborations with funky young brands like I Love Ugly.

You know what I mean, just different, fresh, new, slightly off-beat. That thing New Zealand does so well.

Come on Pumpkin Patch. Take the risk and do something dramatic! We all want to see you succeed again.

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Brands to watchNew Zealand Companies in Australia

Change brewing as Coffee Supreme goes into Brisbane
Change brewing as Coffee Supreme goes into Brisbane

First published in New Zealand Herald 17 March 2015

When I asked my local Melbourne café if they’d heard of a kiwi brand called Coffee Supreme, they said “Er, yes. Not only do we know it, but you’ve been drinking it every day for two years.”

I love a New Zealand success story and in an elitist coffee city like Melbourne, I love it even more that a kiwi coffee can carve out a name for itself.

Al Keating and Justin Emerson, based in Auckland and Melbourne respectively, have been with the company since the early days. Emerson was one of the original founders and came across to Melbourne with his wife in 2001.

Both have seen massive changes in the industry in New Zealand and Australia. Long before hipsters and pour-over coffees were the norm, the industry was largely about the espresso and influenced by European coffee culture. Now we’re in the third wave or in simple terms, the era of specialty coffee.

Coffee Supreme just celebrated 21 years and, as Keating says, they’re no longer the cool young teenager, but not quite an adult either. The business – and the whole coffee scene – finds itself at a turning point.

“The scene has definitely changed,” says Keating. “I’ve been in the industry for about 16 years and there were some good strong roasters in this country. Now I hear there are close to 200, which is kind of ridiculous for a country of our size. Our industry globally is at a crossroads, everyone is doing the same thing over and over. This part of the beach is seriously crowded.”

Emerson agrees and sees the same happening in Melbourne, with roasters springing up and opening their own little digs all across the city. Many of these independent roasters and café operators cut their teeth with the pioneer of the local Melbourne scene, Mark Dundon.

In fact, Dundon’s legendary cafés Ray and St ALi were early customers of Coffee Supreme. A testament to the New Zealand blend and the hard yards Emerson and his team put into developing the Australian market.

“The hardest thing about breaking into Australia back then, was that we had to change the way things were always done,” says Emerson. “Today if you’re roasting, selling or wholesaling coffee, everyone expects you to throw everything at them, practically the kitchen sink and a free trip to the Bahamas.”

“We were different and still are. We differentiate ourselves through what we buy, how we roast and deliver it. Service is a massive component of what we do.”

If you read the reviews, Coffee Supreme has many ardent fans of its fine brew. New Zealanders have every reason to be proud of the kiwi company.

Ironically, as happens in so many industries and companies on the road to success, the tall poppy syndrome kicks in. Very quickly the biggest supporters can become detractors.

“One thing we’re up against,” Keating says “is that kiwis are reluctant to stick with somebody when they become big and popular. I mean, you get popular because you do something well and people want you. Then they say ‘we’re going with so-and-so, because you’re kind of everywhere now.’ I take some pride in that, but how can we win? If you stay small you’re unpopular. And then you get to be in all the places people like good coffee, why? Because we make good coffee!”

Australia-based Emerson calls it Melbourne’s laneway syndrome. “Melbourne thrives on the café-down-the-laneway that no one can find. Yet, when your coffee gains momentum and more cafés start using it, as they have with Coffee Supreme, I find myself having to defend the company size.”

Partly for that reason and also because it resembles the nostalgic coffee scene of old, Supreme has entered Brisbane.

“We ended up buying a coffee roaster in Brisbane and rebranded it as Coffee Supreme,” says Emerson. “The original owner, Josh, stills runs it for us, but rather than freighting coffee up there and managing it from Melbourne, we do it all locally. It’s a great place where people can congregate, with loads of ex-Melbournites. We’ve started going up there a fair bit, it’s a really interesting scene, still quite a small tightknit community. Like it was when we first started.”

Emerson and Keating say they’re looking even further afield for their expansion and have hopes of breaking into the US.

“Coffee is quite faddish and it’s a bit of a blazé industry,” says Keating “but for us it comes back to people we hire, investing in the next generation of young baristas and having an attitude towards customers that stands the test of time. We may all be a bit bald and wear glasses, but young people keep us agile and honest. If you do what you do well, it insulates you against the challenges.”

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Brands to watchNew Zealand Companies in AustraliaTrans Tasman

From wholesaler to retailer, Citta expands in Australia
From wholesaler to retailer, Citta expands in Australia

First published in New Zealand Herald 4 March 2015

New Zealand’s Citta Design has been wholesaling in Australia for ten years and made the move into retailing just one year ago.

With one store in Australia right now (in the rather cool inner-Sydney suburb of Surry Hills) a second store is imminent. Whether that will again be Sydney or a foray into Melbourne-proper, is yet to be decided.

Either way, Citta is focused on Australia for its next phase of growth.

Marketing & Retail Manager, Katrina Glenday, tells me that New Zealand has basically reached saturation for Citta and despite the competition in Australia, the business is very excited about the potential.

“We’re pretty unique in New Zealand,” says Glenday, “We fit somewhere in between a mass market and boutique design brand. We do compete against the likes of Freedom Furniture and of course many other retailers in Australia, but we have six designers on our team so have designs that are unique to us.”

The challenge for Citta, as it is for many new entrants to Australia, is how to build significant market share and awareness while managing costs. Glenday says advertising is so much more expensive in Australia and hopes the New Zealand model of using PR and social media as primary marketing channels, will also work in Australia.

“One of the things that’s interesting in Australia compared to New Zealand,” she says, “is there are a lot more individual influencers in the industry. Stylists, bloggers, interior designers. We really want to partner with those key people and we think that offers a lot of exciting potential.”

Glenday says research tells them interiors have become the “new fashion”.

Though Citta has had an Australian presence for ten years, it hasn’t been easy and one of the biggest challenges has been logistics.

“The thing that we’ve become more wary of is the cost of moving product,” she says. “It’s all very well selling, and we sell a lot online to Australia, but don’t underestimate the cost of moving bulky products. You have to account for Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) and just the cost and logistics of getting things from New Zealand into Australia.”

Citta has so far avoided selling through the big Australian retailers, choosing instead to have fewer and better stores stock their brand. Now, with a greater focus on Australia, Glenday says they will market around the ‘designed in New Zealand’ angle for the first time.

“With our marketing in Australia,” she says “we are using the line ‘designed in New Zealand for you and your home’. We’ve never done that in New Zealand, because we have seasonal collections -summer and winter- that are inspired by a different country or city. So our brand has quite an international feel. Our company has an Italian name, is New Zealand-owned and operated, inspired by different countries and made in different countries. We just felt the ‘we’re a New Zealand brand’ thing was not so relevant here. I did research and thought it was a good selling point for us in Australia. But ask me in another year and see how that goes,” she laughs.

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Brands to watchNew Zealand Companies in AustraliaTrans TasmanUncategorized

SenateSHJ trans Tasman comms success
SenateSHJ trans Tasman comms success

First published in New Zealand Herald 24 February 2014

When New Zealand corporate communication firm Senate merged with Melbourne’s Scaffidi Hugh-Jones, a truly trans Tasman company was created.

Known as SenateSHJ, Wellington-based CEO Neil Green says a merger in 2007 was always part of the Australian strategy.

Despite differences in the way our two countries do business, Green strongly believes New Zealanders must not underestimate the skills they can bring.

“New Zealand companies have a lot to offer in Australia and sometimes we underestimate the learnings in our market,” he says. “We’ve gone through some really big economic changes, a lot of structural transformation and because in our small country things can be done faster, many of these activities and lessons apply equally in Australia.”

Right now for example, common issues include Australian asset sales and the transformation of the energy sector. Just two of the shared issues New Zealand has already been through.

However, there are areas Australia is a leader, such as government tenders that are much better run in Australia than in New Zealand.

While there’s a lot of work in getting on to a panel, Green believes once you’re part of it the process is run efficiently and effectively. In New Zealand public service RFPs can see anyone taking part with little focus on experience and all focus on cost.

When the New Zealand side of SenateSHJ was established, the Kiwi founders were seeing client decisions increasingly made at an Australasian rather than New Zealand level. In industries such as healthcare, decision-making was across the region. The big four banks all had Australian offices and Green says to win the work they wanted, a trans Tasman presence was always necessary.

They also saw a trend away from outsourcing the communication function in full. Rather companies and governments started to employ experienced in-house teams. In response, instead of hiring generalists SenateSHJ’s model was always to appoint specialists at the top of their game.

With that, came a need to offer compelling rewards beyond base salary. Senior partners in the business have the option to be shareholders, with equity and “skin in the game”.

Specialists in corporate affairs, crisis communication, change communication and social marketing, the company is known for its senior consultants working on high end strategy for blue chip brands on both sides of the Tasman.

“We didn’t want to come to Australia with one or two people and try to organically build a company,” says Green. “We saw that as being too risky, so we set up in Sydney with three senior people and the Melbourne merger meant we could support the Sydney office inside Australia as well as from New Zealand. It gave us immediate market presence, depth and the Melbourne trading history.”

“When people are known in the market and have great reputations, it’s the most vital thing. It allows you to start conversations and create opportunities for sales. Whereas if you’re just an international brand without the substance, there’s a ‘so what’ attitude.”

It wasn’t easy in the beginning for SenateSHJ and, according to Green, the first year in Australia was a slow one, with Australian companies taking a wait-and-see approach. Although the firm won projects, significant work came once companies felt theirs was a business with an Australian future.

“Be prepared for differences in business style within Australia,” adds Green.

“While Sydney is more international and based around ‘what can you do, how can you help me, what’s your experience’, Melbourne is more like Christchurch and relationships go way back to school days. In Melbourne if you don’t have people recognised in the market and haven’t been in it before, it’s a harder one to come into.”

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Brands to watchNew Zealand Companies in Australia

Pride & Joy brings Kiwi ice cream to Australia
Pride & Joy brings Kiwi ice cream to Australia

First published in New Zealand Herald 17 February 2015

New Zealand social impact brand, Pride & Joy, is hoping Queenslanders have a taste for Kiwi ice cream when they launch in Australia’s Sunshine State in 2015.

James Coddington, one of the Kiwi founders (the other is ex-Icebreaker GM Tony Balfour) has clocked up impressive trans Tasman air miles throughout 2014, laying the groundwork for an Australian expansion.

In New Zealand, Joy operates 10 ice cream pods and a retail store in the Auckland Viaduct. Coddington anticipates Australia will have 150 pods within 5 years, with Queensland first off the rank this February.

But Pride & Joy is not your typical commercial ice cream brand. It was created with a philanthropic end-goal: to give undiscovered or struggling entrepreneurs (Joy calls them the ‘remarkable unemployees’) an opportunity to run their own business with minimal personal investment or risk.

Kiwis have a knack for creating memorable and cohesive brands from scratch and Joy has a good story to tell, its own lexicon and some pimped up ice cream vans.

Coddington, former CEO of NZSki Limited is no stranger to running businesses. He’s clear and unwavering in the number one driver for Joy, which is to provide opportunities for unemployed people in New Zealand and beyond.

“New Zealand was always a trial for us,” he says. “A place we could get our systems and our products right, ensure we had the best infrastructure and then take our model to other parts of the world.

“Long term the US will provide the most opportunity, but right now Australia is a logical extension for the business. Queensland even more so, given the state’s high youth unemployment, population density and warm climate.”

In New Zealand, Pride & Joy has faced many challenges, the biggest being New Zealander’s attitude to social enterprise. Coddington says this took him by surprise.

“If you mention social impact in New Zealand, people’s eyes glaze over. The awareness at corporate level for youth unemployment and similar issues is minimal. I’ve sat across the table from senior people and they just stare at me and say, I don’t know why you want to help them James. I’m making generalisations, because we’ve had some great support too, but I don’t get up and have aspirations to make as much money as I possibly can.”

Coddington has found a much greater willingness and understanding of the Joy concept in other regions. In Australia, it has been easier and faster for corporate and government bodies to connect with the Joy strategy. This is due to working with local partners and helping employ local individuals, but it’s also an attitude to social impact that Coddington feels is more apparent overseas.

Local strategy means the “New Zealandness” of the business only extends as far as the raw ice cream, made by Green Valley Dairies and shipped around the world. Business strategy and positioning is determined by each market. You won’t see Pride & Joy marketed as a New Zealand business anywhere else in the world.

Partnerships are the lynchpin of the business and the part Coddington says finds most difficult when taking the brand global. Nothing beats face-to-face contact, which accounts for his relentless travel itinerary.

“I’ve been to Australia eight times in the last year, working my own networks and through introductions made by individuals and NZTE. The more times I go over, the better. Finding the right Australian partner took six months and I talked to a lot of people, with failures along the way,” he says.

In Australia, Joy has partnered with Melbourne-based Benefit Capital, which brings strong connections, pulls the Australian team together and offers financial support.

Pride & Joy quickly follows the Queensland launch with 20 pods in Riyadh from April; aims to have 350 pods in Pakistan over a period of four years, and then heads to South East Asia where partners have committed to 100 pods over two years.

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Brands to watchMarketing & Brand StrategyNew Zealand Companies in Australia

Aussie thirst grows for kiwi Karma Cola brand
Aussie thirst grows for kiwi Karma Cola brand

First published in New Zealand Herald 10 February 2015

I only found out about Karma Cola’s existence a few weeks ago when a colleague in New Zealand asked me to send around the job spec for Australian National Sales Manager.

Drawn in by the allure of uber cool packaging, I searched the back-story online and quickly discovered another example of New Zealand’s savvy for devising fully-formed brands and stories.

Without even tasting the drink, I can see why an Aussie manager is being recruited. Pardon the pun, but Karma Cola (and its irreverent pals Lemmy Lemonade and Gingerella) totally taps into Australia’s thirst for offbeat – and ethical – food and drink experiences.

Co-founder Chris Morrison says Aussie consumers have been very welcoming because we share a strong coffee culture and many Kiwis in Australian hospitality have paved the way for a quick and relatively simple expansion.In fact, he thinks New Zealand and Australia are very similar markets and it’s a misconception that New Zealand businesses are somehow disadvantaged here.

(To add my two cents, I think Morrison’s drinks are doing well in Australia because:
a) they created a brand that appeals to a very clear customer,
b) positioned it perfectly to reach that buyer, and
c) execute the strategy tightly on brand.)

You won’t find Karma Cola and other All Good drinks in Australian supermarkets, but you will find them in independent coffee roasters and cafes that benefit directly from a good story behind the products they stock.

“Wherever there’s good coffee, there’s an opportunity to put our drinks,” says Morrison. “Our model has been not to go into supermarkets. We’re trying to give something unique that our customers are proud to have in their cafes. We can’t go into a high-end outlet and then have the same product just down the road in IGA or a petrol station considerably cheaper. We’re not about volumes and low margins. We’re about telling a deep story and encouraging people that it’s fine to pay a bit more.”

And guess what, people are prepared to pay more for brands with good stories. Karma Cola sells in Hong Kong, Singapore, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and now manufactures in the UK.

“We grew in Australia by 100 per cent last year and want to grow by another 100 per cent this year. So, those 700 to 800 accounts we have now, we want to double this year. We want someone senior to drive the Australian team and employ another 4 to 5 people in the next 12 months.”

While the head office remains in New Zealand, the founders (brothers Chris & Matt Morrison and ex 42Below marketing director Simon Coley) have all spent considerable time in Australia.

“It’s really important to have face to face with the customer and that means having people on the ground in Australia,” he says. “The cafes and gourmet places we’re in would all rather deal with a person who really understands the brand and deals directly with issues, rather than a distributor turning up with a box. It’s a little more expensive in the beginning, but it’s worth it.”

The founders have more than 20 years drinks experience between them. (Morrison is the man behind Phoenix Organics, a drink brand that continues to have success in Australia.)

“Australia is like New Zealand,” says Morrison. “It’s full of good companies and good entrepreneurs, so unless you’re real there and really in the market you won’t last.”

A New Zealand company, All Good has set sights on a global market and is not pushing the brand as Kiwi. The messaging is deliberately international as ingredients are sourced worldwide and the company wants to manufacture in-market wherever possible.

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Brands to watchNew Zealand Companies in Australia

Accenture Interactive acquires Kiwi-founded firm
Accenture Interactive acquires Kiwi-founded firm

First published in New Zealand Herald 3 February 2015

About one month ago an update by a colleague, Tim O’Neill, came through my LinkedIn feed announcing that the digital agency he co-founded had just been bought by Accenture.

What made this announcement even more impressive is that Reactive not only survived the overhyped dotcom 90s era, but went on to become one of Australia’s best independent digital firms.

And even more impressive is that the founders are two young Kiwis.

Fresh off the boat to Melbourne and just nine short months into their stint at Sausage Software, the graduates of Whanganui Design School – the two Tims (O’Neill and Fouhy) – quietly built up a who’s who of Australian blue chip clients and won a swag of awards.

The Tims and I arrived in Australia around the same time and saw a lot of Australian digital companies come and go.

Most of them founded or headed up by bolshie young guys with grand ideas that came to nothing. It certainly says a lot about Reactive’s capabilities and leadership that their business grew and caught Accenture’s eye.

“We started talking to Accenture five months ago when we worked on shared clients,” says O’Neill. “They saw that our work was complimentary to theirs and it didn’t take long for us to see the fit too. The back office support of Accenture and their global brand can help us turn Reactive into more of a consulting technology business.”

Michael Buckley, Managing Director of Accenture Interactive Australia and New Zealand, is equally enthusiastic about the role Reactive will play in Accenture’s ever-expanding digital portfolio.

Buckley has recently witnessed a major change in client strategies, with all Accenture clients demanding better user experiences. He’s leading Accenture Interactive’s acquisitions, on the trail for the best digital agencies in both Australia and New Zealand. Reactive ticked all boxes, including the ability to scale and a reputation for producing high quality work.

“All industries are getting disruptive,” says Buckley. “Look at companies like Uber, which is valued at $40 billion and shaking up the transport industry. We asked ourselves, what does Accenture’s vision look like in digital? Do we want to join or compete? Every client we have is asking this question of their own business. Entrepreneurs are asking this question. I truly see this year as brands saying ‘lets throw all the balls in the air and see where they land.'”

I asked O’Neill whether the New Zealand angle has ever been part of the Reactive story.

“We never thought about the New Zealand angle,” says O’Neill. “In fact, it might be stretching it a bit to call us a Kiwi battler. I think it’s more that the people who leave New Zealand for Australia are pretty motivated. We graduated and one week later we moved to Melbourne. It’s interesting that we’ve come full circle and are now working with Wellington again.”

O’Neill does think that New Zealand is ahead of the technology scene and that Australia could do with greater support for the tech industry. He also thinks Wellington is experiencing a brain drain with many technology businesses that do well on a global scale, relocating.

Right now, Reactive employs 134 staff across 5 offices including Melbourne, Sydney, Auckland, London and New York. The Reactive name will remain in Australia and New Zealand and both O’Neill and Fouhy will continue in their leadership.

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New Zealand Companies in Australia

Ten tips for Australia business success
Ten tips for Australia business success

First published in New Zealand Herald 7 January 2015

I’ve been working with and writing about New Zealand companies in Australia for quite a few years. As a Kiwi expat of 18 years, I’m a little sad to admit this, but I now call Australia home.

With this column, I want to share both the successes and failures of Kiwi companies here in Oz. Not just the usual suspects, those that operate under the radar too. (They often have a much better story to tell.)

Through my work, I’m fortunate to meet many New Zealand firms, all at different stages in Australia. They hail from different industries, have different leadership styles and strategies, so you start to see what works and what doesn’t.

Last year was a particularly big year for Kiwi companies here. The way the year ended, 2015 will be even bigger.

Technology companies were far and away the most represented industry in 2014, with many tech brands reaching out.

From app development firms to back office system support, I had a lot of coffees with ambitious company owners looking beyond New Zealand. And for good reason.

You’ve heard it all before: Australia is close, it’s significantly larger in market size, the language and time zone is the same, the dollar is practically at parity. For companies that quickly outgrow New Zealand,

Australia is a no brainer.

Here’s another thing you’ve heard before: it’s not easy to make it here. In fact, a number of companies I’ve met found more success tackling Europe, Asia and the US than they have Australia.

So, if I could start your new year with ten tips, gleaned from working with both Australian and Kiwi companies, you might find 2015 is your Aussie year.

Australia business checklist:

1. Visit Australia. See firsthand what others in your industry are doing, as nothing beats seeing the market with your own eyes.

2. Choose one or two cities only. If you’re a young company, pick Sydney or Melbourne. Trying to make it in both at the outset could be your undoing.

3. Connect with expat networks before you come. We’re always happy to share knowledge and point you in the right direction. NZTE, NZVBG, Trans-Tasman Business Circle – networks created with you in mind.

4. Do the desk research and pinpoint your competitors, their clients, brand positioning. You’ll need to be different (or compellingly better) to stand any chance.

5. Consider a local advisory board. Not every company can afford or needs a local team right away, but a key advisor can open doors at the highest level. (Be realistic, no one will do this for free, so choose what works for you, such as partial equity or a day rate.)

6. Relocate. This may be drastic, but many companies have done exactly that. No distributor or sales rep ever can represent your brand the way you can.

7. Define your niche and don’t try and be everything to everyone. I can’t stress this one enough. In New Zealand you can get away with a broad offering, in Australia you must have a specialisation.

8. Bring your wallet. It’s expensive here and winning work takes far longer than you think. Chances are you’re not going to win a client for many months. Can you afford to wait?

9. Look into partnerships (or acquisitions) with established, complementary businesses. These can shortcut your way into Australia, and many Aussie companies will at least be interested to have the conversation.

10. Don’t be afraid to walk away. If you get the feeling you’re not ready, you’re probably right. It’s not failure if you decide Australia isn’t right for you. In fact, you may save your New Zealand business as a consequence.

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Marketing & Brand StrategyNew Zealand Companies in AustraliaTrans Tasman

The sleeping Australian giant awakens
The sleeping Australian giant awakens

Lead story in Fairfax NZ Business 25 November 2014

New Zealand and Australia have always enjoyed some friendly banter and rivalry. Whether in a rugby match, political satire or just friendly sparring between Kiwis and Aussies in pubs around the world.

Our trans Tasman rivalry could turn a little less friendly and a lot more ruthless with the signing of the Free Trade Agreement between Australia and China. That is unless New Zealand businesses, especially those without the luxury of Fonterra’s market share and Australian interests, step it up a notch.

When the agreement was announced, my first thought was with New Zealand. What does this mean to my former home and the companies that already face enormous international competition?

In a way, Australia has been a slumbering giant compared to New Zealand. Like a big corporate beast versus a nimble start up, Australia is more bureaucratic, slower to adapt to change and thinks it’s doing pretty well, thank you very much.

But this China deal has given Australia more reason to get it together. And though President Xi Jinping has assured New Zealand that there’s more than enough business to go around, if you’re a New Zealand company with a nervous niggle, I don’t blame you.

As I’ve written in the past, when you live in Australia you realise that many qualities New Zealand is positioned around are also readily found here.

From Tasmania to Queensland, country Victoria to the North Coast, all around Australia there are clean and green regions producing great food and dairy. Australians enjoy the same outdoors lifestyle New Zealanders have always been proud of. We all live a short drive away from beautiful regional towns and holiday destinations. We have farmers’ markets and clean beaches.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to one-up New Zealand by telling you how great Australia is. But I’m looking at our two countries from the eyes of the Chinese consumer and they don’t look that different.

Although New Zealand has always been masterful at marketing itself, Australia is gunning for the same space and is now incentivised to go for it with greater gusto.

PureNZ was a great position at the time, and although it was a tourism campaign, it had universal appeal to an international audience hungry for authenticity. But the New Zealand story of open spaces, hearts and minds doesn’t have the same punch.

New Zealand needs something else, and it needs to come up with it quickly before the great lumbering giant that is Australia wakes up entirely.

With China now New Zealand’s number one trading partner and Australia stepping into the fray, New Zealand businesses needs fiercer competitive strength. That means adopting some of that Australian thick skin and commercial edge.

I was sent a link to Sir Paul Callaghan’s 2011 address to StrategyNZ. It was an excellent presentation that rightly talked about New Zealand’s need to invest in talent and technology, rather than just dairy and tourism. There has never been a better time.

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Marketing & Brand StrategyTrans Tasman

Mixing Aussie ruthlessness with Kiwi grit
Mixing Aussie ruthlessness with Kiwi grit

First published in Fairfax NZ Business 4 November 2014

My Australian clients and colleagues have been listening to me prattling on about New Zealand companies for a number of years now.

Underneath all those obligatory jokes about sheep and being part of Australia, Aussies are a bit impressed by some of the better-known New Zealand companies. Maybe even a little intimidated. After all, there are a few New Zealand brands going about their Australian business, chipping away at market share that incumbent Aussies take for granted.

Aussies take a lot of things for granted, which is part of the reason many companies have been hit for six by international competition. So, smart Kiwi companies, you can make that humble Kiwi thing work in your favour. For just as a dog’s bark is worse than its bite, Aussies make a lot of noise but most are slow to react to competition.

Right now, in many industries in Australia, it could be anyone’s game.

Here’s an example of Kiwi ingenuity for you. In the last few months, I’ve met a New Zealand CEO, who is playing an impressive and (very) long game here in Australia. He’s in charge of an organisation with good market share in New Zealand, but due to the regulations cannot currently operate here.

Instead of dismissing the opportunity, he’s quietly going about developing relationships – including meeting with government ministers. He’s laying down the foundations for possible changes in Australian legislation that will position his organisation as an authority. Not an opportunistic copycat, but a leader.

All this has greatly impressed my Australian colleague, who comes from the same industry as this CEO.
The other day he told me that this is what the New Zealanders do so well. They think strategically. They get in under the radar and chip away. They don’t whinge and sit back arrogantly saying it’s not possible or ‘we’ve always done it this way in Australia.’ They position for the long term.

So imagine how well New Zealand companies can do here in combination with the right locals? A meeting of minds, if you will. The Aussie ruthlessness matched with the Kiwi perseverance. It’s a beauty.

With that professional cooperation in mind, last month I interviewed twelve Australian and Australia-based CEOs of New Zealand companies and asked them what it was like to work for Kiwi brands over here. I wanted to know if there was a magic formula to building a great Kiwi brand in Australia.

What came out clearly from those interviews, and from previous conversations I’ve had on the topic, is that New Zealand businesses thrive in Australia with great locals on board. Even more so when the cords are not cut – but handed over.

From manufacturing to retail, technology to professional services, the companies that saw the best Australian growth, were those that entrusted their New Zealand brand to an Australian of equal standing.

Keep that in mind as you consider your next move in Australia and plan for the long game.

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Trans TasmanWhite Papers

Interviews with Australia-based leaders of NZ firms
Interviews with Australia-based leaders of NZ firms

In 2013, I conducted a series of interviews with New Zealand CEOs and business owners to find out how they exported their business to Australia. This is the follow up – interviews with the Australia-based leaders of NZ firms.

I interviewed 11 Oz-based leaders, all at different stages of business development in Australia, with different relationships back to New Zealand. They had much to say and several chose to go off record, as they didn’t think their New Zealand contemporaries would like what they heard.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from these conversations over the years, as tempting as it is to run your business in Australia according to New Zealand rules of engagement, don’t. Once you reach a certain Australian size – around the $10m revenue mark – hire the best local leaders and let them work their magic.

[ Download and read the white paper ]

Interviews with:

  • Michael Morgan – Intergen
  • Warrick Batt – Autex
  • Doug Sadler – ecostore
  • Sean Horgan – West Coast Energy
  • Steven Cronshaw – Sentient PPM
  • Brent Lawson – Delica
  • Doug Gibson – Certus
  • Paul Bayly – Cranleigh Merchant Bankers
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Brands to watchMarketing researchTrans Tasman

The rise of democratic retail
The rise of democratic retail

First published in Fairfax NZ Business 21 October 2014

Statistics are a funny thing. Sometimes data is released so frequently it can render itself useless to the average business owner.

Every week consumer confidence ratings go up or down by one or two percentage points. And that information, while mildly interesting, doesn’t offer any meaningful insight to a retailer trying to increase purchases in their store.

But there are times when a particular finding rises above the noise. You hear it mentioned by one source, and it rings true. Then, weeks later a completely different source gives a similar piece of insight except worded differently. And before you know it, a new narrative is formed.

I had that feeling last week at an Australian retail seminar put on by Westfield. As with many seminars, there were speakers presenting on last year’s topic, packaged under a new buzzword.

But then there was something that had me taking notice. Trend Watching called it ‘brand sacrifice,’  AMP Capital Shopping Centres called it ‘the consulting consumer’ and one of Westfield’s speakers referred to the ‘decentralisation of information.’

Basically, it all points to customers expecting a company to work much harder to win them over.

Customers now might expect full disclosure from companies on how a product is produced – for example what Nike did this year when they released their manufacturing map. The sportswear firm created an interactive detailed analysis of every single factory used by their company, down to employee number, average age and physical address of the factory.

This new ‘consulting consumer’ might expect retailers to create a truly unique experience that takes us to another world, such as Australian brand Sneakerboy are trying out. Sneakerboy uses their funky physical “store” as a showroom for its uber pricey trainers, which can only be ordered online. In the showroom, digital screens show real-time sales as they happen.

This extra effort doesn’t just apply to hip youth brands.

Last year Telstra rolled out a new retail concept created by interior design firm Geyer and said they saw sales rise immediately. The ‘Store of the Future’ has no traditional counters for sales staff to stand behind, but is more open and leaves staff and customers mobile and active.

Something we’ve all come to love about the Apple stores is staff everywhere, all equally knowledgeable and the ability to purchase at any point in time and place within the Apple space. If you need another buzzword for it, it’s the ‘democratisation of retail’.

As if to hammer it home, at Melbourne’s Chadstone Shopping Centre yesterday I noticed classic brand Salvatore Ferragamo, promoting  customised shoes. For AU$895 the company allows customers to go online and choose the material, colour, bow, heel, hardware, initials, width and of course size and create our very own classic Ferragamo ballet shoe.

A $900 personal loafer? Now that’s democracy!

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We can’t cook – and food brands love it
We can’t cook – and food brands love it

First published in Fairfax NZ Business 7 October 2014

According to recent research that will surprise no one, we’re all getting lazier when it comes to creating nutritious meals from scratch.

When you add together all the pieces of research on our food habits, what you get is an ugly and contradictory picture.

On one hand, we’re obsessed with food and weight. Just look at the popularity of cooking shows, as we Australians and New Zealanders spawn evermore so-called ‘foodies’. We grow own organic vegetables in our little urban plots. We constantly on a new diet du jour – Paleo, Atkins or whatever this month’s breakthrough is.

Yet on the other hand, obesity, diabetes and heart disease continue to rise. We buy more ready-made and partially made meals than ever before. And a lot of us, according to profound (and worrying) research from practically every respectable source, quite simply have no idea how to cook.

In Australia, the prepared meals category is worth $940m and has grown 3.4 per cent in the last five years.

Australian market leaders McCain Foods and Simplot hold 25.5 per cent and 8.7 per cent share respectively. The category is on a growth trajectory, with its own sub categories including ‘healthy’ low fat options, ‘premium’ options and the ubiquitous home brand variety. A perpetual evolution of pre-marinated, snap frozen, dehydrated and semi-cooked. Available across all stages of preparedness, depending on our own personal level of laziness. Oops, I mean convenience.

Every day, the category produces something that tastes better, costs less and is even easier to prepare. I never buy the fully ready, pre-cooked meals found in supermarket freezers (frozen lasagnes, shepherd pies of dubious origins and so on). Instead, I feel smug satisfaction from the false premise that because I turned on a stove and not a microwave, I cook proper, like.

Turns out more of us are revising our definition of “home cooked”, with the boundaries becoming more blurred. I noticed recently that New Zealand’s My Food Bag launched in Australia. No doubt they’re hoping their concept – delivering all the pre-measured ingredients that help you cook a meal from one of their recipe cards – will resonate with Australians.

They join a number of other rather glamorously branded Australian delivery food services. (Not to be confused with the humble local take away which, although also delivered, does not require any personal culinary intervention.) These include Hello Fresh, Eat Fit Food, Gourmet Dinner Service and dish’d.

Just a few nights ago I got swept up in the full-page magazine ad for dish’d and decided to experiment. I assumed that if Australia’s beloved French chef Jacques Reymond was on the team, it must be credible. I was intrigued and ordered online, eager to experience “innovative and delicious food from around the world.”

The photographs looked delicious and the price ($42) seemed reasonable on a gourmet-spread-for-two that included six prawn baguettes, Thai vegetable green curry and two Tartufo Nero ice creams.

It was only after I placed my order and glanced the word ‘Simplot’ on the About Us page, that I had a slight feeling of apprehension. I should have known better. I fell for the oldest trick in the book. Simplot are not Australia’s number two in this category by accident, they know their market and they found me just where they knew I’d be. The category may be expanding, but my experiment with dish’d has confirmed that I’m not quite ready to admit defeat on this personal cooking shtick. At the end of the day, when I opened my fancy dish’d chillybin steaming with dry ice, what I got was three packets of frozen food. Marketed in a new way, through a new channel and with a nice piece of storytelling. But it was still frozen precooked food.

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Brands to watchTrans Tasman

Making the most of industry awards
Making the most of industry awards

First published in Fairfax NZ Unlimited 23 September 2014

The elections weren’t the only major event in New Zealand this weekend. While John Key and his fellow politicians competed agressively with one another, vendors competed equally fiercely for recognition in the 2014 Fonterra Global Vendor Awards.

As a guest of my Australian client Vacupack (a manufacturer of thermoformed plastic packaging for the food industry) I was on your side of the Tasman this week to witness the disappointment and the glory of the many companies that work with Fonterra.

These being the first Fonterra awards the family-owned business has entered, and given the power of the almighty dairy giant’s brand, it was a very big deal for the Vacupack team.

If you’ve ever contemplated or entered your own business into awards of any kind, you’ll know the process can be incredibly cumbersome and pretty costly too. And I don’t mean the cost to enter, but rather the cost of your time preparing for and filling out the submission forms, dotting the Is and crossing the Ts.

If your business works with consultants, I’d highly recommend you bat this one over to them. I’m not just saying that because I’m a consultant drumming up work for my peers, as I have to be honest with you, those submissions are no one’s idea of a dream gig. Jot down some bullet points and outsource if you can.

Awards are one of those intangibles that are difficult to put a true value on, but they certainly don’t hurt the reputation.

For New Zealand companies trying to break into Australia, any edge you can have over another company is worth pursuing. Let’s face it, we’re all a little impressed when we see a badge on a piece of collateral. It stands as shortcut code for these guys must be doing something right.

A number of New Zealand companies I speak to believe their brand is enhanced by winning, making the shortlist or even just being nominated for Australian industry awards. In fact, if you have the inclination and the reason to enter awards in other international markets, you should. It adds another layer and makes your business relevant to the local market you’re targeting.

However, like sponsorship, awards are only as good as the attention they receive.

It’s an unspoken rule in the marketing industry that you need to spend just as much promoting your sponsorship as you do paying for it. That means have a plan to promote the award at every stage, making the most of the co-branding opportunity with organisers, other worthy nominees and so on.

In Vacupack’s case, we kicked into action as soon as the announcement was made. Quick and easy wins that included an email to all clients and contacts through Vacupack’s newsletter, the website was updated straight away and a LinkedIn announcement was made.

Regardless whether we won or lost, we already marketed Vacupack’s selection as finalists in two categories with gusto. Being recognised by Fonterra speaks volumes, here and in Australia.

And guess what, we won!

So the story goes on to live another week and, in practical business terms and Vacupack’s work packaging Fonterra products in Australia has been validated by an important client to the industry and to all staff. That’s the kind of value that’s priceless.

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Brands to watchMarketing & Brand StrategyMarketing and CommunicationsTrans Tasman

How to spin a crisis Greenpeace style
How to spin a crisis Greenpeace style

First published in Fairfax Unlimited 9 September 2014

Greenpeace loves to be in the news. And given the correlation between charity brand awareness and funds generated, it has good reason to aim for headlines.

As far back as I can remember, Greenpeace has received enviably long column inches that other not-for-profits could only dream of. That’s certainly no easy feat. In Australia there are over 59,000 charities vying for limited funds with 2000 new charities registered in 2013 alone. New Zealand has 27,392 with an annual income of $15,724 million – thank you NZ Charities Services website.

It’s a crowded market with almost total reliance on donations from households, governments and corporate entities. (Greenpeace claim not to take donations from governments or companies.)

To this day, rightly or wrongly, when I think of Greenpeace I immediately envision some wild-looking, lanky-haired, euphoric protestor being taken away in handcuffs having tied himself to a whale – or something.

But I imagine this is, perhaps, the kind of brand association Greenpeace is  keen to break.

But that’s the thing about brands – the organisation doesn’t always get to control the message.

This week, however, Greenpeace reminded us why it is a savvy media player by showing its ability to control the message.

In one of the most bizarre stories to come out this year, it turns out that Greenpeace USA’s 2015 nature calendar features photos by none other than Alain Mafart, a name that is, surely, embedded into the national psyche of every Kiwi that was more than five years old in 1985. The same guy who bombed the Rainbow Warrior made it into a Greenpeace calendar that included only 12 photographs, sourced from an image bank that must have, literally, held millions of photos by thousands of photographers.

Instead of burying their heads in the sand and panicking about how on Earth to wrangle their way out of this one, Greenpeace did what every confident brand does. It spun that baby right into the international press and came out looking like the good guys.

There are two ways this story could have gone for a behemoth international brand like Greenpeace. Had they tried to hide the gaffe and quietly buy the calendars out of stock, hoping to hell the story doesn’t leak, they ran the risk of more headlines about yet another charity wasting donors’ hard-earned money. But by taking the other approach, and embracing the ridiculousness of the situation and going for full disclosure, they shifted the narrative to be about a shocking wrong that was righted by Greenpeace

In fact, the media release introduced a new villain by ever so skilfully redirecting blame to the calendar’s US publishing company, Workman.

We learn that Workman “refused to recall the calendar unless it was reimbursed $US250,000,” that Greenpeace then “returned all royalty payments for the 2014 calendar” and have even decided to end their business relationship with them.

Greenpeace weighed up the value of the payoff versus the value of the brand to survive a PR crisis and surmised that, this particular disaster, was a cinch. (In fact, it kind of fits with its slightly bawdy brand, no?) Crisis averted and column inches gained. Greenpeace brand awareness raised, donations no doubt increased and PR prowess maintained.

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Brands to watchMarketing & Brand StrategyTrans Tasman

All Blacks winning brand war
All Blacks winning brand war

First published in Fairfax Unlimited 26 August 2014

With my (pathetically) limited knowledge of sport, even I knew to look no further than the mighty All Blacks for my Australian marketing column this week.

Over the weekend I studied up on rugby trivia (or rather ‘not so trivia’) and tried to understand just how the All Blacks managed to build such a powerful brand, much greater than any Australian sporting one, despite the size difference of our two nations.

To my amateur sporting eye, in the last decade it feels like Australia’s heroes have turned down the volume. Meanwhile, the All Blacks have meticulously and expertly transformed into a true global brand.

Despite only ever watching a handful of rugby games from start to finish, even I feel total awe from the moment the All Blacks come on to do the haka. It’s one of the rare moments my Aussie-born kids fall silent and seem genuinely mesmerised.

In 2011, global brand valuation firm Brand Finance put the All Blacks’s worth at $108 million – a very respectable number compared with the $51 million value of Australia’s highest ranked sporting brand, the Penrith Panthers. However it does fall a long way short of the $1 billion worth of German sports club FC Bayern München.

(As an aside, the Penrith Panthers’ value, while judged on performance, sponsorship, loyalty and brand awareness, also takes into account $100 million in annual revenue from pokies, adding another fun dimension to Australian sport.)

In my view the All Blacks’ brand management deserves its own place in the sporting hall of fame. Or at the very least, some dedicated Harvard Business School case studies.

Like all the world’s most successful brands, seeing and hearing the name conjures strong emotions, strengthens loyalty, helps sell products and supersedes even the individuals in the team.

In the All Blacks’ case, it even enabled them to drop the ‘New Zealand’ from their name without any real fallout.

Of course it’d be foolish to ignore the fact that a great brand has to start with a great product, and there’s no bluffing when it comes to the All Blacks’ exceptional performance on the field. The team’s win ratio in the professional era is more than 80 per cent. That means they’re not justifying themselves to sponsors every time a game is played, but positioning for the long term – clearly a successful strategy given Adidas and AIG have both signed on until 2019. (In contrast this is something short-sighted companies fail to do when they make decisions that bring quick profits but spell long term brand death.)

In fact, so valuable are the two words ‘All Blacks’, that adding them to Sevens, Maori, Under 19s, Under 21s, schools, etcetera means inspiring many through association. Allow me to add yet another disclaimer when I tell you I didn’t realise the Wallabies were officially the Qantas Wallabies. Then again, judging by people’s comments following articles on the topic of major naming rights, most people are equally unimpressed. (Plus I can’t help thinking Qantas’ flailing brand isn’t doing much for the Wallabies’ one.)

I know there was a lot of concern when AIG got their name on the All Black rugby jersey, but in Australian terms that’s as subtle as it gets.

On the other hand, if I wake up and read a chipper little press release announcing the newly renamed Spark All Blacks, I’ll take back all my goodwill.

Great partnerships between sponsors and teams walk a fine line. In my eyes changing the team name crosses that line.

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Questionable marketingTrans Tasman

Bad eggs lead to mistrust of brands
Bad eggs lead to mistrust of brands

First published in Fairfax Unlimited 12 August 2014

This week in New Zealand, you’d be forgiven for taking your time in the egg section of the supermarket.

As John Garnett from Forest Hill Farm apologises for scamming you by flogging caged eggs as free-range, he joins a whole host of companies that get caught misleading the public.

Garnett’s dodgy eggs are just the tip of the iceberg. More and more companies are simply not what they’re cracked up to be. At best, their marketing claims are slightly exaggerated. At worst, their fraudulent practices are dangerous and even deadly. Who can forget China’s melamine-tainted milk formula.

Is it any wonder customers are not as loyal to brands as they used to be? A lot of them don’t deserve it. Manuka honey that has no Manuka (or honey) in it. Extra virgin olive oil that’s 97 per cent canola. Beef burgers that were once, er, horses. We’ve seen it all.

And who are we to argue? Our demands for lower prices come at a cost. In Australia, we also have our fair share of mislabelling. Including that whole free-range, barn-laid, cage-egg debate.

For example, in 2013 when Woolworths made the rather grand announcement that it would phase out all cage-laid eggs by 2018, one could be forgiven for being a tad unexcited by the gesture.

The term “free-range” is used rather liberally in Australia. While in New Zealand the Animal Welfare (Layer Hens) Code of Welfare says a free-range hen can share a hectare of accommodation with up to 2,500 of its closest pals, in Australia there is no national code. In Aus,  “free-range” can mean hens are snuggling with as many as 20,000 fellow chook roommates. Yet the magical words “free-range” on the carton can command a premium of up to double the price of their caged friends.

Australian egg brands have taken some pretty extraordinary measures to differentiate themselves from one another. There are so many of them out there, it’s mind numbing. Farm Pride even have a range with a video viewer, so you can check out what the chickens are up to live on the chook cam. (Although at time of writing, the cam seemed to be down. Perhaps the chickens just wanted some privacy?)

Apart from eggs, a few recent scandals have included Aussie chef Maggie Beer’s daughter, Saskia Beer, admitting that her premium Black Pig small goods don’t, in fact, have any black pig.

Our friends at Coles have had to dump their very catchy – and entirely untrue – ‘baked today, sold today’ catchphrase. Cut them some slack people.  They focus-grouped ‘baked half way round the world, but warmed up right here in Australia’ and it didn’t test as well, okay?

The fact is companies that get caught making up grossly inaccurate claims – whether in food, retail, manufacturing or professional services – are killing their brands softly with their scams. Cheap prices can fool some of the people some of the time, but after a while you’re just as commoditised as the other pretenders.

On the other hand, premium-priced products that have fraudulent claims tend to fall over a whole lot faster.

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Brands to watchTrans Tasman

Xero leading the way in Australia
Xero leading the way in Australia

First published in Fairfax NZ Unlimited  29 July 2014

In Australia, in terms of brand awareness, Xero is just as big a brand as it is in New Zealand.

As if by magic, the Xero accounting software appeared several years ago and in the blink of an eye created a name for itself that defies its current Australian market share of around five per cent.

Of course it wasn’t really by magic. It was a timely cloud-based product and channel marketing strategy that targeted accountants, turned them into confident advocates and tapped into their multiple clients.

Not unlike many incumbents who get caught ‘unawares’, MYOB was too sluggish to respond and swiftly shed a portion of customers.

In Australia, Xero has been a great ambassador of New Zealand’s technology capabilities and Kiwi companies would do well to capitalize on this and come on over. There’s significant interest from Australian investors, who have no reason to concern themselves with country of origin.

Software defies geographical boundaries: it’s portable, translatable and easily adaptable. In any case, if we’re feeling particularly friendly, New Zealand is practically Australia anyway. As I wrote a few months ago, Melbourne’s Square Peg Capital, together with Valar Ventures, invested more than  $20 million into New Zealand’s point of sale software Vend.

A good business will always find interest (and cash). Additionally, there’s increasing activity and buzz in the local Australian tech scene. You just have to read the daily business papers here to see that Aussie tech gets the media very excited. A recent Silicon Valley-style event called The Big Pitch, surprised even Oxygen Ventures, the organisers and investors fronting the cash, with the level of interest.

To a sell-out crowd, over 300 startups vied for $5 million equity funding from Oxygen. Three companies succeeded and split the loot after pitching to a panel that included founder Larry Kestelman, Sebastian Eckersely-Maslin from incubator BlueChilli, Channel Ten Exec GM Russel Howcroft, Chris Ridd of Xero and Steven Cooper of PayPal.

And the intentions are to hold the event annually, with New Zealanders also encouraged to pitch.

There is a great support network for New Zealand companies coming  to Australia. That includes NZTE Melbourne’s Chris Romano, who is actively building bridges between the New Zealand and Australian tech sectors. Several months ago he organised a delegation of e-tailing businesses to Australia, including the aforementioned Vend. And now, Romano has formalised a partnership with Melbourne’s York Butter Factory, one of a number of co-working spaces in Australia that is home to numerous startups.

The arrangement is a bit of an experiment for NZTE and one they hope will be successful and replicate in their offices around the world. So, if you’re a startup prepared to fly and put yourself up over here in Oz. NZTE Melbourne has funded three York Butter Factory desks, on rotation to three New Zealand startups for six months.

Pack your bags. It’s all happening here.

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BlogBrands to watchMarketing & Brand StrategyTrans Tasman

Whittaker’s chocolate and Nigella Lawson
Whittaker’s chocolate and Nigella Lawson

Lead story Fairfax NZ Business 15 July 2014

Writing this fortnightly column about New Zealand brands in Australia is a tough gig. Even for a hardened marketer like myself, I can’t help but take personal interest in the companies I write about.

I’m nothing if not dedicated to my craft. I wash my dishes with ecostore detergents, pack my kids’ lunches into Sistema boxes, add a dash of A2 milk to my cup of tea and just this weekend took out a second mortgage to buy a fancy Blunt umbrella, which I plan to smugly use when Melbourne blows everyone else’s $5.99 disposables straight to the bin.

Today, yet again, I went the extra mile in the name of authentic research and dashed across the road to Woolworths to buy a big, gold, coconut block of Whittaker’s chocolate. I’m looking at it right now as I ponder the future, on this side of the Tasman, of yet another $100 million New Zealand brand.

As Whittaker’s have noted in previous articles, Australia has been a slower burner for them in terms of market share. On one hand, as is often the case for New Zealand exporters, Australia is their largest export market. On the other hand its comparative Australian market share is very small.

Whittaker’s are in the single digits compared with the behemoth chocolate brands led by Mondelez (34 per cent), Nestle Australia (18 per cent) and Mars Australia (13.7 per cent). IbisWorld recorded these figures as recently as June 2014, with Australian chocolate and confectionary manufacturing generating AU$4 billion revenue.

The brand itself has never been highly visible in Australia and the supermarkets have largely kept the bars on bottom shelves. I’m curious to know what brand awareness is among Australians and would guess it to be very low (especially when compared with expats’ familiarity, largely driven by the ubiquitous peanut slab).

It wasn’t until a recent visit to a New Zealand supermarket that I understood just how huge Whittaker’s have become in the homeland. The entire chocolate shelf seemed to be dedicated to products and ranges I’d never heard of or seen here in Australia.

As I’ve written in the past, the might of Coles and Woolworths is driving a model in Australian supermarkets that falls predominantly into two streams.

One stream is the good old staples that people have been buying for years and will continue to do so. The other is the speedy onslaught of new (sub) brands, new products, new packaging, feeding our desire for new tastes and, just simply, new stuff. (In some cases this is old stuff rebadged in new ways, winning renewed interest.)

Whittaker’s has clearly become a master of this model back home, launching numerous flavours and combinations and positioning itself as an innovator, a collaborator and a local favourite that has moved with the times.

With Nigella Lawson fronting the very recent campaign, Whittaker’s has an opportunity to create more significant groundswell in Australia. They just need to make sure the Whittaker’s name isn’t eclipsed by Nigella’s and that means spending more marketing dollars around their brand to back up the TV campaign.

Heck, maybe they should go for a full frontal attack and just embrace her recent media attention for drug dabbling. Cheeky ad spots where Nigella admits she now indulges in a far healthier habit, anyone?

Regardless of the future direction with (or without) Nigella, now that Whittaker’s is sitting higher on Aussie shelves they need to hammer home the message to Australians that theirs is a chocolate worth sampling, buying and buying again. It’ll be an expensive marketing investment, but I think well worth it.

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Brands to watchMarketing & Brand StrategyProfessional servicesTrans Tasman

Kiwi universities should target Australian students
Kiwi universities should target Australian students

First published in Fairfax Unlimited 16 June 2014

An article in the papers here in Australia last week reported that it was cheaper for rural Australian students to complete their degrees overseas, including all costs to live on campus.

A three-year agricultural degree apparently costs Australians $60,000 to complete at New Zealand’s well-regarded Lincoln University compared with over $100,000 at the University of Melbourne.

This is seen as yet another blow to Australia’s long-term investment into sectors that should be the country’s strong points. With a very controversial current budget, there is a mood of uncertainty around what the Australia of the future will look like.

The tertiary education model is facing new challenges all over the world. These include intense competition for students and funding, ever-growing access to online education and information, major advances in technology and just the different skills required to get jobs these days.

For Australian students, New Zealand has the advantage of being close, relatively cheap, and providing qualifications that are often seen as equally good. It seems to me this is a very good time for New Zealand universities and colleges to focus their marketing efforts a little closer to home.

Australia has numerous institutions, with over 39 universities and around 60 technical and further education colleges, known as TAFEs (who can forget Tracey Kerrigan’s Diploma of Hairdressing from Sunshine TAFE in that Aussie classic, The Castle).

Like New Zealand, each institution comes with its own reputation based on industry standards or subjective perceptions.

Melbourne University has a strong brand. In global rankings it rates in the top 50 universities worldwide.

Over the years, the university has worked hard to reposition itself as Australia’s most prestigious academic institution by bringing in the world’s leading academics and lecturers, making entry more difficult and positioning itself around that desirable quality of prestige.

At the other end of the spectrum and equally differentiated is Deakin University. It is actively carving out a niche as Australia’s practical university, positioning around graduates who have globally portable skills.

Deakin has spent a lot of money around the ‘worldly’ brand. If you visit Melbourne you’re likely to see trams, television ads and billboards plastered with the tagline. For a time, whenever I attended marketing workshops I’d be surrounded by Deakin staff, also enrolled in the courses.

Brand equity in tertiary education is extremely powerful and lucrative, and perception can be as valuable as reality.

Of the many ranking systems, Times Higher Education (THE) produces an annual league table based on reputation alone. The methodology includes interviews with the world’s leading academics, asking questions such as “which university would you send your most talented graduates to for the best postgraduate supervision?”

Since its inception in 2004 Harvard has topped that list. In fact, of the top 100 schools on the league the US has a whopping 46, followed by the UK with 10 and Australia in fifth place with 5 (Melbourne University is at the top of the Aussie rankings).

In 2012 Ernst & Young Australia released a piece of research on the University of the Future, predicting profound changes in the Australian university model based on trends around the world. Change is being forced upon education and some institutions are embracing that change in a sector that, lets face it, is not exactly synonymous with speed.

In the meantime, if I was in the marketing department of New Zealand universities and colleges, I’d do some research into Australian universities and the specialist areas New Zealand excels at (such as that agriculture degree), and actively undertake targeted marketing in Australia.

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Brands to watchTrans Tasman

Icebreaker leadership change
Icebreaker leadership change

First published in Fairfax NZ Business 4 June 2014

A change in senior leadership in any company is an interesting time and throws up all kinds of scenarios and questions about what the long term plans are.

For staff, stakeholders and others close to the action leaderships change can be unsettling, exciting and challenging. And it makes change management specialists jump for joy. In a private company, when the founder steps aside that’s a whole other ball game.

The big news in New Zealand last week was Rob Fyfe’s appointment as new CEO of Icebreaker. As Jeremy Moon takes a step back from the company he founded in 1994, for the first time in the brand’s history someone else can call the big shots.

Icebreaker is now over twenty years old and because retail years are like dog years, Icebreaker is really like a turn-of-the-century New Zealand icon.

Given that most retail brands are now gasping for air and being pushed under by the international fast fashion guys, it was no easy task for Icebreaker to survive. Let alone double in sales every year. Moon’s achievements as a business leader are extraordinary. As a marketer, I’m totally impressed at how Moon created Icebreaker by putting half the seed capital towards creating a brand and a story.

According to legend (or at least some old newspaper interviews), Moon sat down with Brian Richards of Design Works and developed a whole narrative and creative backbone to Icebreaker, months prior to any product being made.

He made many big calls early in the game. Recognising farmer Brian Brackenbridge’s merino products had far greater potential; sourcing merino direct from growers, paying them a premium for it and having that transparency in the supply chain; positioning Icebreaker differently in various international markets; entering the US and Europe before going into Australia; postponing China stores, while manufacturing in China. (That last point is always controversial.)

It’s not an accident when someone takes a $100k company and transforms it into a $200 million one.

So where to now?

The streets are littered with companies founded on the passionate personal ideals of the men and women who created them; only to have lost their way when new management came in. (Must not mention Pumpkin Patch again. Must not mention Pumpkin Patch again.) Then every so often there are true business gems, those great companies that become even greater when new leaders take the reigns.

Moon is still young (surely that’s a song), so Fyfe must be there with a particular set of skills and strategy in mind. Perhaps going for China, brand building on a much bigger international scale, or the obvious first thought: taking it public. Maybe Moon has a new business idea – entrepreneurs of his calibre rarely sit idle.

At least for now it looks like Moon feels his energy and skills are better suited to the creative side of Icebreaker and he must feel he has taken the business as far as he can being CEO.

Time will tell if the Icebreaker brand will outlast the founder’s leadership. Thus far that narrative Moon created with Richards has been a successful and emotive driver to buy. It has even softened the impact of manufacture and supply of merino from outside New Zealand.

As the brand grows and management requires ever-greater returns, will the Icebreaker story – effectively Jeremy Moon’s story – still retain its founding principles without its Founding Principal?

Right now Moon continues to play an active part as Executive Chairman. With Rob Fyfe driving it, this $200 million Icebreaker is setting off on a fascinating new journey.

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BlogBrandingBrands to watchMarketing & Brand StrategyTrans Tasman

Rethinking tech marketing
Rethinking tech marketing

First published in Fairfax Unlimited 20 May 2014.

I’m an active tech user, lover of gadgets and nothing makes me happier than having all my Apple products synchronized to perfection.

Apart from a spectacularly awful semester of Computer Science at Auckland University, I’ve never had any programming ability whatsoever. In fact, my one Bill Gates moment will be the memory of the button I built in Pascal that blinked on and off. It was something to behold.

My bemused classmates, who are probably all tech millionaires by now, well, their buttons had rows of coloured lights flashing in time to the Death Star theme. I really had no talent at computer science and rightly moseyed on back to the Literature department.

So, it’s with genuine respect and a bit of awe when I meet a technology company that has created something of significance. Right now, I’m having a bit of a Vend moment.

Australia, like New Zealand, has an active tech scene. There’s always a technology company featured in the Australian press, either seeking investment, gaining investment or selling out for a small fortune. Along with those going bust.

Last week, NZTE in Melbourne played host to digital Kiwi companies in the payments and retail sectors. We watched a video introducing a handful of companies, we met the founders. It was all appropriately held at the York Street Butter Factory, a tech hub in the city.

From my experience here on the marketing side, many techs get it very wrong by assuming people are excited by the complexity of their platforms. Their marketing is technical, their conversation is littered with jargon and their branding is as exciting as reading a washing machine manual.

Unbeknownst to them, no one (apart from the programmers in the IT department) is interested in that level of detail. However, everyone is interested in the simple story behind what your complex idea actually does.

The beauty of Vend is not only in its cloud-based point of sale system, which I have no doubt is improving retail businesses the world over. (Numerous video testimonials on their website seem to back this up.)

The cleverness is in how they’re building their business by creating a very memorable and distinct brand.

There are companies far more mature in their life cycle that I think dream of having Vend’s momentum right now.

At New Zealand’s Hi-Tech Awards last week, Vend won the Cisco Hi-Tech Emerging Company of the Year Award, and, for the second year running, the IBM Hi-Tech Exporter of the Year Award. And they’re attracting attention not only in Australia and New Zealand, but around the world.

I often write about New Zealand companies using the Kiwi positioning to their detriment in Australia. Australians are just not that into us.

Vend is not pushing itself as the great Kiwi software company. In fact they say upfront that yes, although they’re originally from New Zealand, more importantly they now do business in North America, Australia and Europe.

They hire local people. They seek out local investors and partners. People like Paul Bassat, one of the team behind Australia’s more discerning venture firms, Square Peg Capital. They use quirky tactics to reinforce their irreverent (yet solid) positioning. They smash cash registers, which may seem silly, but it’s all part of the Vend personality. They’ve adopted a very bright and kind of daggy green, which they’ve rolled out everywhere.

Along with founder Vaughan Rowsell (whose moustache is also part of the brand), I have to give two thumbs up to Vend’s Head of Marketing, Nick Houldsworth.

Unlike far too many technology companies, Vend knows how to generate excitement around its product and build a brand people remember. It will no doubt help sales and, equally as important, it will attract likeminded people to work for them.

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Brands to watchMarketing & Brand StrategyTrans Tasman

Bringing the power of choice to Australia
Bringing the power of choice to Australia

First published in Fairfax NZ Business 6 May 2014.

I’ve just become one of the 10,000 or so Australians who switched electricity providers to Powershop. It’s a brand that’s likely to be familiar to most of you Kiwis, but here in Australia it’s still a very new name in a recently deregulated market.

In yet another example of what seems to be Australia’s love affair with duopolies, Powershop is hoping to entice dissatisfied customers from Origin Energy and Energy Australia (together accounting for over 50 per cent market share in this country) as well as from other retailers such as AGL.

Meridian’s cheeky little brother launched across the Tasman several months ago and is currently available only in Victoria, with the rest of Australia on the horizon.

Historically, Australians’ attitude to their utility company and other big providers such as the banks has been neither here nor there. Despite a reputation as being loud-mouthed and tough-as-nails, Aussies do in fact share New Zealanders “she’ll be right” attitude.

Vocal consumer dissatisfaction in the past, hasn’t necessarily invoked change. It’s part of the reason why so many Australian companies are now paralyzed with fear and inertia, demanding tougher regulations on imports, and taxes on incoming international goods and services.

Serious competition is still a wake up call to this country and many old-school Australian stalwarts do not like it one bit. On the other hand, the Australian people, well they like good a retail fight just fine.

In recent years it has become easier to switch between telcos, banks, insurers, superannuation funds. Australians enjoy being wooed by global brands setting up shop and educating us on the, sometimes ruthless, nature of true competition. Electricity joins the fray.

It’s a meaty space to break into and Powershop launching here makes perfect sense. Australia’s electricity-retail sector is worth AU$29.7 billion with $2 billion profit and annual growth of 9.5 per cent – a small piece of that pie, translates into big dollars.

However, it’s still early days for Powershop and the challenge for them is multifold. Firstly, they need to build a brand from scratch in an industry where massive incumbents have operated unopposed for decades. At the same time, they need to educate consumers that switching is easy and choice theirs for the taking.

If research by the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) is anything to go by, there’s a lot of consumer confusion and perceived risk in moving to another electricity provider, especially an unknown one.

Thirdly, Powershop’s positioning and campaign, while successful in New Zealand, is not necessarily the best one to launch with in Australia. Cheeky may work in a mature market where consumers are knowledgeable, like they are in New Zealand. But in Australia something a bit more conservative (I know, I know, boring)  may be needed to convince people to trust Powershop.

There have been some dodgy energy companies knocking on doors and signing people over unwittingly, so Powershop will need to assure Australians that it’s both a disruptor and a respectable brand. Namedropping Meridian for a while wouldn’t hurt.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep mucking about with my Powershop phone app and informing my ever-so-mildly interested family with insights and daily stats on our personal electricity usage. Power to the people!

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Marketing researchTrans Tasman

Research key to B2B success in Australia
Research key to B2B success in Australia

First published in Fairfax Unlimited on 22 April 2014

Last week I spent several days in Auckland, presenting a talk on marketing to Australia and meeting with many different businesses that have Australia in their sights.

It’s always interesting to meet the people behind the companies and, rightly or wrongly, you get a feel for whether they’re likely to find a market here in Oz. This time around, I caught up with a number of manufacturing businesses.

I do love those well-designed widgets that cost little to produce but make a radical difference. You know, something like an aluminium hose attachment that no one pays attention to but every hose in the world must have – I love that stuff.

In fact, New Zealand companies in business-to-business may have a better time in Australia right now than retail. No doubt about it, New Zealand has no shortage of ideas and innovation, and with the right business case Australians will sit up and listen.

Australians can’t resist a good business case and any company looking to grow here should come armed with a strong one. Take Stuart Norris from Magic Memories tourism photography. Last year when I interviewed him, within a few minutes of that phone call it was crystal clear why the business was clocking up international wins.

Norris knows the numbers behind his business inside out. He can put a digit to every aspect of his trade, from the number of photographs taken each year to the expected value a tourist attraction can anticipate from the investment.

If you can pitch a case for why your customer’s customer will be buying your product or service (based on solid evidence or research) the battle is practically won. This is especially true in business-to-business, where your prospective buyer has a whole channel that needs satisfying.

Too many companies come in flogging their own features instead of proving that they’ve considered the supply chain right through to the end customer. If your product or service makes your client’s sale easier, your brand positioning is a cinch.

I keep coming back to Sistema, a New Zealand favourite of mine. Australian supermarkets love them because they create seasonal food packaging that sells in ranges. You don’t just buy one lunch box, you buy the whole range that fits together and encourages repeat purchase. I find that B2B companies I work with, even the industrial ones, find success by applying the same marketing approach as Sistema does.

On this recent Auckland visit, I caught up with a very smart CEO I met last year. He is in the process of repositioning his manufacturing business from one that makes cheap commodities to a premium, design-led brand. A lot of people pay lip service to this, but I can honestly say this one is likely to succeed.

Rather than competing on price, which was happening more and more in his Australian negotiations, he is investing in top engineering talent, focusing on a handful of truly innovative launch products, and developing for a niche that is very much about the future.

It’s bound to get his team re-energised about where the company is heading and when he brings the new, smarter proposition to Australia, I can see a lot of done deals ahead.

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Marketing & Brand StrategyQuestionable marketingTrans Tasman

Time for change at Pumpkin Patch
Time for change at Pumpkin Patch

First published in Fairfax NZ Business on 8 April 2014

Five years ago I wrote a blog post about New Zealand children’s retailer Pumpkin Patch. I thought the brand had lost its way and that its former glory as beloved New Zealand company founded by Sally Synott in 1990, was fading.

In 2008, my daughter was still very young and I was discouraged by what was on offer in Pumpkin Patch’s largest Melbourne store. I conducted a very anecdotal piece of research, canvassing about 30 friends with kids via Facebook and Survey Monkey. It wasn’t exactly in-depth marketing research, but the response was universal: Pumpkin Patch wasn’t that great.

Parents thought the designs were dated, the quality was poor and prices were only good when the sales were on.

For several months, the blog post continued to generate discussion on a New Zealand business website, with numerous comments about the demise of their brand. An Australian colleague, who had a connection to Sally Synott suggested we meet with Pumpkin Patch and see whether we could offer them our Australian insights.

So several months later, I ended up sitting across the table from then-CEO Maurice Prendergast and the creative director.

Let’s just say the meeting did not go well.

We parted ways and agreed to disagree about just how well Pumpkin Patch was doing. Since then, my kids have got older and many other children’s retailers have come in and out of our shopping lives. But I’ve always watched Pumpkin Patch’s business affairs with interest – and what a sad show it has been.

Two years after that disastrous meeting, Prendergast resigned as CEO amidst a 50.5 per cent drop in net profit. Then in 2011 they abandoned the US and in 2012 pulled out of the UK, closing 36 stores.

Last week saw perhaps the most jaw-dropping result as Pumpkin Patch posted a 98 per cent fall in earnings. From $4.7 million to $106,000 for the six months to January 31.

I don’t envy the task ahead for new CEO Di Humphries. A lot of shareholders and equity partners will be breathing down her neck, demanding a speedy turnaround. No wonder she asked for “a bit of time to turn this baby around.”

Over the years, buyers have walked away from Pumpkin Patch, not only – as they keep saying – because of the tough retail market. For a long time, Pumpkin Patch has felt like a brand still in the 90s. While parents’ tastes changed, Pumpkin Patch designs did not.

I’m interested to see what the combination of the new CEO and new general manager of marketing will bring. The hybrid retail environment should be ideal for Pumpkin Patch and its mail-order beginnings.

Kellie Nathan, who is Telecom’s former general manager of brand, communications and digital was due to start in March. Nathan was part of the Telecom rebrand, so perhaps we’ll see Pumpkin Patch returning to its brand roots.

Nathan may even be behind the large piece of customer research they say will be ready for release mid year. I’m all for research – I just hope they’re doing some in Australia too, given it’s their largest market. I also hope the comment in a press release from 2014 that “Pumpkin Patch is seen as a premium brand internationally” is open for debate.

In Australia, Pumpkin Patch is very middle-of-the-road, yet its prices are more comparable to Country Road than Cotton On. As H&M opens its door with its own children’s clothing, Pumpkin Patch really needs to focus on positioning itself as either true premium or low-cost, fast-fashion for kids.

It can’t be both and right now, it’s neither.

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Brands to watchMarketing & Brand StrategyTrans Tasman

A2 milk story wins greater market share
A2 milk story wins greater market share

First published in Fairfax NZ Business on 28 March 2014

New Zealand’s A2 Corporation (A2C) is working some serious brand magic – in spite of the debate about the health benefits of their a2 milk.

According to the February figures released by A2C, a2 brand fresh milk sales grew by 28.3 per cent in 2013 and they now hold around 8 per cent market share in the Australian grocery channel. What makes these results even more extraordinary, is that while home brand milk has forced prices down (and many farmers out of business), a2 milk commands a premium in a high commodity market.

Produced from cows that are selected to produce the A2 beta-casein protein that A2C claims promotes “digestive wellbeing”, a2 milk is a case study in great marketing: Take a frequently bought, low-cost product with little differentiation and a lot of competition. Find a unique selling point with compelling cut-through (even better, some possible health benefits). Raise the price and market it as a premium product. With a little luck, you will rustle the feathers of the big bureaucratic competitors so they speak against you. Then sit back and watch market share grow.

Australian CEO Peter Nathan tells a similar story in a case study on National Australia Bank’s website.

“I believe it’s a matter of finding a point of difference or a niche market, focusing single-mindedly on that and then communicating your offer in a clear and compelling manner to consumers,” he says.

Not to mention, providing a compelling reason for farmers to invest in breeding A2 cows. Why get paid peanuts when you can get premium?

I spoke with a former colleague, who is also an Australian dairy farmer, and asked what farmers thought of the A2 health claims. She told me that more and more Australian farmers are choosing A2 sires as insurance, just in case the science becomes indisputable. They are taking a longer-term view and planning for their future, as it can take almost a decade to naturally convert herds from A1/A1 to A2/A2 cows.

She also told me that she can’t get her cows tested for the A2 protein without paying the A2 Corporation. A2C has caused a stir in the Australian dairy industry and Dairy Australia’s response has been to refute the health benefit claims of the A2 protein. Both Fonterra and Parmalat, neither of them with an A2 milk product on the market, have also been vocal in their doubts of the science.

At this moment in time, the controversy has worked in A2C’s favour. Customer’s mistrust of large corporations makes these arguments fall on deaf ears. Look again in five years time though, when A2 grows so large that it joins the bureaucratic herds.

Meanwhile, the health blogs keep arguing in favour of a2 milk, the product continues to gain loyal customers and the company expands into new products, such infant formula, and launch into new markets, including China and the US.

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BrandingQuestionable marketingTrans Tasman

Telecom to rebrand as Spark
Telecom to rebrand as Spark

First published in Fairfax NZ Business on 24 February 2014

Once in a while something magical happens just as an editorial deadline approaches. The fog of writer’s block lifts and there it is: a gift from the advertising agency heavens. Spark.

I desperately wanted to write a positive column this week and to cheer on a Kiwi brand in Australia that’s going gang-busters, but like you, I couldn’t ignore Telecom’s announcement that it is to rebrand as Spark.

I truly salute the enthusiasm of chief operating officer Jason Paris, who thinks the new changes are “bloody exciting”. Undertaking major initiatives in big corporates that re-energise the team is fantastic. No doubt the future of telecommunications is indeed bloody exciting.But the name change is an exercise in pointlessness.

In fact, every year or so a corporate rebrands itself with buzz – Mondelez, EY, Kering. Some time ago, back in 2002, another little company by the name of Pricewaterhouse Coopers also embarked on an exciting rebrand. Do you remember it?

PwC spun off their consultancy and launched it with much fanfare under the new name of Monday. Several weeks later, the BBC announced the demise of the $135 million name change. Appropriately in an obituary, with an opening line that read, “Monday passed away quietly on Tuesday after a short but controversial life.”

I don’t take issue with the $20 million or so Telecom is thought to have paid to rebrand. Telecom is a massive organisation with its logo across numerous materials; billboards, uniforms, phone bills, vehicles, TV ads.

It costs a lot to redo all that with a whole new look and refreshed brands can be fantastic for many companies and worth every penny. However, this is not a fantastic rebrand and the ridicule and confusion that Spark will generate in the media and on the street is warranted.

Why change a name that has so much history, meaning, brand recognition and relevance to something that already feels dated?

For us marketers, the temptation to rebrand is like a disease. In fact it is a rite of passage for a shiny new marketing manager to suggest a rebrand in the first week of the first job they take. Several years go by. The marketing manager faces the boardroom firing squad multiple times, is made redundant a couple of times and takes on a more weathered resilience. Then, in the best cases, like a butterfly they reemerge with commercial acumen and genuine ability. From that point on, a true marketer realises that changing a name, logo and font is not going to turn the business around.

Telecom will never get away from public opinion that it’s a mammoth, bureaucratic corporate lug.

Like the banks, we hate the brand for the same reasons we depend on it. The market dominance and size of the company just makes it feel solid. Companies like Telecom and Australia’s Telstra, while not loved, are respected. After all, they are synonymous with the development of national infrastructure and communications. That level of recognition, market dominance and reputation, took decades to build.

I watched the street interviews and read the results of the opinion poll this publication conducted. Seventy-seven per cent of respondents think the rebrand is meaningless. I’ve read the comments to numerous articles written about the announcement. It is clear that the general public is confused and wants to know, ‘why?’

I’m with public opinion on this one.

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Marketing & Brand StrategyTrans Tasman

New Zealand’s dollar debate, Australians have been there
New Zealand’s dollar debate, Australians have been there

First published in Fairfax Unlimited on 29 January 2014 

The hand wringing over the fate of the New Zealand dollar is a debate we in Australia know very well. We’ve been having it over our own currency for the last few years at increasing volume and with growing urgency.

Australia has yet to arrive at a clear solution on our fluctuating dollar, but it has encouraged important conversations. One is the need to redeploy labour from dying industries into new areas of growth. Another is how to encourage students into a vocational education with skills that Australia will need in years to come. And  then there is the critical need to develop expertise in niche areas that cannot easily be replicated in other markets, beyond mining.

I’m far from being a financial analyst, but I do understand brand and marketing. I see part of the challenge for companies (and one you have more control over than the exchange rate) is also a question of brand. When there is little to differentiate your business from another apart from what you charge, you’re on a cliff edge, standing on one leg.

Many Australian companies, many manufacturers, are shutting down and part of it is to do with having no real point of difference. Or at least not communicating that difference to customers, which is the same as not having one.

At its most simple my job description is I distil a company’s rich and varied business capabilities into one or two sentences. Often this is only a few key words, and it’s always done by talking to their customers. At almost no time do I advise that ‘low price’ be one of those principal points, unless you’re Walmart or Costco.

It might be overly simplistic, but hanging an economic point of difference on price is a very dangerous position. It’s one that many Australian and New Zealand companies will now find themselves in.

Lets face it, in all our fields there’s always someone cheaper who says they do the same thing. Unfortunately, many businesses cannot clearly articulate to themselves, let alone to the market, why they are better than the competition.

For years now, that competition has just as likely been a factory in China as it is someone down the road. There’s much to learn from what’s happening in more developed economies like the US and UK. Whatever our challenges in Australia and New Zealand, those big economies have faced them on and off for many years.

Interestingly, I’m starting to see more stories coming from both the UK and US that indicate positive changes, signs that manufacturing is returning to their shores.

I’m also seeing more stories about China’s evolution that includes a demand for better wages and conditions.

Times are changing. As they always are.

What does your business do that makes it worth paying more for? What is your unique positioning that will help you withstand fluctuations in the dollar? If you’re not sure, you need to find out.

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Brands to watchMarketing & Brand StrategyTrans Tasman

Navigating fashion’s rocky retail road
Navigating fashion’s rocky retail road

First published in Fairfax NZ Business on 14 January 2014 

Over the last few weeks I’ve been browsing up a storm at online fashion retailers around the world, comparing the goods and winter sales of favourite designers at Barneys, Matches, Browns, Outnet, SSense and many more.

This may go down as the first year that my enjoyment of browsing online has definitively surpassed that of shopping in the physical world. There’s simply no single store or shopping complex that comes close to offering the choice were all now used to online.

Many Australian fashion brands have packed it in, either by choice or by economic force. Last year that list included Collette Dinnigan, Lisa Ho, Kirilly Johnson and T.L. Wood. Just one week into 2014, George Gross and Harry Who have called it a day. There will be more casualties.

So as the year begins and I return to my office in the boutique-shopping strip of Melbourne’s Hawskburn, I’m genuinely concerned for Australian, and also New Zealand, fashion brands, and in particular labels at the premium end.

In the good times, many Antipodean labels’ prices crept up into luxury European fashion house territory. The base line seemed to move to several hundred dollars for any woman’s item, regardless of quality. But now we have access to more designers than we know what to do with, including European uber labels at sale prices often cheaper than the local stuff. It means the locals have a hell of a fight on their hands to prove their worth.

One designer that I feel nervous for is Trelise Cooper, one of New Zealand’s best-known fashion exports to Australia. Trelise Cooper is on my radar this year not only because my mother has been a fan of her clothing since it first launched, but for the fact that my office is almost next door to her Melbourne boutique.

I’ve been pondering about Cooper’s brand over the last few years and can’t shake the feeling that it may be on a precipitous edge here in Australia. I’m hoping my gut feel is wrong on this one and they are merely facing bumps in the road. One of the big questions I keep asking myself is: who is Trelise Cooper’s core customer these days?

Once upon a time Cooper enjoyed a fierce loyalty from the older, bolder woman who didn’t want to be wallflower and was a bit of a fashion risk taker. The prices went up year-by-year and Trelise Cooper entered high premium territory. Suddenly you’d be lucky to find anything under $300.

Next came the brand extensions. So many over the years: Cooper by Trelise, Coop, Boardroom, Trelise Cooper Kids, Trelise Cooper Interiors. Some of these are no longer, despite still being featured on the website. You can now buy a simple shift dress from the mainline collection for $650, the Cooper by Trelise line for $500 and the Coop line for $300.

With each extension, Cooper seems to be aiming younger and the price is getting lower (while far from low), as she reaches out to the daughters of her original loyal customer base. No matter the marketing, Trelise Cooper is still “mum’s brand” to me – even if my mum stopped buying from her several years ago, feeling the clothes weren’t aimed at her any longer and had started becoming less extraordinary for the prices being charged.

I hope this year Trelise Cooper returns to her roots and designs for the older woman in her signature edgy, brash style – and thinks about dropping those prices. Perhaps Coop prices for the Trelise Cooper collection. Not enough designers respect and make clothes that flatter the older woman and the real shape. Trelise Cooper used to own that space.

Otherwise the brand will continue to go up against those international premium designers like Marni, Dries Van Noten, Rick Owens and, in Australia, Cooper may not win the fight.

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Brands to watchTrans Tasman

Shane Warne’s Moa beer vs Sean Combs Ciroc vodka
Shane Warne’s Moa beer vs Sean Combs Ciroc vodka

First published in Fairfax NZ Business on 9 December 2013 

Australia’s favourite larrikin Shane “Warney” Warne has just undergone another transformation. This time he is doing his bit for trans-Tasman relations as a craft beer connoisseur with his own label, 99 Not Out, made in partnership with New Zealand brewers Moa.

Warney’s pale Moa ale is exclusive to Australia and will be sold through the vast Woolworths’ Dan Murphy network as well as a number of pubs in the ALH Group, also 75 per cent owned by Woolworths.

Whether you love or hate him, it’s a clever move by Moa and a big, loud relaunch into Australia. It is also part of a growing trend of companies seeking more rewarding and elaborate celebrity partnerships over traditional sponsorships. Instead of fronting the cash, brands put the celebrity in charge of sales generation and with luck both parties are rewarded nicely for it.

Diageo are a great example of the gains that all partners stand to make when a brand succeeds. Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs’ strategic alliance with Ciroc vodka took the little-known French brand from US sales of 40,000 cases in 2007 to a staggering 2.1 million in 2012. Sean Combs is said to be in 50:50 partnership with the owners. If Warney can deliver even a fraction of that to Moa, they’ll all be in beer heaven.

Over the last five  years, Australian beer manufacturing has had a huge shake up, with drinkers moving away from the big brands such as Foster’s and Lion in favour of premium-priced craft beers.  There are an estimated 150 microbreweries in Australia, feeding the seemingly endless desire for new beer flavours, aromas and packaging concepts.

That’s not to say it’s all over for the big guys. Far from it. Lion and Foster’s still hold around 45 per cent and 40 per cent market share in beer respectively. It’s no wonder Moa is so focused on Australia. With profit margins of 30-35 per cent, it’s one of only six markets in the world with billion-dollar profits to be made.

In fact, it’s so desirable that Coca-Cola Amatil is counting down the days to the end of its own beer ban on December 17. Having sold its share in Pacific Beverages to Foster’s’ parent company SABMiller, CCA are chomping at the bit to re-renter the premium beer space.

Just a few months ago Moa changed tactics both here and in New Zealand by bringing the sales and marketing function back in-house and away from third party distributors. As a bid to reverse declining sales, it’s a far better strategy and puts control of the brand firmly back in the hands of the people who know it best: Moa. It’s also recognised that to do well in the Australian market, in any industry, you must enter with a local flavour and invest in people on the ground.

As far as positioning Moa as a serious contender for market share in Aussie beer sales, it’s on the right track. With such a quintessential Aussie fronting the Kiwi craft beer and giving Shane Warne plenty of space to put his own spin on it, Moa has guaranteed itself media attention and a concept that every Australian beer drinker can get their heads around.

On the back of the media Warney will generate, Moa is also hoping for increased sales of the other four beers it’s offering here. Moa could even use other Australian sports figures in the same way. Leighton Hewitt’s “Blonde and Brash” or Gary Ablett’s “33-Disposal” anyone?

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New Zealand Companies in AustraliaTrans TasmanWhite Papers

Interviews with NZ companies in Australia
Interviews with NZ companies in Australia

In 2013, seven New Zealand companies from multiple industries, including manufacturing, professional services, fashion, tourism, media and skincare shared their experiences of exporting to Australia.

The big lesson to come out of conversations with NZ leaders is that despite the geographic closeness and shared DNA of the Kiwi and Aussies cultures, when it comes to business we are pretty different. Understanding those differences is what gives New Zealand exporters an advantage in Australia. Coming in unprepared can destroy chances, even for those brands already successful in New Zealand.

[ Download and read the white paper ]

Interviews with:

  • Jeremy Moon – founder & CEO, Icebreaker
  • Elizabeth Barbalich – founder, Antipodes Nature
  • Annabel Langbein – creative director & founder, Annabel Langbein Media
  • Stuart Norris – co-owner, Magic Memories
  • Margie Milich – director, Sabatini
  • Leah Fisher – co-founder, TakeON!
  • Ian Cooper – head of global sales & marketing, Modtec Industries
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Marketing & Brand StrategyQuestionable marketingTrans Tasman

Is the new NZ Story relevant to business Australia?
Is the new NZ Story relevant to business Australia?

First published in Fairfax NZ Business on 25 November 2013 

The 100% Pure New Zealand brand has been a powerful one, executed beautifully ever since it first launched in 1999. In the early years of the campaign, Tourism Australia had plenty to be envious of.

Some nitpickers may say a little of the credit behind Pure NZ belongs to Australia. The soundtracks, after all, were by two Aussie band – Youth Group and Crowded House, which the Aussies also claim as their own (controversial, I know).

And now, Australia has reason to gloat again. The New Zealand Story, a campaign that Tourism New Zealand launched on November 6, was a concept created by Australian agency Principals.

Whichever way you look at it, Australia and New Zealand are inextricably linked. Which makes this latest campaign a little confusing for us here in Australia. In it there’s affirmation of Australia’s importance, but also a clear dissociation.

On one hand the supporting documents clearly demonstrate that Australia is New Zealand’s most valuable trading partner, accounting for $11.8 billion in imports and $13.7b in exports. It is also the top investor in New Zealand at a whopping $54.6b, followed not so closely by the US at $10.9b. But on the other hand, the campaign makes it clear that if you had to choose between Australia and New Zealand (which let’s be honest, happens a lot) New Zealand is a far better choice than big glamorous brother over yonder.

I don’t think this campaign has a lot of relevance to companies entering the Australian market. Other international markets such as Asia, yes. Australia not so much.

In fact there are some quite amusing (truthful?) elements that Australians may not like hearing at all. Such as the Warmth Rating Towards Asian Countries. If you’re a Kiwi company using the NZ Story slides when presenting to your Australian compadres, you should seriously consider taking that one out.

This is the first time I’ve heard of this index, and let’s just say according to research New Zealanders are warmer towards the Chinese, Japanese, Indian and South Korean nations than the Aussies. In some cases up to 10 per cent warmer (hello China).

Open Space, Open Hearts, Open Minds has beautiful imagery and – as always – showcases New Zealand’s commitment to brand and early adoption of new communication tools. But it does feel like a call to international students, tourists and future migrants rather than investors or businesses.

I found the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s NZ Inc work far more informative from a business perspective than the NZ Story. I highly recommend NZ Inc Australia Strategy as a very good read, especially Managing Director of Citywide, Kerry Osborne’s tips.

New Zealand has some incredible companies in the fields of manufacturing, technology, science and agriculture. We may be selling them short by suggesting they got that way by being either pure or having open spaces, open hearts and open minds. Perhaps the answer is to totally separate tourism and business. After all, the mindset we travel with when we’re tourists versus when we’re in business mode can be completely incompatible.

Is New Zealand trying too hard to tie it all up with one neat bow?


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Manufacturers the unsung heroes
Manufacturers the unsung heroes

First published in Fairfax NZ Business on 11 November 2013 

Manufacturers are too often the quiet achievers in the world of brand and marketing. Where consumer brands come out singing and waving their hands to be noticed, many manufacturers operate so far under the radar that a $100m company could go unnoticed by the average Joe for its entire existence.

Right now manufacturing is having a huge moment in the spotlight in Australia, unfortunately for all the wrong reasons. Company closures and question marks over the sustainability of the manufacturing industry in Australia are daily headlines. Over the last few weeks we’ve read about layoffs and closures in Simplot, BAE, Holden and Qantas to name a few. There’s speculation that Holden’s departure will remove $1.34 billion out of the South Australian economy.

New Zealand is also a frequent part of this narrative. Heinz-owned Golden Circle just made headlines by announcing impending factory closures in Victoria and Brisbane, moving part of the operations to New Zealand. It is one of many international and Australian companies taking advantage of the lower labour costs on your side of the Tasman and apparently a business environment with less red tape.

(If I may offer a word of advice: Keep your head down if you work for a manufacturer that recently won some Australian business. Don’t send out the Australian press release quite yet – the current mood does not favour offshoring to “little brother”.)

In light of the bad rap manufacturing is getting, I thought I’d dedicate this week’s column to one of the little known – at least in the consumer world – New Zealand manufacturers with a large Australian presence. How I came across this company, Autex, is purely coincidental. While looking at options to insulate our home I read about something called GreenStuf, a product made from polyester that was meant to be hardwearing and free of chemicals, such as formaldehyde, found in cheaper products.

Turns out that Autex, which also make carpets, acoustic insulation, wall coverings and niche industrial products, has been a New Zealand family-owned business since 1967. As it’s privately owned it’s not easy finding all the facts and figures about the business, but in 1999 Autex had a turnover of $40 million.

The company still manufactures some product in New Zealand and since the 90s has also had manufacturing plants around Australia. Products are distributed through 25 other countries, carpeting and insulating schools, hospitals, offices and homes. A little desktop investigation once again highlights for me why some New Zealand businesses do so much better in Australia than others.

For starters, Autex Australia is a subsidiary with its own Australian identity. Compare the New Zealand and Australian websites and you’ll see the Kiwi aspect and heritage is played down here. It’s an “Australasian company” that manufactures in Australia, sponsors Australian charities and supports local Australian sports clubs.

It does the same as a New Zealand company. In 2001, when organisers of the Australasian premiere of the Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring needed hundreds of metres of red carpet to roll down Wellington’s courtenay Place, Autex offered its services to manufacture the flooring in record time and for a good price.

The interviews I can find online with previous and current executives are also revealing. That Autex has grown internationally and successfully appears to be a result of solid leadership over its almost 50-year history.

In an interview from 1999, former managing director and one of the founders, Bill Cunningham, attributed the company’s success to a philosophy of staying out of dying industries.

“In the 1970s, as the New Zealand economy started to move through a process of change, we decided it was important to look out far to the horizon to get into sunrise areas – tomorrow’s industries. That’s what we are all about,” he said.

The other strategy Autex has followed is reinvesting and upgrading during economic downturns – “reengineering whenever anticipated competition would eat into business”, as Cunningham put it.

Throughout its history Autex has bought and sold many businesses. Several years ago, for example, it created a range of bedding under the sub brands DreamMaker and DryLife. These appear to have been divested as recently as this year (again, it’s difficult to find specific details given it’s a private company).

But the larger picture that I see is of a smart New Zealand manufacturer that has, over the years, invested in research and new product development, expanded into Australia with an Australian voice (while remaining in New Zealand with a Kiwi voice), closely partnered with good local distributors, and under the guidance of a number of experienced leaders – including current Melbourne-based MD Warrick Batt – built a great brand that, like many manufacturers, deserves wider recognition.

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Swanndri: Kiwi icon’s checkered road ahead
Swanndri: Kiwi icon’s checkered road ahead

First appeared in Fairfax Unlimitedon October 29, 2013

In 2007, defending his decision to move manufacturing to China, Swanndri’s former chief executive Julian Bowden said that if any product deserved to be called a Kiwi legend, it was the Swanndri.

Dear beloved Swannie. Even after all these years of not living in New Zealand, I feel a warm fondness for the old checkered shirt. Swanndri turned 100 this year. Its history is built on a reputation of great quality, hard wearing and long lasting products for the rural man. There’s considerable value in the Swanndri brand. However, that same reputation has also been the company’s ongoing dilemma. What to do when a brand is tied so closely to its agricultural roots and core customers only needs to update their Swanndri every decade or two?

A business can’t survive on selling four products in a customer’s lifetime. Unless that product is a Bentley. Swanndri’s business had to evolve if it was to grow. Its main choices were either take the niche product into similar rural segments internationally or expand the product range to appeal to new types of customers.

Judging by Swanndri’s recent history, it’s tried it all. I can’t help but wonder whether it has fully committed to a single positioning and gunned for it. Clearly there is a desire to reach new customers and create a more fashion-forward and extensive collection.

Since 2006, Swanndri has collaborated with Karen Walker, experimented with concept stores in Wellington, Auckland and Queenstown and hired an in-house designer, who has since left. And now it has collaborated with Barkers in a rather nice looking “urban lumberjack” collection.

The Swanndri brand raises a number of challenges for its owners. It’s an icon with a niche market of rugged, no-nonsense blokes. So any changes need to stay true to the core customer. It’s also still a very Kiwi product, which is a disadvantage in as many markets as it is an advantage. In Australia, for example, we have our own blokes and iconic Aussie brands like Driza-Bone, Hard Yakka and R.M. Williams.

Without an additional, compelling point of difference, why would a quintessentially Aussie man buy a quintessentially Kiwi product?

It requires total ongoing commitment and investment to reposition any brand. In interviews over the years, Swanndri has been likened to premium European brands Burberry, Gucci and even Hermes. Those are big calls and apart from having a checkered print and functional beginnings in common, that’s where similarities end.

The collaborations are a move in the right direction and they are a proven recipe for success. In working with Karen Walker and now Barkers, Swanndri has chosen iconic New Zealand partners. But these two collaborations are 7 years apart. Compare that with H&Ms total commitment to working with guest designers from all over the world, generating desire in a multitude of international markets at once. The next range for H&M, due out in November, is with uber-cool French designer Isabel Marant and is guaranteed to be sales dynamite.

The issue for me is not that the Swanndri brand can’t authentically create cooler casual ranges for more frequent consumption. Driza-Bone recently launched a new look to appeal to a very similar market to Swanndri. Their new positioning is crystal clear from the website, with new packaging and evolution of classic styles that totally supports the marketing creative.

Carharrt is another workwear brand that has navigated its brand to successfully have wider appeal. Their product stands up equally well as rugged workwear and street fashion. It just feels like Swanndri is dabbling with decisions, moving on and off the path towards the right direction. I wonder whether there’s a strong follow up strategy that takes the great press from the Barkers collaboration and builds on it. Not in another 7 years, but next year.

Perhaps creative partnerships with international equivalents to Barkers and Karen Walker, for example Calibre here in Australia. The Swanndri brand could pull it off, with total commitment. I hope to come back to their website in a few months and be blown away. Off the back of the great Barkers line, I go to the Swannie website now and I’m just not feeling it.

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Business planning for startups: finding mentors
Business planning for startups: finding mentors

First published in StartupSmart and Smart Company on October 28, 2013 

A big indicator of business maturity is admitting that you don’t know everything. In my first “proper” job in the early ‘90s, three months in and I thought I knew it all. The word “mentor” didn’t enter my vocabulary until I was well into my thirties.

It’s not just today’s new generation that has an attitude. I remember feeling seriously smug about a lot of things when us Gen Xs were the new entrants of the corporate world. God forbid anyone tried to advise me on a better way of doing something or started a sentence with “I was once your age and…”

One home truth that remains is that you don’t always have the good fortune of working closely with a great leader. In your entire career, you might be lucky to work with one such person. But that doesn’t preclude you from surrounding yourself with people who can teach you a thing or two, regardless whether you share the same industry.

To get a mentor in any field, you need a certain degree of shamelessness. There’s no secret to engaging with someone you respect, and there’s really only one tried and tested technique that works like a charm. You ask them.

Several months ago I had the good fortune, purely by chance, to sit beside a very high profile individual at a business function. The fact he was from an entirely different industry and professional background made little difference. It was very clear that this person’s professional achievements were exceptional and that I could learn more than a thing or two.

We didn’t have much chance to speak at the function itself, so the following week I wrote an introduction email and asked whether I could buy him a coffee. The email simply said that working for myself I had little chance of being around professionals of his calibre and that if he had time for a coffee, even once a year for 30 minutes, I’d appreciate it. We met the following week, talked for over an hour and I now feel I have someone to run ideas past – from time to time.

No matter how generous people are on paper or in theory, one rule I live by is to never take advantage of people’s time. For that reason it’s good to have a pool of mentors to draw from at various times. No one person has all the answers and the more professionals you can surround yourself with, the better.

Working for myself over the last decade, I’ve had a lot of retrospective moments remembering advice from former bosses, especially those who also worked for themselves. Everything that seemed trivial at the time, like the way you set up your online files or how you follow up unpaid invoices, has helped me in some way.

As my business has evolved, I’ve sought advice from an even wider cross section of people. Other entrepreneurs from completely different fields, those who have navigated their career to a place I’d like to be in five or 10 years, or simply interesting people. The two pieces of advice I can offer are:

1) Don’t be afraid to ask for help and
2) Don’t be offended if they say no.

It’s never personal and, really, the more mentors the merrier.

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Will Bell Tea & Coffee soon be brewing in Australia?
Will Bell Tea & Coffee soon be brewing in Australia?

First appeared in Fairfax NZ Business on October 14, 2013

If you’ve been to Melbourne lately you may have heard whispers of a new coffee shop down a cobbled lane and up the unmarked stairs, through a bespoke tailor’s showroom.The coffee is brewed for three days prior, using a bean roasting technique first developed by the Mayans on the steps of Chichen Itza. There’s a waiting list to pick up your cup and you must arrive between 9 to 9.30am. I may have made that up.

If you know Melbourne, and Australians in general, we are obsessed with our hot beverages. In fact on both sides of the Tasman our love of coffee borders on religious.

Tea drinking also has its fair share of zealots. The premium tea space in particular is a very lucrative market, with new tea brands and brews featuring fantastical names and flavours popping up as both on- and off-trade options.

I didn’t think it possible, but consumption of hot beverages in Australia is increasing. According to research firm Roy Morgan, in the last five years visits to Australian cafés rose from 38 to 48 million across all age groups.

Hot drinks are big business in Australia, and I’d stake my skinny chai latte on New Zealand’s Bell Tea and Coffee Company wanting a piece of the action. In fact it surprises me that New Zealand’s beloved and established brand has yet to brew its ‘‘feel alive’’ flavour over here.

Now that Foodstuffs has sold the 115-year old company to Pencarrow Private Equity, I imagine expansion through exports will be a major part of the growth strategy. Pencarrow will be conducting its due diligence as we speak, reviewing how Bell’s portfolio of tea and coffee brands can best be played across international borders.

Bell has a house of brands structure, meaning the sub brands it owns maintain their individual identities. In coffee, there’s Burton’s, Gravity and Jed’s. In tea, it has Bell, NZ Live and Twinings (for which it is  agent and producer in New Zealand) and the tea-based cold drink, Native Infusions. The company is also the agent for La Cimbali and Jura coffee machines.

The range of products in Bell’s portfolio means it has something for you whoever and wherever you are – gourmet tea or coffee from your favourite café, and affordable tea or coffee for home when you’re dashing through the supermarket.

As it stands now, the Bell Tea and Coffee Company has a strong skew to New Zealand. This has been a great strategy to date and has meant Bell dominates the Kiwi tea market with 39 per cent share in 2012. Nestle is the dominant player in New Zealand and Australia when it comes to off-trade, mostly supermarket-bought coffee like Nescafe and Nespresso (which is experiencing large growth here in Oz).

Euromonitor’s current stats and predictions for hot drinks shows that while Kiwis are still tending to be cautious and buy more product to brew at home, Australians aren’t letting a little thing like an economic downturn get in the way of a good strong cup. They’re buying more and are willing to pay more for it, too. In fact, ‘premiumisation’ is a big driver of the industry right now. One of the world’s biggest tea companies, Unilever, just paid an undisclosed sum to buy Australian cult tea brand T2.

Bell will have to do some rejigging of its brands’ positioning to break into Australia. I could see Jed’s doing well here, as it has that look and simple messaging that stands out on supermarket shelves. With the right distribution and marketing strategy to niche cafés, Gravity and Burton’s could be successful – there are certainly the café volumes here to grow those businesses fairly substantially. Perhaps there’s an opportunity to create a distinct Australian blend, because there’s certainly the capability.

The one that may have the most difficulty in gaining traction is Bell Tea itself. The affordable tea market is very saturated. and I counted more than 20 tea brands on the shelves in my local Woolworths.

It’s highly likely that Bell and Pencarrow will be on the acquisition trail in Australia for premium tea and coffee businesses to join its family. Australia’s Madame Flavour? New Zealand’s Avalanche coffee? The company recently secured a deal to sell through 757 Coles stores. The Avalanche guys may want to keep their phones handy.

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Sistema Plastics thinking outside the industrial box
Sistema Plastics thinking outside the industrial box

First published in Fairfax Unlimited and Manufacturers’ Monthly on October 1, 2013

At a business lunch in Australia last week the topic of conversation turned to the troubled local manufacturing sector.

A partner in a law firm commented on how New Zealand has such a strong manufacturing base and is behind many well-known brands. (She mentioned Mountain Buggy, the children’s pram. Which just goes to show how the residual brand value outlasts reality, given that those prams have long been manufactured in China and owned by former competitor phil&teds.)

I asked the lunch group whether they had heard of Sistema. Just like the provenance of Pavlova, Crowded House and Russell Crowe, many around the table thought Sistema was an Australian company manufacturing in Australia. There were impressive nods when I informed them the $100 million business was in fact producing everything in Auckland.

Sistema Plastics is a compelling case study on how to build a successful brand. Reading and listening to interviews with the co-founders Brendan Lindsay and Allin Russell, you quickly piece together that the success of the plastic food storage containers is no happy accident.

The fact that Sistema is producing 100 per cent locally while building a global brand, exporting to 59 countries and experiencing year-on-year growth of between 80 to 120 per cent, is remarkable. Australians are not easily impressed and are spoiled for choice in every product category, and yet in 2012, the company had an estimated 44 per cent market share across the Tasman.

In the course of a discussion on noteworthy brands one of my Australian clients – also a local plastic packaging manufacturer – directed me to a video Sistema has on its website showcasing the technology in its Auckland factory.

In the manufacturing industry a business meeting on the topic of brand can be highly entertaining. Too often there is little differentiation and very little evidence of product development led by market strategy.

Russell hits the nail on the head when he says competitors are often industrial in their thinking. He believes Sistema is a marketing, not a product company and over the years its owners have invested heavily in their busines – including detailed market research, different operational models in each country, new technology, production capability and staff.

The firm designs in ranges rather than single products, making it easy for shoppers to buy multiple products from the same brand. This makes supermarkets like Coles and Woolworths very happy because, you guessed it, shoppers buy multiple products from the same brand. Lindsay has committed to manufacturing Sistema in New Zealand and local production has given the company total control over the process start to finish.

The ‘Made in New Zealand’ stamp has resonated strongly in international markets and has also been a point of difference from the plastics that everyone assumes are made in China. But the big factor in Sistema’s success is the way it seeks to understand trends and buyer behaviour in its category in every market, with ranges on shelves that are considered responses to shoppers’ needs.

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Kumfs rebranded as Ziera. Do the market buy it?
Kumfs rebranded as Ziera. Do the market buy it?

First published in Fairfax Unlimited 16 September 2013 

Women and shoes – a love affair that knows no bounds. The pain we endure to look good in a pair of heels is enough to make any podiatrist cry. (Or maybe laugh and open another clinic.)

According to a 2012 survey by department store Target, Australian women own on average 25 pairs of shoes. More than half admit to owning pairs they’ve never worn and 60 per cent are happy to go online and buy-without-the-try.

Since Australia’s trade tariffs on shoes dropped from a whopping 45 per cent in 1990 to 5 per cent today, the footwear gates have opened and the market has literally been flooded with imports. In 2011, 69.5 per cent of shoes were from China, compared with the second largest importer, Italy, which brought in 6.1 per cent.

Last financial year, the Australian footwear industry had revenues of $AU3 billion, with four major groups generating around 21.5 per cent of that total (IbisWorld 2013). It’s a fragmented market that includes many different categories and smaller sellers. Somewhere in that crazy and super competitive mix is New Zealand brand Ziera Shoes. It is competing in a tough market.

Ziera has been in Australia since 1995. In 2010 the company underwent a major rebrand from their former name, Kumfs. The purpose of the rebrand was to step away from grandma and make a play for the daughter. That’s no small feat (feet?) in any industry – it’s a major perception shift. The words fashion and comfort are a rare pairing, but fashion and orthotics is a giant leap of Neil Armstrong proportions.

However, it’s not entirely implausible. Birkenstock and Dr. Martens certainly didn’t start out as style icons. Even the very popular Spanish label Camper is known as both trend and comfort. Credit must go to managing director and third generation owner Andrew Robertson for wanting to grow his family business and build a greater brand.

In 2010, Robertson’s plans were to triple sales to more than $NZ200 million by 2015. In interviews at the time, he commented that the best way to do this was to broaden the target market and develop more fashion-forward products.

In the marketing world rebranding is considered a big no-no, especially with an established brand. The risk with rebranding, as Robertson acknowledged at the time, is that in trying to win a new customer base you can completely disenfranchise your existing customer. Kumfs had high brand awareness in a niche market with fewer competitors. As a speciality shoe they could command a premium and translate that into higher margins.

By rebranding as Ziera Shoes and launching a completely new advertising strategy and in-store look, the company has gone head-to-head with a multitude of other brands, many of which have been well established in the fashion category for years.

Can Ziera gain a significant foothold in this broader market? Hiring former Camper designer Laura Boulton is a positive sign, especially if Ziera commits hard to a complete on-trend aesthetic. Otherwise, it’s another step away from the older, loyal customer base.

International players that also sell footwear, like Zara, H&M, Uniqlo, Novo and Aldo are coming thick and fast into Australia, and they have a lot more money to throw down and supply chains that churn out this month’s hottest shoe in record time.

The younger Australian shoe buyer is spoilt for choice and even more frivolous with her loyalties. Perhaps the older market was the safer choice after all.

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Seedling grows Aussie market
Seedling grows Aussie market

First published in Fairfax Unlimited 2 September 2013

If you’ve ever been into a toy shop or wandered through the children’s section of a department store, you’ll know all about consumer choice. Aisle after aisle of products vying for attention. Things that beep and bleep, shake and sing. High tech, low tech, vintage revival.

The toy and games sector is overwhelmed with products. At one end are short-lived fads that burst onto the scene with great fanfare, run their course and are discarded by kids in next week’s rubbish. At the other end are premium products like hand-crafted wooden kitchens from Denmark or ethically sourced knitted dolls from Guatemala. It seems nothing is too much for today’s child, grandchild, niece, nephew or friend’s little one.

The Australian toy and games sector is a strong one with estimated revenues of AU$2 billion. It is also a polarised market, with a few big retailers accounting for 40 per cent of market share and multiple independents making up the remainder. It is a lucrative but saturated sector. Few niches remain that don’t already have numerous contenders, both local and international.

Imagine my surprise then, when earlier this year I came across a brand that not only stood out on the shelves but seemed to pop up in every trendy little kid’s boutique and magazine. I was further delighted to find that Seedling is made by Kiwis.

From a brand and marketing perspective, a couple of thoughts sprang to mind as soon as I saw the Seedling products in Australian stores. Firstly, the packaging is bang-on-trend with its vintage recycled cardboard box which goes down so well with the 30-something mum. It’s the perfect blend of “ye olde” homeliness and modern hipster-ness. Secondly, there’s a craft revolution going on in Australia, as it is indeed around the world, and Seedling is right in the middle of it.

In 2012 around 10 per cent of the population were engaged in textile crafts, jewellery making, paper crafts or wood crafts, Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures show. That’s roughly 1.7 million Australians. When the ABS includes glass crafts, pottery, ceramics and mosaics it brings the total to about 2 million. It’s a hobby being passed down from parent to child at a time when the first-time parent is likely to be older and wealthier. Demand for premium-priced products is steady, if not slightly on the rise.

Seedling is not cheap, nor should it be as it’s targeted right at this market, setting itself far apart from the Two Dollar Shop arts and crafts at the other end of the category. Thirdly and I’d say most importantly, Seedling seems to have won a major coup in securing a great Australian distributor. It’s one thing to have a timely product, it’s another to see it on the right shelves at the right time, and that’s exactly what a relatively unknown brand like Seedling has managed to do in a short period.

I haven’t seen Seedling in the ever-growing and price-driven supermarket and department store toy category. I imagine it’s because founder and owner Phoebe Hayman has a tight vision of how to manage her brand.

Seedling’s distribution strategy reinforces its premium positioning and still reaches a lot of customers by focusing on that 60 per cent of independents. At least for now, in bypassing the superpowers of Coles, Woolworths and the like Hayman is able to command a higher price, keep manufacturing in New Zealand and constantly remind buyers why Seedling is just what their little darlings so deserve.

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Thinking of rebranding? Think again
Thinking of rebranding? Think again

First published in Startup Smart 11 July 2013

When it comes to rebranding I have one word for you. Monday.

It was in fact a Monday in 2002 that the (then) PricewaterhouseCoopers spun off its consultancy arm under a new brand, the aforementioned ‘Monday’.

The jokes wrote themselves then as they do now and as the BBC news website announced in its obituary on 31 July 2002:

MONDAY passed away quietly on Tuesday after a short but controversial life.

It was a terrible name and a silly concept for a reputable accountancy firm with such a strong history. What were they thinking?

I can only imagine what the first brand presentation looked like:

As branding firm (Wolf Olins in this case) whipped the sheet off the easel with great fanfare, everyone sniggered. Then they thought no, no, lets hear this out and so they heard about how cutting edge this really was, how ahead of the curve, how they would be seen as the most innovative accountants on the block.

They started to question their gut feel, suppress it a little more. And *poof* before you know it the virus has spread and the Emperor has new clothes.

(Don’t even talk to me about iSnack 2.0. RIDICULOUS.)

The point is that even for a start up, think twice before you undertake a rebrand, consider the value of the business you have already created and the reputation you’ve built in your market. Can you afford to throw all that away because someone suggested you could do with a better name and logo?

Very often when I speak with companies the conversation leads to rebranding. It’s usually coming from another place and actually they don’t mean rebranding at all.

What they’re looking for – or just what they could do with –  is a brand revitalisation. Breathing a new lease of life into the business without changing everything that made it unique in the first place. For your company to have reached this point of growth, you must have done something right so why get rid of all that?

When I first started in marketing, I was one of those design-led marketers too and will put up my hand and admit I talked excitedly about redoing logos as an Absolute. Business. Imperative. How wrong was I.

Your business imperative is to build on the things that sold your customers on your brand in the first place. Always be better at them than the competition and communicate that through your marketing strategy.

I love great design and I love working with great designers, but great companies are not built on visual creative alone and certainly not as a priority to real business and marketing issues.

By all means, strive to improve the look and feel of your company. Don’t look like a startup whose teenage nephew built your website. Especially when you’re trying to tell the market you’re a cut above the rest. But before making cosmetic changes, ensure they come from a place that is bang on target with who you are as a company.

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Business with Australia: long distance relationship
Business with Australia: long distance relationship

First published in Fairfax Unlimited 5 July 2013

In the fifth and final part of the Business with Australia series, I ask New Zealand exporters whether the long distance relationship can work. It’s unlikely to come as a surprise that in business, as in personal life, the risks outweigh the benefits.

New business opportunities unfold when exporters formally commit to export markets and that means feet permanently on the ground.

Jeremy Moon, Icebreaker’s founder and CEO, started exporting to Australia in 1999 in what he says was a natural progression from New Zealand. The brand initially worked with a distributor in the ski industry, but with little success. In 2003, with a new strategy and small account base, they relaunched into Australia as a subsidiary.

“My advice is to set up your own subsidiary in Australia and find the best Australians you can to run the business and find very strong linkages,” says Moon, “then your local market grows from four million to 24 million.

“That subsidiary was, and still is, Australians selling to Australians. It was set up and is run by Fran McMahon, who was the fifth person to join Icebreaker. You need professionals you can trust to develop protocols between your Australian and New Zealand office to keep communication and camaraderie very high.”

Modtec Industries, designers and manufacturers of modular workspace products, has dedicated people on the ground in Perth. Without them, opportunities would be missed, says Ian Cooper, head of global sales and marketing.

“You couldn’t build a business properly in Australia without having people on the ground,” Cooper says. “There’s a lot of activity in Perth and it took 12 to 18 months to develop. Without someone on the ground, we would never have got that work.

“We had to establish an Australian Pty Ltd company as it makes things easier. If we’re local, buyers don’t think we’re importing something, because that comes with its own restrictions.”

The temptation to commute across the Tasman is understandable given the short flight. Leah Fisher, co-founder of business improvement consultancy TakeON!, often makes the sojourn. However, TakeON!’s business model in Australia is all about local partnering, which she says has far greater advantages.

“Our approach has been finding and working through local partners,” she says. “The overheads are lower and we believe the time to market is less. Obviously their market knowledge is greater and they have a network of relationships to access. Every company has its own culture or way of doing things so we ask our local business partners to shape the work to the Australian market, make it sharper.”

The first time Elizabeth Barbalich tried to launch her skincare brand Antipodes Nature into Australia, she did so based in – and shipping from – New Zealand. With little success, she put Australia on hold while focusing on other international markets and made a conscious decision to try again with a very different, and much more committed, approach.

“Don’t think about going in [to Australia] without the right distribution partner and don’t try to sell from New Zealand to Australia,” she says. “It’s cost prohibitive and you need to be on the ground.

“We can’t afford to employ a host of sales reps in Australia as it’s such a massive country. The infrastructure and size makes it difficult, so a rep can’t just jump on a train like they can in the UK. Distribution and logistics are completely different as you have to go through third party logistics and there’s a lot of warehousing involved. We chose to use distribution partners.”

Annabel Langbein has recently relocated to Australia and will be based there for the duration of her new cooking show, which recently started screening on the Australian Lifestyle channel.

Stuart Norris, co-founder of tourism photography business Magic Memories has also relocated to Australia, living in Queensland for the last five months where he can develop closer ties with Queensland Tourism.

Margie Milich, director of knitwear label Sabatini, now calls Australia home and travels constantly to stay in front of buyers.

As Norris says, Australia is not New Zealand with a nought on the end. The commitment required to make a successful New Zealand business into a successful Australian one is a challenging battle.

Those who have conquered both markets have some important advice:

  • Be strategic and plan market entry before dipping any toes in the water.
  • Research, research, research. Understand everything about the Australian market and arrive fully informed.
  • Unless you’re in tourism, food or wine, New Zealand heritage does not resonate strongly with Australian buyers, so don’t make this your primary selling point.
  • New Zealanders and Australians do business differently and Australians are generally a tougher bunch.
  • Commit to Australia and get people permanently on the ground, including connected Australian partners.
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BlogBrands to watchTrans Tasman

Business with Australia: Culture clash
Business with Australia: Culture clash

First published in Fairfax Unlimited 28 June 2103

New Zealand’s sense of humour, lifestyle and early heritage may not be too different to Australia’s, but business culture in the two countries is not the same.

Australians are generally a tougher bunch to deal with and the size of Australia – both geographically and in population – means each state or territory has its own reputation and rules, which to exporters can mean distinct markets within the overall Australian market.

Australians, like New Zealanders, are opinionated when it comes to defining parts of their country. It goes a little like this: Sydney is the glamorous, international one that’s the hardest to crack, a little bit of LA in Oz. Melbourne is the traditional, conservative one where connections and old ties speak volumes. Brisbane is a little bit Vegas a little bit Miami: it follows its own more relaxed rules and laughs at the other two. Adelaide is the quiet underdog: it’ll never be Sydney, never Melbourne and keeps on looking for that unique boutique positioning. Perth doesn’t need any of the other states – it does its own thing, it has mining and is closer to Asia. Tasmania is remote, arty and a bit hippy – it’s where you go when you choose to get away from it all. Darwin is outback Australia. And Canberra – well, Canberra is the capital, but bears the brunt of a lot of Aussie jokes. And it has a lovely art gallery.

On the whole, New Zealand exporters I interviewed find the business culture of Australia less open and less reliable compared with home.

Deals take longer to close, decision makers are harder to find and even things that look very promising can backfire at the eleventh hour. But once you’re in, it’s well worth your while.

Annabel Langbein, who now has a cooking show on Australia’s Foxtel network, says it takes a lot of hard work to make things happen in Australia.

“It’s very competitive and very parochial,” she says. “We always felt a bit like poor cousins across the ditch. How people do business in New Zealand is gentlemanly. In Australia it’s ruthless, tougher. We feel lucky with the Australian relationships we’ve established but it took a lot of work. Australian people are harder.”

Langbein thinks New Zealanders are still learning to market themselves well and believes that to succeed in Australia you can’t afford to sit and wait to be discovered. New Zealanders must get gutsier and make things happen for themselves, she says.

Ian Cooper, head of global sales and marketing at Modtec Industries, thinks Australia is a tougher market but akin to other international markets. He believed the challenge for exporters is finding the right person to meet with, despite appearances to the contrary.

“In New Zealand there is a comfort with the person you deal with and you know when they will buy from you. In Australia, that may not win you the order as there are a whole lot of other influencers involved,” Cooper says. “In New Zealand you quickly work out the sphere of influencers, but they may not be immediately noticeable in Australia. The more contact you have with customers, the more likely the sale will be.

“We’ve never really experienced that ‘cutthroat’ [situation] where they stare you down,” adds Cooper. “Only once or twice have I sat in a meeting and had someone say, ‘I’ve heard it all before. Every supplier tells me this’”.

Co-founder of business improvement consultancy TakeON!, Leah Fisher, agrees you have to be prepared to wait for an Australian win.

“Whether it’s finding a partner, getting the right appointment or winning business,” Fisher says, “it always takes longer than you think it will.

“In New Zealand there’s a lot more trust in relationships. It’s a small country and you don’t want to get a bad reputation. Australia is different. There is a greater emphasis on the transaction and the deliverables and evidence based work is much more desirable.”

“In the UK,” Fisher adds, “it’s difficult to make appointments whereas in Australia it’s easy to get appointments, but decisions take a long time.”

Elizabeth Barbalich, founder of skincare brand Antipodes Nature, recommends having a strong financial base before entering Australia.

“The Australian business culture can be pretty unforgiving,” she says. “Getting the meeting with the right person is crucial. If you have a meeting down the chain, it can be a waste of time.

“Also you may not get paid when you expect it, until you build up a reputation and products don’t sit in a warehouse. We have to send products without any payments. We’ve never had a bad debt, but I would advise [companies] not to jump in with a distributor unless they are financially sound.”

Jeremy Moon, CEO of Icebreaker, adds a product must be communicated in different ways. For example, despite both countries’ love of the outdoors, building the Icebreaker brand required a different marketing angle in Australian.

“New Zealand is about mountains and lakes and Australia is about beaches and most people don’t wear outdoor brands on the beach. So, the focus has extended to the travel market with our lightweight merino lifestyle collection, which is perfect for the Australian climate.

“It was challenging building an outdoor adventure brand in Australia,” he says, “because the majority of active Australian brands are surf brands.”

Stuart Norris, co-owner of Magic Memories tourism photography business, is now based in Queensland, which he says is different from Sydney and different again from Melbourne. Norris believes each state has its own rules and you learn those by being on the ground.

“There’s a localised vocabulary in each part of Australia and its own way of doing business,” he says. “ I join the local networks, play golf with the right people and I also celebrate the Kiwi network. There are a lot of world class business people in Australia who also happen to be Kiwi.”

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Marketing & Brand StrategyTrans Tasman

Business with Australia: Play down the Kiwi bit
Business with Australia: Play down the Kiwi bit

First published in Fairfax Unlimited 21 June 2013

In the third of a six part series on Kiwi companies exporting to Australia, Bella Katz discovers that it pays to play down the Kiwi heritage when positioning in Australia.

One of the things New Zealanders do well is laugh at themselves. Maybe it’s part of that mythical tall poppy syndrome, or maybe cynicism is in the water. Whatever it is, we can all appreciate the things that are ‘world famous in New Zealand’, like L&P and the big sheep in Waikato.

The thing is, a lot of Kiwis and Kiwi businesses really are world famous, so it’s tempting to think the New Zealand story is critical in building a world class Kiwi brand (or a world class Kiwi). But given Australia is so close to New Zealand and shares a lot of the same DNA, does that connection help or hinder business development in Australia?

In my Unlimited article earlier this year, I asked whether New Zealand exporters in Australia were playing the Kiwi heritage card to their detriment.

I felt that Australia positioned itself around many of the same qualities New Zealand did (clean green, home grown, ‘downunder’ design) and that Australians were more interested in the bigger international story than the smaller, local one. The business owners I interviewed for this series agreed that although New Zealand heritage made sense as part of their messaging, particularly when it came to uniquely New Zealand things such as wine, food and tourism – the primary selling point in Australia was often something else altogether.

Jeremy Moon, CEO of Icebreaker, says although Kiwis respond to the New Zealand heritage of his merino clothing brand, in Australia it’s the premium positioning that draws buyers.

“Having the New Zealand heritage gives us the credibility to be an outdoor brand,” he says, “as New Zealand is the adventure capital of the world. But our brand positioning is more about the finest merino, as it is universally recognised that the best quality merino wool comes from New Zealand. Kiwis are proud of Icebreaker as a New Zealand success story whereas Australians respond more to the high quality and premium positioning.”

For Magic Memories, the tourism photography business co-owned by Stuart Norris, the New Zealand ‘soul’ of the company is a big part of the international brand-building strategy.

“In our industry, where we’re marketing New Zealand to the rest of the world,” says Norris, “the New Zealand connection is very important. Tourism is one of New Zealand’s most successful industries. We sell New Zealand expertise to Australian partners.”

In a dilemma faced by brands the world over, companies and customers are asking how much local heritage they can claim when most, if not all, production comes from somewhere else. Often it’s a simple question of survival, as businesses cannot continue to manufacture in expensive markets like Australia and New Zealand and remain globally competitive. Something has to give and increasingly the solution is to split the intellectual property side of the business, or the design, from the manufacturing, which gets outsourced to places like India and China.

For Modtec Industries, manufacturing in New Zealand while trying to build an international brand is getting harder. Ian Cooper, head of global sales and marketing, believes people appreciate New Zealand design, making it all  in New Zealand is just not cost effective.

“New Zealand heritage is a niceness, but it’s not really important to our brand,” says Cooper. “We have to be competitive. We design our products in New Zealand, but trying to get stuff made there, even down to the basic screw, the cost is quite a bit higher than other markets.”

Elizabeth Barbalich, founder of Antipodes Nature, believes many New Zealanders who export make the mistake of thinking New Zealand is a key selling point.

“We have to be able to compete globally,” she says, “so the New Zealand ingredients and fact it’s from New Zealand is a ‘nice to have’ but it’s not connected with performance. Our key selling point in Australia is the science and collagen. The fact it’s from New Zealand is an added feature. The New Zealand background works very strongly in some industries, like wine. We’re known for our Sauvignon Blanc, it’s tangible, you taste it right away and bang.”

Annabel Langbein, chef and media personality agrees. She is launching her cooking show and multi-platform media business in Australia on the basis of a simpler, back to basics life.

“It is a values-based proposition rather than New Zealand heritage,” she says. “You have to have a relevance to people’s lives and our new website was launched under the premise of free range cooking or a ‘free range life’. Food as conduit for community, culture, family, friends and nature.”

Margie Milich believes her knitwear label Sabatini is known more for being a family business than a New Zealand one.

“The New Zealand story is not important to the label,” she says. “They do love the New Zealand Made thing though, but it’s more about it being a family business and always has been. Retailers love that. But you know, it’s a fiercely competitive relationship business, so if you don’t do a good range, they won’t buy regardless of that relationship.”

New Zealand business improvement consultancy TakeON! says the New Zealand background should often be downplayed in Australia.

“We are proud of being New Zealand based, but that’s not a selling point,” says Leah Fisher, co-founder. “Ours is an international brand, represented and delivered by people within each country. Increasingly, New Zealand is known for innovation, but it’s not something we trade on. Ultimately our innovation and success is the key, not the reputation of the nation.”

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BlogMarketing researchTrans Tasman

Business with Australia: Do the research
Business with Australia: Do the research

First published in Fairfax Unlimited 14 June 2013

In the second of a six part series on Kiwi companies exporting to Australia, Bella Katz asks what research prepared business owners for the international market.

Going into a meeting unprepared is a business executive’s recurring nightmare. So why would you enter a new international market without local knowledge? You wouldn’t, say New Zealand exporters to Australia. From fashion to professional services, manufacturing to media, the companies I interviewed said research was a crucial first step to business growth across the Tasman.

Stuart Norris, co-owner of tourism photography business Magic Memories, knows the statistics and data of his company and industry inside out. He considers research and local knowledge to be critical to the success of any venture.

“We have 84 million photos online and take 30 million photos per year,” he says.

“If 10 people walk past my camera, I know how many photos I can take and the figure of sales. We give clients a compounded annual growth of 5% and the only thing they need to do is look at their bank accounts once a month.

“We do a lot of research on tourism numbers, we’re plugged into Australian Tourism as well as each region’s macro and micro tourism. We know, for example, if Jetstar drops their price how that affects us. We are always monitoring the situation.”

Elizabeth Barbalich, owner of skincare brand Antipodes Nature, says enlisting a strategist to get a detailed understanding of the Australian retail market helped her business identify the best model for the Australian market. Fundamental differences in channel strategies between New Zealand and Australia include finding local distribution partners, as well as logistical and warehousing arrangements. Shipping directly from New Zealand didn’t work for her business, she says.

“Mistakes come down to not understanding the Australian market. We did a lot of research into the brand, particularly around the customers of our target retailers in Australia. You have to research the market thoroughly before even considering putting toes in the water. Don’t assume the free trade agreement makes it easy, the regulatory environment is not the same as in New Zealand.”

In the early days, market research for Icebreaker founder and CEO Jeremy Moon consisted of driving around Australia with an old suitcase full of product samples, talking to store owners. Some of them became customers, others did not, but the value he gained from first hand experience taught him a lot about the Australian market.

“It gave me a reference so that when I had a team there I could understand the lay of the land,” he says.

“The old export model of making extra production and trying to sell it doesn’t work. For me, New Zealand business needs to get stronger at developing international business models that are all about having offshore teams, who are locals, and supporting them with what they need to be successful in their own markets.”

Moon now chairs the New Zealand government’s Better by Design group, which works with over 100 New Zealand companies to redesign their model from traditional to international design-led businesses.

Ian Cooper, head of global sales and marketing at Modtec Industries, recommends that research includes a detailed analysis of the corporate structures of Australian businesses, to identify the real decision makers.

“In New Zealand you quickly work out the sphere of influencers,” says Cooper, “but they may not be immediately noticeable in Australia. The sooner you can get to the end customer the sooner you will understand the motivation for purchase. These discussions should involve others in your company beyond the sales people and if you use partners, you need to find those that will provide honest feedback.”

Leah Fisher, co-founder of business improvement consultancy TakeON! agrees decision makers can be less obvious in Australia – and that local partners can offer insight that may otherwise be difficult to find.

“You need to build relationships with people on the ground,” says Fisher. “We’ve been fortunate because we have relationships with people who have returned to Australia and once you have a foothold, you can actively build your understanding of the market.”

Annabel Langbein, whose cooking show is soon to launch in Australia, says she worked hard to get a breakthrough in Australian television and had to prove her model worked before Australia would take a chance on her business.

“Research is so important, because you need to see who’s playing in that field,” she says. “You need to know the price points and the size of the market. Then you need to get the product, the distribution and supply chain right. We didn’t do a lot of local research, but we decided we didn’t want to be a publisher in Australia. Publishers have big lists and a lot of Australian talent.

“As soon as you start exporting you have to be really astute. Our mantra is ‘assume nothing’. In fact we have a sign in our office with those words so we remember them every day.”

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Trans Tasman

Business with Australia: A right time?
Business with Australia: A right time?

First published in Fairfax Unlimited 7 June 2013

In the first of a six part series on Kiwi companies exporting to Australia, Bella Katz asks when the time was right to look beyond New Zealand.

Although there was no single ‘lightbulb moment’ that sparked the move beyond New Zealand, those taking on the Australian market all have a critical piece of advice: don’t do it by half.

For Elizabeth Barbalich, owner of skincare brand Antipodes Nature, it was almost six years from dipping her toe into Australian waters to a more strategic approach to launching her brand there. In the years between, her business became successful in other international markets she believes are less challenging than Australia, including the UK, where Antipodes is now an established brand.

“New Zealand companies assume that because it’s close, the Australian market is the same,” she says, “but it’s completely different. For starters, Australian retailers are fighting to survive too, so it can be brutal if you don’t make a mark in six months.”

Over the coming year, Barbalich anticipates significant growth in Australia as a result of several deals that have taken her team’s time – including a dedicated strategist whose role has been to thoroughly research the market to make informed decisions. Auckland-based engineering and manufacturing company Modtec is finding success in Australia can occur in different parts of the country at different times.

Its modular workspace products were designed with an international market in mind, as a result of an opportunity initially driven out of the UK. Ian Cooper, head of global sales and marketing at Modtec Industries, says although there are differences between Australia and New Zealand, Australia does not differ significantly from other international markets. The company’s decision to export was initially driven by a customer enquiry from the UK, then by the belief it had outgrown New Zealand.

“New Zealand has been a good market for us” says Cooper, “Australia is better. We’re actually better positioned in New Zealand as we don’t have the number of competitors, but the total size of the opportunities is smaller.”

Modtec has had success in Sydney and Melbourne, largely in the banking sector, but recent business growth has been driven from Western Australia and Perth.

Stuart Norris, co-owner of tourism photography business Magic Memories, says international expansion was a spinoff from tremendous growth and market dominance in New Zealand.

“We decided that we had to grow,” he says “when we got to the top position in New Zealand. We’re in a rapid international and global growth phase, so at the moment Australia is the largest export market but not for long,” he says.

As more New Zealanders migrate to Australia than anywhere else in the world – in part due to the reciprocal arrangement – Australia was a logical next step for his business. Strong brand awareness among tourists was a bonus. Norris says Australia accounts for 40% of the company’s business, but it predicts it will drop to 38%, with 45% coming from other parts of the world, including China.

Annabel Langbein, chef, author and television personality, already has distribution for her show in 84 territories. Australia, she says, is a logical next step. Langbein, who is about to launch a show on Foxtel Australia’s Lifestyle Channel, made the decision not to enter Australia as a publisher due to the vast number of Australian cooks already selling books there. Instead, she decided to take a more holistic approach with a strategy that has worked well in New Zealand.

“What we did in New Zealand, which is successful,” she says “is lined up things diligently around different media platforms. Television, books in the market, a communication strategy. Then we asked ourselves, ‘how do we want to build our brand in Australia?’”

Langbein believes you have to do things differently in Australia, unless you have a big budget.

“We live in times when there are so many products, it’s incredibly cluttered and with a lot of competition especially in the media. We really had to prove ourselves and prove our model before going into Australia. It was all about tenacity, time and relevance,” she says.

Along with tourism, fashion has long been an industry for which New Zealand is well known. Over the last 10 years, this has also been one of the hardest-hit sectors and many local brands have tried and failed to grow their labels in Australia. Australian retail is facing many challenges of its own right now, with multiple international fashion brands like Zara, Uniqlo, Topshop and River Island all entering the market.

It takes a strong New Zealand brand to survive, let alone thrive in Australia, and that’s what Margie Milich, director of New Zealand knitwear label Sabatini intends to do.

“It’s not like it was 12 years ago,” she says from her Sydney base. “All those labels came across back then but they couldn’t maintain it.

“We’ve seen many New Zealand fashion companies that have come and gone. Australia is totally different from New Zealand. Here you have the best of Australian fashion, the best of international – both high and low end – really the best of the best.”

Australia is one of the biggest markets for Sabatini, but Milich says the company has had to explore interest from other regions such as China and Japan.

“You have to have passion, to reactivate and re-energise, especially when the world is so small,” she says. “Great design is about reinventing.”

Much has been written about the exodus of New Zealand professionals who now call Australia home. The knowledge economy, or one based on professional services, is a large part of the Australian business makeup. One firm consulting to Australia that still calls New Zealand home is ON-Brand Partners and its international business TakeON! The consultancy exports its services and proprietary programmes internationally, including to the US.

“Australia is a natural stepping stone to the rest of the world,” says Leah Fisher, co-founder of TakeON! “But while there is much the two countries have in common, don’t make the mistake of thinking they are the same.”

Fisher believes there is a great potential for their business improvement consultancy to grow in Australia, but maintains it can often be a more difficult market to corner than other parts of the world.

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Marketing & Brand StrategyMarketing and Communications

Marketing and the maturing manufacturer
Marketing and the maturing manufacturer

First published in Manufacturers’ Monthly 13 May 2013

Your manufacturing business is poised for growth. You’ve just won that large client your sales team have been working on for years.

You’re about to enter new markets that could create unprecedented opportunities. You’ve acquired another business and there are prospective clients you know are a perfect fit.  You’ve created a new product that has the potential to put your company on the map.

These typical events in the lifecycle of a growing business signify a crossroads that can take your company from humble to great. The business implications are significant and all those questions of capability – manufacturing and management – are an immediate priority.

It’s at this point that the topic of marketing also tends to enter the conversation and move from the sidelines to the boardroom. And with good reason. Manufacturing businesses all too often employ far too junior marketing for the stage that you are at, or rather the stage you want to be at. Perhaps after many years in the business, the stage you deserve to be at.

Not all marketing is created equal

Is this you: “We have a PA-slash-marketing coordinator whose role it is to produce brochures for the sales team or a banner for the trade show. She also does a bit of Tweeting or Facebooking for our business.”

There’s marketing and then there’s marketing. The marketing above is not going to help you achieve your organisational business plan or win over stakeholders. It’s not going to incite passion in your employees or make your firm one that great talent aspires to work for.

Without doubt there’s always a need for a great tactical person to work with a designer and clean up the company website, the fonts, tidy up the signatures everyone uses in their email, make the brochures look the same and the logo stand out nicely. Yes that’s important. But the marketing I’m talking about, and I know this word is terribly overused, is strategic.

With the Australian dollar so high and the local manufacturing industry facing numerous challenges, it begs the question: Why should companies do business with you? What makes your company truly different from everyone else? What is it about your business that will take you beyond competing on price every time?

Brand new perspectives

Brand has somehow become a bit of a flimsy word and one that many people avoid using. But it’s actually a very good definition for when a business moves beyond what is physically does (we make specialised machinery for other manufacturers) to what owning one means to that buyer (their machinery is the safest and has the longest life of any in the market).

The easy piece is to launch into what should actually be a much later step, and that’s creating all those marketing materials with product specifications, case studies and pens with your company name on them. (And more recently social media, which many manufacturers really have no reason to be doing).

The hard piece is simplifying what is undoubtedly a very technical and complicated process, into a distinctive, clear positioning owned by your business that resonates with all your clients, existing and prospective.

In other words, if you could only use one sentence, tell me why I should invest in your products? It sounds terribly simple, I know, but when you start asking different people in your company to tell me what “that” is, they’re all likely to give me different answers. And when I ask your customers what clinched the deal that made them buy your products over another’s, what would they say?

Questions for you:

  • Does your company have a genuine point of difference in the industry and do you reinforce that effectively in your marketing?
  • Do you know the real reason your customers buy from you over others?
  • Do you know why you may lose tenders?
  • Has the perception of your company changed over the years and how?
  • Do you compete more often on price and cannot match the cheapest competitors without losing money?
  • Is your marketing spend helping achieve the goals you set out for the business?
  • Do your staff feel confident in defining exactly what’s better and unique about the business?
  • Do you feel your business deserves to be much further ahead than you are today?

These are fundamental questions for any company and are certainly not owned by marketing, but the point is that the most effective marketing needs to always support your business objectives.

If change can truly only be made from the top down, you need to ensure the people you entrust to manage the marketing of your manufacturing business can speak to stakeholders and key customers and articulate what makes you different and why they should purchase from you.

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Marketing & Brand StrategyTrans Tasman

Has Kiwi business lost its mojo in Australia?
Has Kiwi business lost its mojo in Australia?

First published in Fairfax Unlimited on 16 April 2013

New Zealand once appeared to have the magic formula for launching innovative businesses in Australia.

Australia remains New Zealand’s number one trading partner for exports and imports, and according to Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, New Zealand’s exports to Australia were valued at more than $7.5 billion in 2011-12. But it has been eerily quiet for the last few years, with Australian media devoid of stories of great New Zealand brands.

Where are you all? We miss you.

Once upon a time New Zealand had positioning that transcended categories. ‘Pure New Zealand’ was credible in industries as diverse as tourism, boutique wines and skincare. It was a unique and believable angle. Anything that had the New Zealand Made stamp was marked as premium, with immediate cut-through to customers.

I can’t help but wonder whether the lack of brand awareness in Australia is a reflection of where New Zealand is right now or a symptom of another issue — namely a disconnect between the ‘New Zealand story’ and the Australian consumption of it.

Australia itself oscillates between two very different market perceptions. There’s the clean green farming and agriculture sector versus global mining heavyweights. Both stories have equal credibility and Australians are just as likely to respect a company sourcing fine Tasmanian honey as one exporting dirty coal.

It’s no longer enough for New Zealand companies to launch into Australia with ‘clean and green’ as their primary point of differentiation. Australia is a much tougher market and, over the years, I’ve seen many successful businesses in New Zealand gain no traction whatsoever in Australia.

We may seem like friendly neighbours with only a short stretch of water between us, but corporate Australia is a very different beast.

Although Australia is New Zealand’s number one trading partner, New Zealand is Australia’s seventh and represents only 3.5% of the total trade pool. Australians are not an easy group to impress and too many young New Zealand companies arrive here unprepared for the interrogative assault they face by retailers, potential buyers and others in the business chain.

When I look at the New Zealand papers and news sites – including this one – I read of local success stories and Kiwis done good. I know the great innovators and businesses are out there and there’s a market for them here in Australia. I just hope they do their homework and meticulously research the Australian market before landing on these shores.

Here are a couple of pieces of advice I’d offer. Firstly, do the research. Australian market intelligence will help find the best positioning for your business, conversations with locals will give you a feel for the market and without fail uncover key insights that will bring greater success here – or at the very least prevent failure. Secondly, get local representation. If your aspirations are great, get great Australians on your advisory board.

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