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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