First published in Fairfax Unlimited 21 June 2013
One of the things New Zealanders do well is laugh at themselves. Maybe it’s part of that mythical tall poppy syndrome, or maybe cynicism is in the water. Whatever it is, we can all appreciate the things that are ‘world famous in New Zealand’, like L&P and the big sheep in Waikato.
The thing is, a lot of Kiwis and Kiwi businesses really are world famous, so it’s tempting to think the New Zealand story is critical in building a world class Kiwi brand (or a world class Kiwi). But given Australia is so close to New Zealand and shares a lot of the same DNA, does that connection help or hinder business development in Australia?
In my Unlimited article earlier this year, I asked whether New Zealand exporters in Australia were playing the Kiwi heritage card to their detriment.
I felt that Australia positioned itself around many of the same qualities New Zealand did (clean green, home grown, ‘downunder’ design) and that Australians were more interested in the bigger international story than the smaller, local one. The business owners I interviewed for this series agreed that although New Zealand heritage made sense as part of their messaging, particularly when it came to uniquely New Zealand things such as wine, food and tourism – the primary selling point in Australia was often something else altogether.
Jeremy Moon, CEO of Icebreaker, says although Kiwis respond to the New Zealand heritage of his merino clothing brand, in Australia it’s the premium positioning that draws buyers.
“Having the New Zealand heritage gives us the credibility to be an outdoor brand,” he says, “as New Zealand is the adventure capital of the world. But our brand positioning is more about the finest merino, as it is universally recognised that the best quality merino wool comes from New Zealand. Kiwis are proud of Icebreaker as a New Zealand success story whereas Australians respond more to the high quality and premium positioning.”
For Magic Memories, the tourism photography business co-owned by Stuart Norris, the New Zealand ‘soul’ of the company is a big part of the international brand-building strategy.
“In our industry, where we’re marketing New Zealand to the rest of the world,” says Norris, “the New Zealand connection is very important. Tourism is one of New Zealand’s most successful industries. We sell New Zealand expertise to Australian partners.”
In a dilemma faced by brands the world over, companies and customers are asking how much local heritage they can claim when most, if not all, production comes from somewhere else. Often it’s a simple question of survival, as businesses cannot continue to manufacture in expensive markets like Australia and New Zealand and remain globally competitive. Something has to give and increasingly the solution is to split the intellectual property side of the business, or the design, from the manufacturing, which gets outsourced to places like India and China.
For Modtec Industries, manufacturing in New Zealand while trying to build an international brand is getting harder. Ian Cooper, head of global sales and marketing, believes people appreciate New Zealand design, making it all in New Zealand is just not cost effective.
“New Zealand heritage is a niceness, but it’s not really important to our brand,” says Cooper. “We have to be competitive. We design our products in New Zealand, but trying to get stuff made there, even down to the basic screw, the cost is quite a bit higher than other markets.”
Elizabeth Barbalich, founder of Antipodes Nature, believes many New Zealanders who export make the mistake of thinking New Zealand is a key selling point.
“We have to be able to compete globally,” she says, “so the New Zealand ingredients and fact it’s from New Zealand is a ‘nice to have’ but it’s not connected with performance. Our key selling point in Australia is the science and collagen. The fact it’s from New Zealand is an added feature. The New Zealand background works very strongly in some industries, like wine. We’re known for our Sauvignon Blanc, it’s tangible, you taste it right away and bang.”
Annabel Langbein, chef and media personality agrees. She is launching her cooking show and multi-platform media business in Australia on the basis of a simpler, back to basics life.
“It is a values-based proposition rather than New Zealand heritage,” she says. “You have to have a relevance to people’s lives and our new website was launched under the premise of free range cooking or a ‘free range life’. Food as conduit for community, culture, family, friends and nature.”
Margie Milich believes her knitwear label Sabatini is known more for being a family business than a New Zealand one.
“The New Zealand story is not important to the label,” she says. “They do love the New Zealand Made thing though, but it’s more about it being a family business and always has been. Retailers love that. But you know, it’s a fiercely competitive relationship business, so if you don’t do a good range, they won’t buy regardless of that relationship.”
New Zealand business improvement consultancy TakeON! says the New Zealand background should often be downplayed in Australia.
“We are proud of being New Zealand based, but that’s not a selling point,” says Leah Fisher, co-founder. “Ours is an international brand, represented and delivered by people within each country. Increasingly, New Zealand is known for innovation, but it’s not something we trade on. Ultimately our innovation and success is the key, not the reputation of the nation.”