Has Kiwi business lost its mojo in Australia?

First published in Fairfax Unlimited on 16 April 2013

New Zealand once appeared to have the magic formula for launching innovative businesses in Australia.

Australia remains New Zealand’s number one trading partner for exports and imports, and according to Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, New Zealand’s exports to Australia were valued at more than $7.5 billion in 2011-12. But it has been eerily quiet for the last few years, with Australian media devoid of stories of great New Zealand brands.

Where are you all? We miss you.

Once upon a time New Zealand had positioning that transcended categories. ‘Pure New Zealand’ was credible in industries as diverse as tourism, boutique wines and skincare. It was a unique and believable angle. Anything that had the New Zealand Made stamp was marked as premium, with immediate cut-through to customers.

I can’t help but wonder whether the lack of brand awareness in Australia is a reflection of where New Zealand is right now or a symptom of another issue — namely a disconnect between the ‘New Zealand story’ and the Australian consumption of it.

Australia itself oscillates between two very different market perceptions. There’s the clean green farming and agriculture sector versus global mining heavyweights. Both stories have equal credibility and Australians are just as likely to respect a company sourcing fine Tasmanian honey as one exporting dirty coal.

It’s no longer enough for New Zealand companies to launch into Australia with ‘clean and green’ as their primary point of differentiation. Australia is a much tougher market and, over the years, I’ve seen many successful businesses in New Zealand gain no traction whatsoever in Australia.

We may seem like friendly neighbours with only a short stretch of water between us, but corporate Australia is a very different beast.

Although Australia is New Zealand’s number one trading partner, New Zealand is Australia’s seventh and represents only 3.5% of the total trade pool. Australians are not an easy group to impress and too many young New Zealand companies arrive here unprepared for the interrogative assault they face by retailers, potential buyers and others in the business chain.

When I look at the New Zealand papers and news sites – including this one – I read of local success stories and Kiwis done good. I know the great innovators and businesses are out there and there’s a market for them here in Australia. I just hope they do their homework and meticulously research the Australian market before landing on these shores.

Here are a couple of pieces of advice I’d offer. Firstly, do the research. Australian market intelligence will help find the best positioning for your business, conversations with locals will give you a feel for the market and without fail uncover key insights that will bring greater success here – or at the very least prevent failure. Secondly, get local representation. If your aspirations are great, get great Australians on your advisory board.

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