By Rebecca Smith
Here in New Zealand we’re captivated by our “can-do” attitude, our “number 8 wire” approach to solving problems and a belief that our national icons of sport, commerce and history are well known across the globe. We’ve traditionally described our country as “pure, clean and green” and proudly continue to claim that as a nation we’re small but “punch above our weight”. The mainstays of our export success, fibre and protein, have benefited from riding off the back of our Tourism slogan ‘100% Pure New Zealand’. But it’s no longer enough. In the words of Marshall Goldsmith “what got us here, won’t get us there”.
What’s more disconcerting though is that our over reliance on this has left our non-food businesses believing the New Zealand brand can be a negative rather than an asset to be leveraged. And in the past, perceptions of New Zealand have certainly been that we’re a very small place, a long way away, isolated, remote, empty with lots of sheep/cows but not many humans, no cities, and very little commerce. This perception isn’t helped when we continue to humbly begin our introductions with “I know we’re small and a long way away but…”.
Beyond natural beauty
When it comes to attracting visitors to our fair shores, the story of our natural beauty has worked well. However, our overall New Zealand story needs to capture and convey what we have to offer beyond natural beauty. We need to cast aside our humbleness to explain the breadth of our unique skills and capabilities.
This isn’t new news I hear you say. Many have been calling for a move beyond natural, pure and green for some years. I’ve also heard various leaders proclaim that Brand New Zealand doesn’t work anymore or that the “from New Zealand” story isn’t enough. In high growth technology-enabled companies, many believe they shouldn’t reference New Zealand at all. I’ve heard of those who have fronted up to offshore investors in years gone by only to be confronted by the belief that New Zealand is empty, agrarian and devoid of any smart people or companies. Because of this scar tissue, many of our firms would rather assume the mantel of the country they’re selling to than admit their business was created, designed or, heaven forbid, based in New Zealand. But if our companies continue to shy away from Brand New Zealand because of our old messaging or approach we’ll never change perceptions.
Consider Israel: a nation surrounded by conflict with a reputation many of their successful global brands have avoided association with. Many brands from these nations believed that their country of origin was an impediment to success. Israel though, through a determined and deliberate focus on shaping and broadening their story, have shifted perceptions. Whilst it is still a nation with many challenges, most of us in the business world now know Israel as The Start Up Nation. Clever PR you might say – or perhaps a concerted storytelling effort demonstrating what can be achieved when there is a collective movement and desire to upgrade the worlds understanding of what a nation has to offer. Attendees of a recent business delegation to Israel claimed that by the end of the week, they’d heard the same story told in different ways so many times, they could recite it.
Another example is Lenovo, the Chinese company who have from the start set themselves apart from their country of origin. Yet China is now regarded as a fast paced digitally savvy nation with the likes of Alibaba making our western approach to separate social and e-commerce channels seem very outdated. Branding experts now suggest that Lenovo might now benefit from their “of China” association.
This is the movement we need and the commitment the country needs from our leaders and brand owners. It’s collective and powerful story telling that we’ve been advocating at the New Zealand Story Group: all businesses fronting into overseas markets sharing more compelling stories for consumers, buyers, potential students, influencers and investors. Each and every business needs to explain not so much where we’re from (unless Country of Origin is at the core of your value proposition), but what we’re like to do business with, our values, what makes us good to do business with, and what we have to offer that is unique.
How are we perceived?
As any good marketer or sales person knows, to create a compelling pitch that will resonate and get cut through you have to first understand your customers. What do consumers and buyers think of when they think of New Zealand? What perceptions exist, what myths do we need to bust, and what attributes should we be dialling up? If you have a sales background, you might ask; what are the buying criteria, the objections, and what problem am I solving for the buyer?
Recently we conducted research in various countries to get a snapshot of what global consumers and buyers believe New Zealand stands for and what they think we can credibly offer. Indications are that there has been a fairly substantial shift in beliefs about New Zealand.
The top two words most commonly used to describe New Zealand by consumers in our key trading partner countries are still “nature” and “pure”. There is simply no denying that our natural beauty shapes first impressions. But don’t lose heart because our concerted effort has started to pay off. Close behind were the words quality, preservation, caring, unspoilt and…utopia. A few years ago those words may have had negative connotations however with increased global turmoil, civil unrest, and new views on borders, the words used to describe New Zealand are infused with positives. Being further away from major powers means we march to the beat of our own drum, we have an independent view, and we make our own decisions based on what we believe is right.
Most significantly, it’s less about New Zealand the place, and more about the people. We’re seen as a developing and growing nation with educated people capable of creating unique inventive and creative solutions without destroying what is precious to us and the world. Integrity and trust powerfully underpin opinions of New Zealand. Our adventurous spirit now spans not only our crazy desire to throw ourselves off bridges and mountains, but to the way we approach problems and issues. We’ve built a reputation for not accepting the status quo and striving to do what others believe impossible. Whilst we’re not seen as an ideas hub there is a strong sense that we are the people who bring ideas to life. In San Francisco, they described New Zealand as “the skunkworks of the world”. Our creations aren’t necessarily large scale of course – we’re seen as a provider of niche and bespoke solutions. New Zealand is effectively the boutique brand among country brands.
New Zealand is a progressive nation of creative idea-makers who challenge the status quo creating new solutions whilst always taking care of people and place.
We are seen as agile, flexible, forward thinking and take a fresh approach to old problems. Yet consumers and buyers see that this is always balanced with a deep sense of Kaitiaki – guardianship of people, place and planet. There is a belief that even if all is not perfect, we sort things out with integrity – we’re a ‘good country’ and can be trusted to do the right thing even when no one is looking.
The world likes who we are, respects what we have to offer and they want to hear more. It’s up to us to push on the open door and stride through with our compelling stories.