It may be con­fus­ing to sug­gest to New Zealand’s ex­port­ing sec­tor that brand­ing isn’t nearly as vi­tal as rep­u­ta­tion. How­ever, think about it from the per­spec­tive of global con­nect­ed­ness to­day, and you will un­der­stand the state­ment.

Exporter - - CONTENTS - By Neil Gaught.

Beach­heads ad­vi­sor Neil Gaught has a re­al­ity check for new­com­ers to Europe.

Brands are a care­fully crafted alchemy of logic and magic. Their abil­ity to win over the hearts and minds of those they wish to in­flu­ence makes them an im­por­tant and highly valu­able in­tan­gi­ble as­set. They are vis­i­ble and tell sto­ries that are of­ten com­pelling, but are of­ten also cos­metic and quickly ex­posed as such.

A brand is es­sen­tially the prom­ise a company is mak­ing to its au­di­ences, and it can own and shape that prom­ise. It’s what the company ide­ally wants its stake­hold­ers and in­flu­encers to think of it. But your rep­u­ta­tion is ac­tu­ally what your stake­hold­ers think of you and how they see you, re­gard­less of what you want them to be­lieve or what prom­ises you make.

A pos­i­tive rep­u­ta­tion is built on what you ac­tu­ally do; not what you say you are go­ing to do. One tiny nu­ance, one bad re­view, and your brand could be stone cold dead in a heart­beat. Through ac­tions, not words, smart com­pa­nies build trust and cre­ate pos­i­tive reputations that en­sure their brands are not dam­aged.

You might have a new prod­uct that will take the world by storm, but if you don’t de­liver on time; or un­der­stand your cus­tomers’ and con­sumers’ val­ues; take time to set up re­la­tion­ships; have the right kind of peo­ple rep­re­sent­ing you; or en­sure your company is hon­est and trans­par­ent; you might as well rest your prod­uct in eter­nal peace be­fore even start­ing.

Any­one with a key­board can be­come an opin­ion-for­mer – able to make or chal­lenge your company, prod­uct or even your coun­try’s brand prom­ise. This su­per­scrutiny can be some­times de­flected by slick ad­ver­tis­ing and mar­ket­ing, but th­ese days ‘spin’ and the old cri­sis man­age­ment plan of deny/de­lay/de­struct just doesn’t cut it.

Los­ing your rep­u­ta­tion is gen­er­ally cat­a­strophic, and hard to turn around. That’s why I al­ways ask New Zealand com­pa­nies what their mo­ti­va­tions and ex­pec­ta­tions are in ex­port­ing. Do they want to spread the word about a company or prod­uct they feel pas­sion­ate about? Do they want to make the world a bet­ter place? Have they got some­thing that no one else has but desperately needs? Or are they want­ing to make a lot of rev­enue quickly?

The lat­ter is ob­vi­ous, but not a good driver in it­self. I see plenty of young com­pa­nies want­ing to en­ter lu­cra­tive Euro­pean mar­kets to make a quick buck. That may be pos­si­ble in fast-mov­ing sec­tors like tech­nol­ogy, but for most, ex­port­ing is an in­vest­ment and it’s usu­ally a long-time thing.

There are plenty of snags along the way to over­come, how­ever. Any company ex­port­ing into Europe needs ‘am­bas­sadors’ on the ground who com­pletely un­der­stand and are com­mit­ted to the company and its strat­egy. All too of­ten I come across company rep­re­sen­ta­tives who are clearly work­ing in­de­pen­dently of the mother­ship; ei­ther be­cause there is no clear di­rec­tion or they don’t agree with the di­rec­tion (“Head of­fice doesn’t get it”). It’s not hard to see that this lack of en­gage­ment around an agreed and well-thought­through strat­egy can lead to all sorts of rep­u­ta­tional is­sues.

Be re­al­is­tic

Un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions are another is­sue for New Zealan­ders. En­trepreneurs ar­rive in Europe after mas­sive suc­cess at home or around Aus­trala­sia, and ex­pect the same suc­cess here. What they don’t fac­tor in is that there are ten times more com­peti­tors here; that Europe doesn’t share a sin­gle cul­ture and lan­guage; and that the tone of voice em­ployed suc­cess­fully in one coun­try may be met with to­tal per­plex­ity in another.

Get­ting into the four or five top-of-mind brands based on a clearly ar­tic­u­lated propo­si­tion in your par­tic­u­lar mar­ket is the key to suc­cess. Com­pet­ing on price, es­pe­cially from New Zealand, is not a sus­tain­able al­ter­na­tive.

At the same time, you need to have good bud­gets to work from. So­cial me­dia chan­nels in Europe are typ­i­cally free to ac­cess, but land­ing at Heathrow with five thou­sand pounds in your back pocket for a full-on mar­ket­ing cam­paign just isn’t re­al­is­tic. Noth­ing comes with­out a re­al­is­tic bud­get to invest, but how you use it is the most im­por­tant thing.

That’s why it never ceases to amaze me how New Zealand com­pa­nies don’t col­lab­o­rate. Shar­ing your niche net­works, knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence is good sense, but a lot of sec­tors – such as the wine in­dus­try – ap­pear to be self-cen­tred and self-serv­ing. A company like Villa Maria, for in­stance, un­der­stands per­fectly what it is and who it pro­duces for. In fact, it ab­so­lutely nails it. But the in­dus­try is marred by back-bit­ing and mis­trust.

Plenty of great Kiwi brands do well over­seas: Air New Zealand, Comvita, Villa Maria to name a few. They punch well above their weight be­cause they un­der­stand the val­ues and pref­er­ences of their au­di­ences, ar­tic­u­late their brand prom­ise con­sis­tently and un­der­stand that a prom­ise de­liv­ered builds a pos­i­tive rep­u­ta­tion. The end re­sult is that they at­tract top peo­ple to work for them, their cus­tomers be­lieve in them and mar­kets invest in them.

But it’s fair to say that those ‘great ones’ haven’t been as nu­mer­ous in the past ten years. Ask your­self, what’s new? Who’s new? New Zealand is one of the world’s suc­cess­ful economies, but the world is rapidly chang­ing and coun­tries like Ghana, with eco­nomic growth hit­ting 16 to 17 per­cent yearly, rep­re­sent a new com­pet­i­tive threat, the likes of which we have not seen since the rise of Asia’s tiger economies.

New Zealand has a lot go­ing for it. Like Ap­ple, it’s a brand many are pre­pared to look upon in a pos­i­tive light. The world’s most suc­cess­ful company isn’t the great­est cor­po­rate cit­i­zen, but the prom­ise it makes it gen­er­ally de­liv­ers on. Ap­ple’s suc­cess is based on dif­fer­ence and be­ing dif­fer­ent. New Zealand shares some of the same alchemy that makes dif­fer­ence a key in­gre­di­ent of suc­cess.

You don’t bang your drum that of­ten, and your sanc­tu­ary sta­tus and your hu­man­ity of­ten pro­jected through a ‘can-do naivety’ about the world is pos­i­tively en­dear­ing. There’s a sense that New Zealand of­fers the prom­ise of an al­ter­na­tive and bet­ter way. It’s a prom­ise that ex­porters would do well to cap­i­talise on.

But bear in mind, a brand prom­ise is one thing. In this ‘joined-up’ world, rep­u­ta­tion is ev­ery­thing.

Neil Gaught is a Beach­head Ad­viser for NZTE based in London. His ex­per­tise is in defin­ing and de­vel­op­ing rep­u­ta­tion­build­ing po­si­tion­ing strate­gies for cor­po­ra­tions, NGOs, gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tions and start-ups world­wide. He lived in New Zealand for six years un­til 2009, work­ing with some of the coun­try’s top cor­po­rate and public­sec­tor bod­ies.

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