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Exporting our environment through smarts, savings and spectacle

A handful of Kiwi exporters are leveraging 100% Pure for all it's worth – and the rest of us could learn a thing or two from them.

Greg Williamson Concentrate LTD marketing

New Zealand Inc is riding high with our 15th placing in the London Olympics, boosting our global reputation as a sporting over-achiever and giving all of us some reflected glory to bask in.

We’re also known for our clean, green environment, something that many Kiwi exporters are leveraging for all they are worth.

There are three main areas where Kiwi exporters are leveraging our green heritage - smarts, savings and spectacle.

“Smarts” are companies like cleantech experts LanzaTech. The Auckland company provides microbial technology that enables organisations like steel and coal plants to convert their waste into low-carbon biofuel. While LanzaTech’s brand is primarily built on the cleverness of its technology, New Zealand’s international image as a clean, green nation helps reinforce the strength and credibility of the brand.

“Savings” are the efforts by the likes of Methven Limited to build sustainability into its existing export product range. A supplier of showerheads, taps and hot water valves, Methven has done a lot of development in areas like low-flow showers that save a lot of water. Again, NZ Inc. enhances its green credentials, but Methven still has to deliver value to the consumer to enhance the brand.

Finally, there’s “spectacle”, the most obvious expression of Kiwi greenness on an export basis. Tourism New Zealand is the best example of this, with its 100% Pure positioning achieving a lot on a modest budget. In the decade or so it has been in place visitor numbers have increased by 50 percent, and foreign exchange earnings from tourism by 62 percent. A lot of the credit goes to our many smart tourism operators, but the promotional campaign has played an important part.

Great export brands are built on the three ‘Cs’ – they are clear, compelling and consistently applied. 100% Pure ticks those boxes.

It is clear. Anyone can understand what is being conveyed and what is being promised. Through the various channels used – advertising, the web, collateral, events, publicity etc – the message is simple and easily understood. It is not the edgy but obscure $AU180 million “Where the bloody hell are you” campaign that Australia tried several years ago, and then dumped.

It is compelling. Tourists from the heavily urbanised cities of Australia, UK, US, China and Japan relish the opportunity to visit somewhere quiet, clean and accessible. And Tourism New Zealand has used it as a platform on which to add specific messages e.g. 100% Pure Adventure to highlight sporting and adventure opportunities.

It has been consistently applied. 10 years is eons in marketing time. Too often companies, and countries, come up with a clever new positioning every year. Often the market has barely noticed the campaign, but the company has become bored with it. Tourism New Zealand has stuck with this positioning and executed it consistently for a decade.

Fundamentally 100% Pure has been a success because it delivers what it promises. That’s a key lesson for any exporter wanting to use the country’s greenness to supports its effort - not to take what might now be called the ‘Belarussian shot-putter’ approach to export marketing.

Marketing is at worst a synonym for lies, at best prone to exaggeration, especially when it comes to attaching some nice green aspects to a brand. But isn’t this what marketing is about – creating a cool enough image to fool the punters into handing over their money?

That may work for a short time, but it will eventually come unstuck. No matter how clever or classy advertising is, our perceptions of a brand are built on far broader planks. They are built from all of our experiences with a company – not just the 30 second advert we see on TV. If those adverts say one thing, but the experience delivered by the company, in this case on the road, says something quite different, the overall strength of the brand is diminished.

In the short term a superficially slick advertising campaign might be effective, but companies must fulfil the promises they make in promotion to perform well in the long term. They must be able to tell an authentic story, one that connects with the real experiences of the customer. Lying or exaggerating might work in the short term but it will eventually destroy a brand.

There are many elements to an effective campaign like 100% Pure, but the heart of it is being based on a promise of value that is reinforced by a visitor’s experience. While we may flagellate ourselves about the environment, to a wealthy American tourist fly fishing on the Rangitata or an Australian walking the Milford Track, or a German diving off Poor Knights Island, they think our land is nothing but pure, beautiful and untouched.

That’s a huge challenge for other sectors of the export economy seeking to use our clean environment as a marketing tool, especially as consumers and the channels to them become more sensitive to where their goods come from.

Just recently major US supermarket chain Safeway, hardly a radical greenie brand, announced it would no longer buy or sell toothfish caught from the Ross Sea in Antarctica. It’s symbolic of how sensitive even mainstream brands are to the environmental bona fides of the products they sell.

Another sobering example is Fonterra’s recent experience with the butter it supplies to Australian company Ballantyne. Trade in the Australian company’s Golden Churn butter was suspended in Malaysia for a period last year after concerns the product had been contaminated by pork, a real no-no in a country with a significant proportion of Muslims.

Through an exhaustive process Fonterra was able to prove that the contamination was not due to any of their processes, and trade was resumed in Malaysia after officials declared the taint came from a local introduction by the vendor using the butter. While Fonterra benefits from the clean, green New Zealand image to enhance its brand, it’s this sophisticated ability to analyse its supply chain that is a real marketing advantage.

Merino clothing producer Icebreaker has used the challenge of traceability cleverly with its Baacode concept, whereby customers can track where the fibre used in their garment came from. It’s less ‘real’ than the food traceability requirement, but adds to the consumer’s experience and shows Icebreaker’s commitment to animal welfare and the environment.

Icebreaker understands that simply using clever promotion of your green credentials is not enough, and you have to be able to deliver on the promise – unlike a Belarussian shotputter.

Greg Williamson is from Concentrate Limited, a consulting company helping hi-tech exporters commercialise their innovations

This post originally appeared on NZTE