The year we made contact

Horrible mistakes can be better than successful formulas
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Good luck spreading your message in Shanghai. Photo: Nitesh Bhundia

Access to China is one thing, but the locals want their own Kiwi connections

Ben Shipley


As Idealog goes to press, New Zealand and China are set to sign what is described as a high-quality, world-first free trade agreement. The buzz on the Internet foretells a boom for Fonterra and Kiwi commodities as the middle classes spend their newfound and rapidly increasing incomes.

New Zealand Trade and Enterprise is proud of this effort, and it should be—negotiating with the Chinese can take effort, compromise and patience.

What seems to be missing from the discussion is an understanding of how the world has changed. Access to the market is only part of the battle—the days of global trade are long gone, and speed of information has sheared the margins of traders to the bone.

The world today revolves around global business. Where trade is about shifting containers around the world, global business is about the ability to develop and maintain relationships, with partners, suppliers and, perhaps most importantly, consumers.

The FTA represents a big foot in the door for New Zealand companies wanting to play in the China market, but banking on price efficiencies and speed to market benefits seems a little imprudent in a market filled to the brim with low-cost manufacturers with mates in the government and a brother with a logistics business.

New Zealand does have a creative advantage, and almost certainly a quality advantage as well. What it’s sorely missing is a connection with the consumers in China.

As a Kiwi immersed in Shanghai’s urban landscape, I simply love seeing a billboard with a scene of New Zealand advertising the country, our airline or perhaps our milk, but the marketer in me wonders if, in a media environment that is increasingly saturated and where the city of New York has a bigger budget than our country, booking fewer supersites is a strategy that is going to be fruitful.

While the traditional media market is saturated here, Kiwi companies can succeed in China. The Chinese are not particularly strong marketers—in a high-growth economy, merely expanding the number of outlets without marketing often pays off. Brand experience and messaging are below expectation but there are enough new consumers each day to keep the pipeline full.

New Zealand is making steps in the right direction. It was great to see Paddy Borthwick and Kai Schubert in town with 25 other winemakers, pushing premium quality (and priced) products to a wider global audience and taking the story to China themselves. Antipodes water has also started popping up in some of my favourite venues around town.

We’re waiting with interest for the Icebreaker concept store going into Nanjing; the Youngest Country on Earth campaign is kicking off; Air New Zealand is upping services to Shanghai and flying into Beijing later this year; and 42 Below is pushing the New Zealand story further as integration with Bacardi delivers exposure and reach outside of Shanghai and Beijing. Our national profile has never been so high.

Free trade represents a massive opportunity. Most importantly, it’s an opportunity to go beyond trade and build a relationship. There has never been a better time to take your New Zealand story to China. The largest brands have laid a foundation in the market; now it’s time to go beyond green, milk and The Lord of the Rings to build brands that attract more than a market price.

The Chinese love a good story, as they have for thousands of years. How good are you at telling yours in Mandarin?

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