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Through our customers’ eyes

Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote much that was wise, not least his plea for the gift to see ourselves as others see us. This would, Burns said in his poem “To a louse“, avoid “many a blunder… and foolish notion”.

This same truism applies not only to individuals, but also to companies and even nations. How many businesses would change their customer service, their marketing, even their product, if they knew how their stakeholders saw them? How many dictators build a myth around their people’s love for them – with disastrous consequences?

The desire to really understand how New Zealand’s key trading partners see our country was a critical part of the evolution of the New Zealand Story project  – an initiative to establish a framework to tell the rest of the world a consistent story about who we are and what makes us unique.

The project was officially launched in 2013 by its three partners – New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, Tourism New Zealand, and Education New Zealand. Two years on, New Zealand Story is a free, open-source, export-ready toolkit with a wide range of images, video, presentations, case studies and infographics – all of which businesses can use as part of their marketing material for international consumers.

One of the critical parts of the development process since 2013 involved “global image testing” – interviews with international consumers to find out how others see New Zealand.

The results were interesting – and sometimes surprising.

For example, our down-to-earth, laid-back, attitude was both a positive and a negative. On the plus side, this makes New Zealand businesses open, accessible, and easy to work with, says New Zealand Story director Rebecca Smith.

“During our interviews with high-level US business owners and channel suppliers, they consistently said that one of the best things about doing business with Kiwis is being able to call the CEO at any time and he’ll pick up the phone. That accessibility to top-level managers is something they love.”

Photography from New Zealand Story

On the other hand, Kiwis can be too laid back in some markets, with a casual attitude sometimes appearing unprofessional. Moreover, sometimes New Zealanders can be so relaxed they forget to close the deal at the end of a meeting, Smith says.

“Don’t thank them and say you’ll be in touch in a week. You can be more forthright and tenacious without sacrificing your Kiwi authenticity.”

Another surprise in the global image testing was how the Australians see us – and they have a much higher opinion of us than we might expect. Smith says our cousins across the Tasman described us in very positive terms, using words like “brave”, “cool”, and “forward-thinking”.

“They really do love us. We are a non-threatening neighbour. They see us as front-footed, both economically and socially, and they like our approach to race relations, which they feel incorporates elements of integrity and care. Essentially, we’re an inspirational example of a working economy and nation.”

Photography from New Zealand Story

However, they also see us as their smaller cousin, which does limit any chance of selling ourselves as exotic or interesting; our closeness makes us familiar and a little taken for granted.

Moreover, despite our competitive feelings towards Australia, the global image testing revealed they didn’t feel the same way about us – and we need to get over it, Smith says. As one Australian interviewee said: “The chip’s on your shoulder, not ours.”

Three tips for telling your story overseas:

  1. Size doesn’t matter

Australia’s big and we’re small. Potential Australian business partners don’t care. They just want to know that you’re big enough to deliver. Demonstrate you have scalability, secure supply chains and logistical compliance – these matter more than size.

Photography from New Zealand Story

  1. Be yourself. But be professional

Suit up, turn up on time, and clearly articulate your business proposition. What exactly are you there to talk about or sell? Don’t say you can do everything. Be specific.

  1. We’re more than beautiful landscapes

Try to move away from empty landscapes – show people and buildings to demonstrate our ability to produce the goods and services you’re selling.  

This article is part two in a four-part series about New Zealand Story and its development. To access the New Zealand Story toolbox of resources register at www.nzstory.govt.nz.

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