As part of our look at New Zealand's top brands of 2018, under the Asia's Top 1000 Brands report, we asked New Zealand consumers to identify their top home-grown brands, and Air New Zealand, Whittaker's and Trade Me emerged on top. Here, in-market observers discuss what's behind the success of these brands, and what it will take to uphold that status.
What’s behind these brands’ appeal to local people?
Andrew Barron, MD of Interbrand NZ: It starts with a sense of ownership as these brands are innately Kiwi and project positive aspects of our self-image as a country. The friendly openness, combined with an ability to perform at a world-class standard from here. In addition, they are all brands that come across as incredibly coherent—every aspect of the brand feels genuine and part of the same identity. This goes way beyond marketing or advertising—the service, the product development, the internal team culture all show up in a distinctly clear brand behaviour.
Whittaker’s projects the idea that they are humbly focused on product reverence—making the best bar of chocolate, whatever it takes, which is an approach to brand that consumers really like. Air NZ just makes everything work with a refreshingly good attitude towards customers at every step. It is interesting that they also won a recent ranking for most admired company in Australia, so it shows what terrific customer experience can do beyond just being our own national airline.
Ian Howard, Chief Strategy Officer, Little Giant: First and foremost, a quality product. Let’s not forget that the biggest driver of brand equity remains the core experience with the service or product you’re paying for, and in the case of all three of these brands they provide a high quality product that caters to and exceeds an individual’s needs in a way that’s superior to their competitive set.
I think these three brands also clearly tap into a Kiwi insight—in this little nation we love to take on the world and each of these brands has emerged from a landscape battling against invasive global brands. TradeMe battled off Ebay, Air New Zealand continues to battle off Qantas and Jetstar among others and Whittaker's growth came off the back of a revolt against the Mondelez-owned Cadbury. By doubling down on their NZ heritage—more than most brands—they’ve captured the hearts and minds of their local audience.
Dave McIndoe, head of planning, Saatchi & Saatchi NZ: People love a homegrown hero, brands that do the job and celebrate who they are but ones that they can also draw pride from. They need a clear sense of character, to see a personality in every action and statement and show a passion for the country as a whole.
What are they doing that other local brands—or brands from elsewhere—are not doing?
Barron: They are building the business around the customer. Rather than push ads and products on target markets, they are taking the time to think, ‘What does our customer really want and how would they like it delivered?’ It is no coincidence that all of them are led by CEOs that are close to the consumer—great brands are built at company level, not at CMO or marketing plan level. Companies need to start with how the brand relates to the customer, then build all the ‘important’ business operations around this driving idea.
Howard: Hmm...tricky one. Consistency is certainly one thing. In a fast moving world where brands are falling over themselves to rebrand to something new, all three of these have remained steadfast. Their reason for being, their core offering and their brand assets are all instantly recognisable, accessible and understood. That consistency really matters, particularly when the political and economic context is unstable—they provide certainty in a world in which there isn’t much of that. You know what you’re going to get. You can trust that they’ll deliver what they say they will. That’s reassuring. I’d also say that these three brands are defined by their approach to innovation. While their brand DNA has been consistent, they don’t stand still for long—they are constantly iterating on their brand experience by creating new and authentic enhancements to the experience. Take Air New Zealand’s Sky Couch for example—a world first, a genuinely desirable extension to the experience of flying, but not to the detriment of their mission to get NZ flying. Whittaker’s tie-ups with local brands such as L&P are another great example of this. A new taste sensation, pulling together two loved Kiwi brands. Nobody else could really do it.
McIndoe: They successfully own a clear character that is embodied in all their expression. They give time and space for it to come through. They are consistent in their presence to keep them fresh in people’s minds all year round.
Do you see these brands’ future as under threat from encroaching global or non-local players?
Barron: Not really for these companies, because great brands keep moving, they have an integral sense of their customers at the heart of their business. There is always the threat of disruption, however I think businesses tend to get this wrong. Rather than focusing on the new competitor or disruption, they should simply be fixated on how to have a better relationship with their customers. The reality is most brands have their current revenue share largely through power of market position, so when that gets altered they are exposed for not actually having a strong relationship with customers. The good brands will be surprisingly resilient, even if their products change completely over time. The poor incumbents will say they got disrupted by global competitors or new technology, but it is not true. Retail banks will lose out to fintech, simply because retail banks suck.
Howard: Of course. I think they’re in a great position right now and global brands will look at their local heritage with envy. However, they can’t rest on their laurels. Amazon will shake up TradeMe in the near future. They’ll have to make some decisions about what they do and don’t compete on. If Uber’s aerial taxi service takes off and solves some distance issues, it could have a profound impact on Air New Zealand’s domestic market. Not to mention the potential for new airlines coming in to the mid and long-haul routes. And who doesn’t want to try the latest chocolate? I don’t think there's a brand in New Zealand that isn’t under threat. The trick will be ensuring they have a meaningful, inimitable connection with New Zealanders that helps them keep global competitors at bay. But ultimately consumers will be drawn to brands that deliver the best and most valuable experience to them. At the moment local brands can do that better than most as they use local insight to fuel their human-centred experience design… how long that’ll be the case, we can only guess at.
McIndoe: Every category can come under threat from a destabilising global business model, but even in those cases the brand relationship provides a strong foundation for response with strong enduring preference and a platform from which to respond to new challenges.