Retail & Emerging Business/New Brand: Z Energy

When Infratil and the New Zealand Superannuation Fund purchased the New Zealand downstream business of Shell for almost $700 million in 2010, it had a tough decision to make. It could take the easier, and most would say safer option and continue to trade under the powerful Shell name, or it could build a new Kiwi brand from the ground up.

To help make that decision, it commissioned the biggest piece of industry specific consumer research in New Zealand in a decade and asked New Zealanders what they wanted from a local fuel company, how they viewed the current brand players (and whether they felt any emotional connection) and how the experience of refueling could be improved. 

The insights it gained from the study led to a radical rethink of the business, painted a vivid picture of what a world class Kiwi fuel company should look like and confirmed the hypothesis that a locally-owned, locally-run fuel company with a big dollop of New Zealand attitude was compelling. 

What’s new

Z’s research programme, which talked to 17,000 New Zealanders (the equivalent of the population of Ashburton), led directly to the development of five pillars that defined the Z brand and drove the launch strategy: share the journey, customers first, live neighbourhoods, thought leadership and Z innovation. And all of Z’s brand and business activity, including its research approach, service/retail innovations, communications, supply partner choices and ‘Z factor’ training programmes, were based on those five elements. 

The research provided real clarity around how New Zealanders see themselves in the 21st century and the characteristics of modern Kiwi companies. It also showed that New Zealanders were underwhelmed by the current fuel experience and receptive to new ways of doing things; that the Shell brand was not the right fit for a new Kiwi company wanting to shake up the fuel market; that the Z name and its distinctive communications plan was on target; and that a range of innovations such as forecourt concierges, interactive instore help screens and even seemingly simple changes like super stretchy fuel hoses would help transform the experience. 


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4B6D4CylpJcOne of the biggest early decisions was arriving at a name that would reflect the company’s aspirations. And the search eventually led it to Z, which it calls “the first letter of the last word of the country to which we are absolutely committed.” 

Research suggested the name declared ‘New Zealandness’, but also that ‘we see the world differently’ and Z was ‘going to do things differently’. It just needed to earn credibility and deliver the goods. So Z introduced itself to New Zealand, engaged employees and key stakeholders and asked New Zealanders to be part of it and help create a new Kiwi fuel company. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pG9UnIyoRbE A launch event for all its staff was held at Te Papa, along with two very well-received launch events to retailers, key customers, media and other stakeholders in Auckland and Wellington. It also launched a 90 second TVC by Assignment Group and significant PR activity. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G1mqOmoCy_wThe next phase was about ‘taking New Zealand on a journey’ and ten Z pilot sites were launched in various parts of the country. A series of TVCs were created to invite people to try it out and highlight the key elements of the new, improved offer—and it did it in a youthful, upbeat and engaging style that signalled a refreshing change to the way a fuel company spoke with its customers. It also asked New Zealanders for feedback on their Z experience through a number of channels, including Facebook, A-Z interactive screens on site, website and email surveys and exit interviews on site. 

And throughout this phase it used social media, radio and press to tell its customers what it was doing with their feedback, whether it was making the coffee stronger or refining store layout. 

A key part of the national rollout was keeping it local. So it ditched the conventional, centralised sponsorship approach and instead decided to give $5,000 to the local community whenever a new Z site opened, with staff at Z’s 220 service stations choosing the causes that mattered most in their neighbourhood and customers voting to determine the level of funding they got. Ultimately that’s $1.2m going back to local neighbourhoods. 

The other key plank of the national rollout was its retail launch campaign, which engaged New Zealanders in the new store and service experience they had helped build, including guaranteed forecourt service between 10am-5pm every day, café quality coffee, gourmet pies and cupcakes and better toilets.

The campaign consisted of TV, localised radio and press, and digital and social media, as well as more targeted activity to provide local support for the opening of individual sites (in total, it developed 82 different press, radio and online ad versions to support each individual site launch and ran targeted ads on, for example, the regional pages of the MetService website). 


The Z rollout was one of New Zealand’s biggest ever rebrand programmes, encompassing over 220 retail sites and 90 truckstops. It involved installing 14 kilometres of canopy fascia panels and 100,000 LED lights. And its agreement with Shell meant it only had nine months to do it. 

In the end, it finished its rollout two months ahead of schedule and minimised the time sites were out of commission. And customer satisfaction tracking proves it is exceeding all expectations. Customers were put at the heart of every key brand development and strategy decision in a way that went beyond usual marketing practice. And it acted on its brand promise of ‘Z is for New Zealand’ by using local suppliers and supporting local charities. 

New Zealanders do not get excited about where they fill up. But by adopting a fresh approach and delivering innovative improvements to the service station experience, Z has managed to carve out a unique brand position that connects with Kiwis and sets it apart. 

Just 11 months after its launch announcement, Z’s brand health metrics overtook Shell’s and were pushing BP hard; sales uplift in Z trial sites exceeded equivalent Shell sites across fuel and retail; longstanding Shell employees and retailers were turned into passionate ‘Z’ers’; and, according to Colmar Brunton, it was the most recommended brand in New Zealand. 

It also won Deloitte’s overall energy company of the year title at the energy excellence awards, lifted earnings from $157 million to $172 million in difficult times and gained over 80,000 Facebook fans. 

Z has introduced more service and retail innovation in 12 months than the industry has achieved in decades. And, in less than a year, it has reshaped how New Zealanders view and experience fuel companies by putting customers at the centre of the brand’s development and continuing to involve them every step of the way. 

Many companies say the phrase ‘the customer is always right’. But Z is one of the rare few that shows it. And listening to its customers has well and truly paid off. 

Awards: Morton Estate Retail and &Some Emerging Business/New Brand

Winner: Z Energy

Partners: Assignment Group, AC Nielsen, Cato Partners, McCready Bale Media.

Judge’s comment: “I liked the fact that Z Energy really challenged the paradigm. It seemed like a really brave move, but when you dug below the surface you saw that it really was well thought out based on great customer understanding and they executed it fantastically well and are obviously very passionate about it.”

Merit (Retail): Powershop 

Powershop has reinvented a low-interest category by challenging the industry assertion that consumers want as little involvement as possible with purchasing or managing their power. Its ‘Same Power, Different Attitude’ mantra defines everything the company does. And over the past 12 months, the campaign has helped Powershop break records, exceed business targets and set new standards in the utility industry for growth, service and customer satisfaction.  

Merit (Emerging Brand/New Business): Boundary Road Brewery 

By putting the consumer first, and nailing the insight that consumers would be more likely to buy into a brand they had a personal connection with, the Boundary Road Brewery launch has been the most successful in Independent Liquor’s 25 year history. BRB launched into a hugely crowded marketplace but with sales three times over forecast, it became the number two selling craft beer range in Foodstuffs and number three in Progressives within six months. And it is the first beer ever to be successfully launched with a digital-centric campaign.

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