Why we need more people to exploit brand New Zealand

New Zealand is being exploited, and we need it to be. Having a great place to live is one thing. Making money from it is better. But should we be taxing those who are exploiting that clean, green image, and where should the money be spent?

The notion that our primary-production led economy needs broadening is not new. Nor is the growing number of international consumers looking for lifestyle choices. They are the consumers who love our scenery, our environment, our water and milk, our wine, food and spirit of adventure. They’re buying our brand not just here, but overseas as well. And what we need is more ‘exploiters’ to take our lifestyle to the world.

‘Exploiters’ are the organisations that align their products or services to our lifestyle elements. It’s called ‘place branding’  and it’s hoped the economic spin off of this exploitation finds its way back to the rest of us inhabiting the place.

Peter Jackson and Richard Taylor of Wingnut and Weta film fame are great examples of our best exploiters. Others include Jeremy Moon of Icebreaker, Karen Walker, Kathmandu, the Family of 12 wine makers, Sanford and Sealord, Tatua and Fonterra, Comvita and Manuka Health. All are selling products based on New Zealand’s lifestyle and image, and providing their interpretation to the world’s rich consumers.  Because our lifestyle is one of the better choices in the world, they are earning premiums over their competition. 

The channel for economic spin-off is not very clear or well defined – how do you tax someone for selling an idea, unless you protect it with a patent? That’s been done with the All Blacks brand, but not as yet with New Zealand’s. And when much of the supply chain for these products is outside of New Zealand, so too are the economic benefits of our brand.

And who is looking after the custodians of our New Zealand brand image? By custodians, I mean the individuals and organisations who fund the landscapes and environment we enjoy, and demonstrate the lifestyles others are attracted to. In some ways this is all of us, but our custodians are especially the Department of Conservation, our farmers, viticulturalists and horticulturalists, coastal communities; alpine clubs; and every tidy Kiwi that makes touring our country a unique experience. 

Are the exploiters of the lifestyle we enjoy doing enough to reinvest in it or are we relying on the government to be the conduit?  The real fear is that in our race for value—think volume and low cost producers—we will lose our authenticity. And what about the exploiters who are not aligned to the brand we cherish—the extractive industries that we don’t like to talk about—oil, mining, and logging. Are they contributing towards the custodians? Do the custodians feel this contribution?

I think the answer is ‘no’.  There seems to be increasing pressure to intensify our farming while intensifying our waste issues, to improve our open spaces, to ship more for less cost. The tipping point may be in sight and we will find it difficult to reverse. 

If we want to stay in the future-proof business of selling aspirational lifestyles—in any form—business needs to connect directly with our custodians.  Not just for funding, but to internalise what makes our lifestyle so attractive, and to gain an appreciation of how to preserve and enhance it. Air New Zealand has set the pace with its DOC partnership, weaving their sponsorship into their integrated marketing campaigns. That is brand New Zealand in action and a great example how it can be managed for the future.

  • Marc Potter is President of the Harvard Business School Association of New Zealand, and chairs the organising  committee for “Who Owns Brand New Zealand”, a day of discussion by some of New Zealand’s top business leaders. The day has been organised by alumni from Harvard, INSEAD, IMD, London Business School and the University of Auckland Business School. 
  • Event details: 1 December, University of Auckland Business School 3:00pm – 6:00pm afternoon discussion groups and 7:00pm – 9:30pm evening panel discussion and networking.
  • Public tickets at EventBrite.

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