Managers Abroad: Strength in the NZ voice

What prompted you to seek work out of New Zealand?
I wouldn’t say I was prompted to seek out work overseas – more that I wanted to play role in New Zealand’s export success. My father worked for the NZ Government so half my childhood was spent living in Europe. Now I’m following in his footsteps, representing New Zealand in the private sector rather than the public sector.

What is your current role?
I’ve most recently been challenged with developing new business channel for Icebreaker – the Run Specialty channel, through all of the markets we currently sell Icebreaker in globally. Icebreaker has been focused on lifestyle friendly apparel. What we realised is that Icebreaker is also fantastic to run in. So, after researching the market more, we dived into this new channel opportunity and it’s starting to take off. We’re the only natural fibre story in the running apparel market.

What are its main challenges?
The cost of brand awareness building in the US, Canada and European markets. We have to use that famous Kiwi ingenuity on daily basis – but that’s what sets us apart from the competition so it’s threat, and in strange way competitive advantage. It just means we have to be very focused on where we invest, why and how. It also encourages us to prototype, before rolling out activity to all markets or all retailers.
From US market perspective, an interesting and new challenge we face is the recent escalation of the consumer drive to buy US made. In 2006-2008 I was involved in marketing NZ wines in the US and being exotic and foreign was an advantage. Now, many of those same discerning customers are looking to support their local economy. It’s not show stopper, but it is another hurdle for Icebreaker and NZ exporters in the US market.

What are the learnings from all of this?
The strength of our New Zealand voice and personality and how staying true to your roots can give you competitive edge. I’ve learnt the incredible importance of forming personal relationships with our customers, whether that’s hosting them in New Zealand so they can experience the essence of our country and our brand first hand, or getting actively involved in their retail environment.
It also couldn’t be more evident to me now that major markets should never be thought of as one market. The US is not one market – it contains thousands of discreet markets and understanding these markets, and really narrowing your focus, is key to success. I’ve also learnt to think beyond the clichés of selling in LA, London and New York, and look at towns and cities that are could be the perfect fit for many Kiwi brands. When was the last time New Zealand business spent time investigating Minneapolis and Portland as targeted export opportunities? They just happen to be couple of the most progressive US cities at the moment from an outdoor, active and eco-minded consumer perspective.

How do you view New Zealand as country and economic/entity?
I see New Zealand as the Finland of the Southern Hemisphere. country of incredible beauty with immense design talent and unique identity. Niche, beautiful and quirky. Known and celebrated by discerning customers throughout the world.
We are quiet though, and we tend to think we’re better known on the global stage than we really are. Our ability to understand and serve more niche markets in more concentrated and consistent manner will help us establish more export success stories. Most importantly, we need to spend time in our target markets and feel the opportunity for ourselves, in order to create more global success stories and export revenue.
Also, we have to realise and capitalise on how one New Zealand brand indirectly helps another, and the impact that New Zealand art and tourism has on New Zealand export success. Air New Zealand is oozing our Kiwi personality and design prowess at the moment, and I think their brand interactions are helping all New Zealand exports. The impact Flight of the Concords had on awareness levels and love of New Zealand in the US was incredible too. When many of our customers buy an Icebreaker top, they are so frequently buying connection with “the best holiday they’ve ever had”, “the quirkiest guys on US TV” or “the most beautiful place in the world”. M

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