In 1964, Donald Horne published a book titled The Lucky Country. Often used today to describe Australia positively, the original intent was in fact negative. The opening line of the book’s final chapter reads: “Australia is a lucky country run mainly by second-rate people who share its luck.”
Harsh? I think so.
But then, a couple of weeks back, the Australian Financial Review published a story naming Air New Zealand as the most trusted “Aussie” company on AMR’s Annual Corporate Reputation Index. To add further insult, No. 2 and No. 4 were Mazda and Toyota, respectively. Which begs the question: Where are the Australian brands?
According to Brand Finance’s “Global 500 2017,” which ranks the most valuable brands in the world, Telstra is the most valuable Australian brand, entering the list at 125. Compare this to China Mobile, which ranks 11. In fact, 21 Chinese, 11 Japanese, 10 German, 4 South Korean, and 1 Indian brand all came ahead of Australia’s top ranked brand.
Why aren’t we taking advantage of the significant leg up our provenance can lend to our brands? Many world-ranking brands from other countries understand how to leverage their home-ground advantages. Even with the ban on tobacco advertising, Marlboro (No. 26) still conjures up images of the American West in our minds. Brands like Alibaba (No. 23) and Huawei (No. 40) are both responsible for and benefit from growing associations between China and technology. And Bosch (No. 69) certainly doesn’t shy away from its precise German engineering credentials.
In 2016, the International Monetary Fund determined that measured by GDP, Australia has the thirteenth largest economy in the world. Yet our brands are not globally known. In some ways, this speaks to the industries we’ve lost over the years. Australia has not invested in automobiles the way that South Korea (eleventh in GDP) has, specifically with brands like Hyundai and Kia. But what of the industries where we still dominate? Why don’t those brands have international renown?
According to the International Trade Centre, the top three Australian exports are (1) ores, slag, and ash; (2) mineral fuels including oil; and (3) gems and natural minerals. By comparison, Australia’s top imports from China (our largest trading partner) are (1) electrical machinery, (2) machinery (computers), and (3) furniture. Seemingly, Australia continues to export its downstream resources, while others are successfully exporting upstream goods built from those raw resources.
International consumers associate Australia most with natural beauty, with a likely halo effect on healthy lifestyles and quality food and ingredients. In fact, given a list of more than 50 destinations, global consumers rate Australia No. 1 for “world-class nature.” While this research provides rich learning for Tourism Australia, it is useful information for other Australian brands looking to project themselves to the world.
So which brands are getting it right? Kudos to Aesop and Jurlique. Although at opposite ends of the visual spectrum in terms of marketing and design, both make strong associations to Australia’s pristine nature at retail locations and on-pack. R.M.Williams communicates premium quality goods, crafted specifically for Australia’s rugged outback. Blackmores openly connects to Australia and natural health. Meanwhile, Seafolly speaks to Australia’s beaches and its corresponding easygoing lifestyle—ideals many consumers aspire to.
Unfortunately, many Australian brands do not take advantage of their lucky provenance. Even with commodities, relying on heritage can help Aussie brands escape from competing merely on volume and price alone. As marketers, we know that brands help to enhance the value of products beyond their functional characteristics, thereby creating consumer preference over competitors. Mining giant BHP Billiton (currently 429 on Brand Finance’s list) revealed a rebrand backed up by the group’s first brand-led campaign in over 30 years. The results remain to be seen, but hopefully the company will follow the direction set by Andrew Mackenzie in his 2013 speech to the Asia Society, referring to the company then as “The Global Australian.”
While Australia may not be in a position to develop a brand new computer brand, we can do a better job with what we have. Looking in our own backyard and building strategies based on our natural advantages seems to be a faster and more sustainable road to success.
Let me end with a final nod to another branding success story: 100% Pure New Zealand, whose marketers clearly seem to understand the importance—and opportunity—of its provenance.
This piece was originally published in Marketing Magazine (7 June 2017). Republished with permission.