Punch above your weight: c’mon Aussie

Simon Bell asks the question we all need to think about: why aren’t Australian brands international brand names?

In 1964, Donald Horne published a book titled The Lucky Country. Often used to describe Australia positively, the original intent was in fact, negative. The book’s opening line of the final chapter reads: Australia is a lucky country run mainly by second-rate people who share its luck. Harsh?

simonbellI thought 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, numbers two and four were Mazda and Toyota respectively. Which begs the question: where are the Australian brands?

According to Brand Finance’s “Most Valuable Brands of 2017”, Telstra makes the first Australian entry in 125th place compared to China Mobile at 11th. In fact, 21 Chinese, 11 Japanese, 10 German, three South Korean and one Indian brand all came in ahead of Australia’s top ranked brand.

Why aren’t we taking advantage of the significant ‘leg-up’ our provenance gifts 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. 7) still conjures up images of the American West in our minds. Brands like Huawei (no. 47) and Alibaba (no. 60) are both responsible for and benefit from the growing technology association with China. And Bosch (no. 71) certainly doesn’t shy away from its precise German engineering credentials.

Measured by GDP (IMF 2016), Australia has the 13th 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 been investing in automobiles in the same way that South Korea (11th in GDP) has (Hyundai, Kia). But what of the industries where we still dominate? Why aren’t they international brand names?

According to the International Trade Centre, the top three Australian exports are ores, slag and ash; mineral fuels including oil; and gems/natural minerals. By comparison, Australia’s top imports from China (our largest trading partner) are: electrical machinery, machinery (computers), and furniture. Seemingly, Australia continues to export its downstream resources, while others are successfully exporting upstream goods built by those raw resources.
International consumers most associate Australia with natural beauty, with the likely halo effect on healthy lifestyles and quality food/ingredients. Given a list of more than 50 destinations, they rate Australia no. 1 for “world class nature”. While the research provides rich learning for Tourism Australia, it is useful information that other Australian brands can leverage to project themselves to the world.

Kudos to Aesop and Jurlique; opposites visually at retail and on pack, both make strong links with Australia’s pristine nature. RM Williams communicates premium quality goods, crafted for Australia’s rugged outback. Blackmore’s openly links itself to Australia and natural health. Seafolly speaks to Australia’s beaches and its corresponding easy going lifestyle– ideals many aspire to.

Unfortunately, many Australian brands do not take advantage of their lucky provenance. Even with commodities, branding can help us escape from merely competing on volume and price alone. As marketers, we know that brands help to enhance the value of products beyond their functional characteristics and build preferences versus competitors. Mining giant BHP (currently 429th on Brand Finance’s list) revealed a re-brand backed up by the group’s first brand-led campaign in over 30 years. The results remain to be seen but hopefully, they will follow the direction set by Andrew Mckenzie in 2013, referring to the company then as “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. A final nod to New Zealand’s 100% Pure for understanding this.

Simon Bell is executive director strategy, SE Asia Pacific & Japan, Landor

 

 

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