The distance perspective – reflections on branding from five weeks on the road.
The American poet, Robert Morgan, wrote, ‘Distance not only gives nostalgia, but perspective and maybe objectivity’. Recently, I enjoyed a 5-week sabbatical from work, accompanying my family on an epic road-trip around New Zealand. 11,800 miles is a long way. It’s far enough to swap the seasons and make water spiral in the opposite direction down a plughole.
Now we’re back, I find Mr Morgan was correct, I’m already feeling nostalgic: skydiving with my kids into the super-HD expanse of a Lake Wanaka morning; gaping awestruck at the severe, granite majesty of Millford Sound; watching the inky darkness of the Waitomo caves transform into a sparkling universe of glow worm phosphorescence; these are just a few of the unforgettable moments that are now etched deeply into my memory.
But what about perspective and objectivity? Five weeks in an RV provided ample inspiration and the opportunity for some serious reflection. I thought about a lot of things – including work. Here are some of my lightbulb moments about branding.
Learn to K.I.S.S.
From the middle of the South Island, Queenstown has firmly established itself on the global map. Thousands of people flock there from all over the world. Queenstown is so successful because it learned to ‘Keep It Simple Stupid’. Its positioning is a masterclass in clarity and precision, ‘Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world’, specific enough to differentiate it from other tourist destinations but broad enough to entertain a wealth of possibilities.
And it delivers. There is a phenomenal amount on offer: from every kind of shout-out-loud extreme sport to truly magnificent, moment-of-silence scenery; from Michelin-starred restaurants to the infamous Fergberger.Whatever adventure you are looking for, you can find it here.
What did I realise? Too often, brands try to communicate too much too soon. No matter how multifaceted the offer, the core concept at the heart of a successful brand needs to be single-minded and emotionally engaging. Hook your audience with a clear, simple idea and then let the detail unfold.
It pays to take a good look in the mirror
From walkable cities to impenetrable bush, from the ancient beauty of Maori history to invented-this-morning extreme sports; from a towering All Black defensive line to hobbit-sized holes; New Zealand has a lot to offer.
But it doesn’t have everything. If you are looking for ‘culture and sophistication’ try France or Italy. For regal pomp and circumstance the UK is a better bet. If edgy urban architecture or the 24-hour beat of a mega-city is what you are after, may I suggest Hong Kong.
New Zealand understands this. It isn’t trying to be anywhere else. The tourism campaign declares, ‘100% Pure New Zealand’.
Lesson learned? Great brands are authentic. They amplify a fundamental truth rather than try to fudge around a fabrication.
Do one thing really well – it gives you permission to do something else
Jucy is a travel experience brand that is all over New Zealand like a rash. Imagine the lovechild of Virgin Atlantic and Innocent – youthful, cheeky and smart. They stand for fun, adventure and the spirit of travelling. Their declared purpose is to give travellers the green light to have the time of their lives and “Live Jucy”. It has worked; they are the acknowledged NZ brand of choice for travellers aged 18-35.
Like Innocent, language is integral to the brand, “The glass is half full… and the other half was delicious”, “Don’t play hard to get… be hard to forget”, and other phrases are writ large in a distinctive, playful typeface across their fleet of cars and campervans. The text is accompanied by some curvaceous 50’s style pin-up girl illustrations and everything floats above a lively purple and green colour scheme. The result is unmistakably distinctive.
Campervans provide both transport and accommodation – so they have now leveraged these two core competencies to deliver viable brand extension opportunities. Jucy Cruise offers fun coach trips, boat cruises and charter flights around Milford Sound. Jucy Snooze provides their youthful audience with affordable and funky hotel accommodation in key NZ destinations – as well as Jucy Pods near airports that offer a secure, rent-by-the-hour sleeping pod for jetlagged new arrivals.
What can we take from this? It’s not complicated or clever. Spot a gap in the market and design accordingly. Develop a clear and compelling purpose. Create a visual vocabulary and verbal lexicon that is recognisable and easy to repeat across different contexts. Express an attitude and imbue it into everything that you do. Once you are established, look to extend your offer in ways that seem entirely natural.
Keep your promises. Stick to your guns. Consistency builds trust. Trust gives you the permission to succeed.
Seize the day. Make the most of every opportunity. Across New Zealand, organisations really understand the itinerant nature of their primary audience. Tourists move around – a lot – and if you don’t allow them to spend their money on the day when they’re in your town, then that money has moved on and into someone else’s coffers.
Tandem skydiving is a quintessentially Queenstown experience. There are probably five companies along the town’s bustling main street. If you go into one jump shop and they don’t have any space left the first thing they ask is ‘Are you here tomorrow?’, if so you’re booked for the next day. If you’re moving on, they call one of the other skydive companies on the strip and get you booked in for today. Everyone wins. The adrenaline junkie gets to jump, both companies get paid, the Queenstown economy benefits from the spend.
Brand partnering is also well established: bungy off a bridge and you can get a discount on a jet boat ride; book a massage and get reduced rates in a restaurant. Packaged experiences are available everywhere – different brands collaborating to deliver a collection of activities that add up to an unforgettable day for the customer.
My realisation was that, even though branding is essentially a competitive activity, there is gold to be mined in the bedrock of collaboration. Choose your partners wisely; pick brands that share a similar outlook or attitude and target the same audience – especially if their product or service offering is entirely different to your own. Understand your brand, understand your audience – and the mutually beneficial partnerships will present themselves.
Turn your weaknesses into strengths
Kiwis are fiercely proud of all that their country has to offer, but this pride is tempered by self-deprecating good humour.
They have probably got the best Rugby Union team; the scenery is unremitting in its magnificence; the vineyards produce world-class wines – all of these virtues and more are extoled with enthusiasm. However, there are downsides: New Zealand is a dusty cul-de-sac at the end of the information superhighway; a straight road is hard to find; and on the West Coast the propensity for rain is almost Irish in its enthusiasm.
Rather than pretend that these downsides don’t exist, they are embraced, making the whole NZ experience all the more charming and memorable. Campsite chalkboards exhort, ‘The wifi is terrible so go out and do something more interesting.’ Official traffic signs remind you that, ‘New Zealand roads are different – journeys may take longer than you think’. Opposite the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki is a delightful café. By the door is a basket of snorkels and scuba masks with a simple sign, ‘Please return after your visit to the rocks.’ There is no opportunity for swimming, but every rain-soaked visitor smiles when they exit.
So the final lesson is that when indifference is the enemy – you need to fight it with everything you’ve got. Don’t just wave a flag about all the things you do well. Take your brand’s shortcomings and, with a little wit and courage, you can polish them into the jewels that elicit loyalty and devotion from your audience.