Nation branding: telling New Zealand’s story

August 2015

By Rebecca Smith, Director, New Zealand Story

Amid increasingly fierce global competition for investment, tourism and export markets, the idea of nation branding continues to attract strong interest. “A national brand is national identity made tangible, robust, communicable and useful,” says branding expert Simon Anholt. Used effectively, it can help a country gain competitive advantage.

(Photo: New Zealand Story)

So how can that be done? New Zealand’s nation branding experience offers an interesting illustration of what can be achieved with minimal resources to broaden perceptions about a country’s values and capabilities and strengthen its brand value.

New Zealand has a strong reputation internationally for its green open spaces and natural, unspoiled landscapes. International nation brand indexes such as Anholt-GfK and FutureBrand, which rank countries according to their image and reputation among foreign consumers and investors, recognize this.

It is a direct result of the hugely successful 100% Pure New Zealand campaign, which has contributed significantly to the country’s multi-million-dollar tourism industry. Launched in 1999, the campaign tells the story of New Zealand’s unique combination of landscapes, people and activities and how it offers visitors a “100% Pure New Zealand” experience.

That story has by default become the country’s brand. While this was a role it was never intended to fill, it provides a compelling means by which to change perceptions about what New Zealand has to offer.

In the absence of a broader national story, awareness of the value we can add as a country beyond our natural resources is limited. We tend to be seen as a beautiful and friendly country that is particularly good at farming, but not too innovative. This is not the incredibly resourceful and innovative New Zealand that many of us know. And while New Zealand is a world leader in a number of other areas, including ease of doing business and lack of corruption, unfortunately that part of our story is often untold.

The New Zealand Story is a compelling means to showcase all that New Zealand has to offer, including, for example, its world-class research and testing facilities where ideas are realized to their full potential. (Photo: Chris Williams)

As a nation, our economic wellbeing depends heavily on our ability to export. As such, we have to be sure that we stand out among our competitors in international markets. We need to showcase our strengths and build awareness and confidence in New Zealand as a trusted trading partner and a good place to do business as well as an attractive tourist destination. We need to broaden perceptions of what New Zealand has to offer, expand our export base and help New Zealand businesses move higher up the value chain. We need to start telling a broader, more accurate and consistent story about our country and the value that our businesses can add on the global stage.

This is what New Zealand Story aims to do.

Telling the whole story

Launched in November 2013 by Prime Minister John Key, New Zealand Story offers businesses across the economy a framework to tell the rest of the world a consistent story about what they are doing and what New Zealand stands for.

With a very limited budget – just NZD3.3 million (approximately USD2.2 million) – we had to think out of the box. We came up with a formula with which businesses in all sectors can identify; a framework that enables each of them to tell their own individual story. Stories bring together ideas in a way that makes them both memorable and shareable. We believe that this is the best way to yield authentic, long-term results.

New Zealand Story is underpinned by three core values which encapsulate the essence of our attitude and our way of doing things: “Kaitiaki”, integrity and resourcefulness.

Kaitiaki is a Maori concept that means minder, custodian or guardian, and in the context of New Zealand Story, it refers to the enormous sense of responsibility New Zealanders have toward its people and protecting the country’s natural resources, not just today but for future generations.

Integrity speaks to the value New Zealanders place on honesty, trust, humility and reciprocal respect and to our reputation for being open, safe, accessible, down-to-earth and good to work with. These characteristics are all hallmarks of the Maori concept “Mana” – something that is earned, protected and respected.

Resourcefulness speaks to our fresh, creative thinking and independent thought, something that makes us innovative and often ingenious. As a nation we have a rich history of world-class innovation borne of the resourcefulness of our people and our drive to continually improve.

New Zealand Story is told in three chapters – Open Spaces, Open Hearts and Open Minds – each providing a context for businesses and industry groups to craft stories that communicate their dynamism and value.

  • Open Spaces speaks to our beautiful natural landscape and unspoiled environment.
  • Open Hearts speaks to the value of the people behind New Zealand companies and our unique way of doing business.
  • Open Minds speaks to the resourcefulness and innovative capacity inherent in many New Zealand businesses, and represents an opportunity for companies to demonstrate and leverage value that offshore clients do not necessarily expect from our businesses.

New Zealand Story is an opportunity for businesses to think about how to position themselves and how to communicate the unique value of their “New Zealandness” to gain a competitive advantage in international markets.

The promotional materials (videos, photos, infographics, presentations, etc.) that make up the New Zealand Story toolkit are being used extensively around the world in global trade promotions, events and diplomatic engagements.

New Zealand has strong reputation internationally for its green open spaces and natural unspoiled landscapes, but that is only part of its story, it is also a very resourceful and innovative country. (Photo: New Zealand Story)

One of the key lessons we learned in rolling out the New Zealand Story program was the importance of testing our narrative and country value proposition with our target audience early. Initially, we had a very “forward-leaning” version of the Story which emphasized the sort of innovative future that we see for New Zealand. However, we found that our global audiences were not ready for that, so we toned it back to a very realistic “who we are today” perspective. We realized that we had to take our audiences on a journey over time to build credibility in the areas for which we are less well known.

Protecting an iconic mark

New Zealand Story uses the iconic FernMark as a symbol to sum up New Zealand values and beliefs. Its origins can be traced to the use of the native fern in traditional Maori cultures as a trail marker to guide people to safety through the dense native forest of Aotearoa (New Zealand’s Maori name). The fern’s silvery underside provided a perfect marker under the moonlit sky.

New Zealand Story uses the iconic FernMark
as a powerful unifying symbol that sums up
shared New Zealand values and beliefs. Widely
used to represent New Zealand in sports, politics
and business, it represents significant brand
value. (Photo: New Zealand Story)

The FernMark gives New Zealand businesses a strong and consistent visual identity and is an extremely valuable device for them to differentiate themselves in the global marketplace.

The FernMark is widely used to represent New Zealand in sports, politics and business and represents significant brand value. Although a source of great national pride, the FernMark bears no connection with New Zealand’s national flag or other State emblems. As such, it does not qualify for protection under Article 6ter of the Paris Convention on the Protection of Industrial Property (see box). Therefore a comprehensive trademark strategy has been put in place to protect it from misuse and misrepresentation across the globe. A licensing program has been developed to determine who may use the FernMark in relation to exported goods and services, along with a set of measures to ensure that its bearers put New Zealand in the best possible light.

Trademark protection is vital to maintain the integrity of the Silver Fern, but herein lies the rub. As a trademark, irrespective of the fact that it serves as a symbol of our nation, like other commercial trademarks it runs the risk of being revoked or invalidated for non-use. According to New Zealand trademark law, a mark can be revoked if “at no time during a continuous period of 3 years or more [it has not been] put to genuine use in the course of trade in New Zealand … in relation to the goods or services in respect of which is it registered”.

Given the growing interest in nation branding around the world and importance of national symbols, such as the Silver Fern, within nation branding strategies, the time would seem to be ripe to explore a way to safeguard these symbols within national trademark systems.

Article 6ter of the Paris Convention

The purpose of Article 6ter is to prohibit the unauthorized registration and use of trademarks which are identical or similar to armorial bearings, flags and official signs and hallmarks indicating control and warranty adopted by States party to the Paris Convention.

Such registration or use would violate the right of the State to control the use of the symbols of its sovereignty and could mislead the public with respect to the origin of goods to which the marks are applied.

Any such emblems, official signs and hallmarks are communicated to the parties of the Paris Convention, of which there are 176, by WIPO.

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