Food and beverages
Many times in my career, the courage and acumen of New Zealand exporters has inspired me.
This happened most recently when I interviewed Bob Richards of Wine Technology International Ltd for a case study for the New Zealand Export Credit Office (NZECO).
Bob related how he appeared to be in a bind.
“It was a stressful situation,” he said. “I had to assess from all angles the risk associated with the deal. Without the deep level of trust I had in my partner, and the knowledge I had of the industry, I wouldn’t have proceeded.”
Ultimately a high level of confidence was required.
Similarly, when I interviewed another exporter, Neil Cullen of Wimpex Ltd about a deal he was working on, he said at the end a leap of faith was needed.
After 18 months of exponential growth, his company had landed a large export order but it needed a big investment in machinery and stock to realise it. How could Wimpex secure the order and maintain its cashflow? You can read how it achieved it here.
I have also written a case study on NZECO’s assistance for New Zealand Apple Ltd.
New Zealand Apple Ltd.
The brief has been to communicate in compelling, plain English what are complicated trade financial arrangements.
I hope the confidence, calculated risk-taking and hard work you will read of in these case studies will be an inspiration for you too in your ventures.
I was sitting with a representative of the Changning district of Shanghai for a lunch hosted by Wellington City Council at the New Zealand Pavilion on June 10 at the World Expo.
She was enjoying the fresh tastes of the New Zealand menu and we were reading the wine list. She paused when she read the Chinese translation of Sauvignon Blanc. “This does not mean Sauvignon Blanc,” she said pointing to the Chinese characters. “It means ‘missing someone you love’.”
I asked whether that was common in China – to market food and beverages by feelings and associations. “Yes,” she said.
That little exchange gave me an insight into how positioning products and services in China may well be a step beyond what many New Zealand exporters are prepared for.
While I was in Shanghai for Wellington's trade mission, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise introduced me to a small public relations company that also has an office in Beijing.
I established a cooperative understanding with its deputy general manager so that in the future, as All Told’s clients prepare to tell their story in China, we will be able to draw on Chinese advice as to how those stories should be best told for Chinese people.
To read a copy of the presentation All Told gave to members of the Wellington trade mission before it left, click here through to the New Zealand China Trade Association website.
In May 2003, in an office in New York, Martin Gold the president of Martin Scott Wines Ltd, which then had a portfolio of 300 wineries, looked at me and said about New Zealand:
“The people are dynamic and exciting, the country is beautiful and the product is wonderful. I fell in love with all of it. You have a great story to tell.”
Why then do many of our exporters tell weak stories?
Perceptions research by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise shows that in all our main markets Kiwi exporters are perceived as underselling themselves. They are not developing strong emotional connections through persuasive storytelling.
In a study of exporters’ websites recently, I noticed that three key elements in good storytelling were repeatedly missing:
By articulating the ‘market pull’, exporters build a bridge with prospective customers. Even some of our leading exporters don’t profile the market demand on their website.
For example, one of our honey exporters talks only of the quality of their honey. They don’t talk about how in stressful societies, where people are trying to stay healthy and active longer, manuka honey has ingredients that will help them – and yet that is really the hook for their product.
Many exporters have few details about their main people. You will just see their name and title, or perhaps, “My grandfather established Smith & Sons in 1926. Two generations later, we are still going strong.” Now, there is a compelling story under there – it’s just not told.
On the other hand, Icebreaker and Trilogy are both good at weaving personal anecdotes into their stories. “Our father arrived chainsaw in hand to carve a great hole in the wall between our two offices,” the Trilogy sisters Sarah and Catherine write. Interested? Anecdotes are vital detail in a good story.
All exporters know that New Zealand has a strong perception overseas as being ‘clean and green’. Companies that want to be associated with that image need to demonstrate, however, how it shapes their products and services. NZLavender shows with images of Canterbury fields how they create its lavender oil. But a textile manufacturer that featured scenic images of Horowhenua made no link between its setting and its textiles, other than to say they were manufactured there.
Why are these three elements repeatedly missing in good stories? There are several possible reasons.
One is because to do it well you do need the perspective of an outside writer to dig for and identify what is interesting. It’s hard, skilled work writing in a style that demonstrates and shows, rather than one that under or overstates.
Another reason is New Zealanders’ modesty and understatement – we don’t talk about ourselves as easily as say Americans do. But have a care, that understatement can be misinterpreted in overseas markets as being conceited, giving an impression that we’re not ready to empathise with customers’ situations.
Building a personal story means you also have to put yourself on the line, and that’s scary for all of us.
In reviewing your story ask, “Would that touch a customer as a person?” That’s the key to any good story. It’s also the hardest part to get right.