13 Dec Building Brand Australia.

 Posted in Creativity & Innovation, Latest

Craig Davis

When you’re born in Australia you’ve already won the lottery.  We live in one of the most naturally abundant places on earth.  But are we smart enough and prepared to work hard enough to grow our good fortune? Or will we squander it like so many lazy lottery winners?

This is one of the most important conversations in the country. I say that not to blow smoke, but because many of the challenges faced by Australian agriculture reflect broader challenges for other business sectors, for our economy and for Australia as a nation.  In any case, this is a $55 billion challenge and we need to get it right.

But for all its importance this is a quiet conversation.  Too quiet.  Like a trade delegation to Beijing after a night of Tsing Tao and karaoke, Australian agriculture has lost it’s voice.

For one thing, there are just too few of you.  Not in the room, in the country.  100 years ago 14% of the population we’re directly involved in farming, now it’s 0.6%.  No one knows a farmer anymore.

And whatever collective voice was once enjoyed is now broken up into thin reeds through politics, bureaucracy, self-inflicted factionalism, a lack of engagement and a deliberate divide and rule strategy from the local supermarket duopoly.

The Blueprint for Australian Agriculture is about finding a new voice and building a coherent, collaborative plan to make significant and sustainable progress.  I think it’s a tremendous initiative.

The three questions I have are about orientation, speed and execution.

But first, some context.

I grew up in country towns until heading for Sydney and university at 18. Small town Australia gave me a privileged start.  We had no money to speak of but it was a life full of adventure if you were equipped with a bike, a slingshot, a rope-swing over the Macquarie River and a little imagination.  Years later, when I found myself in Beijing or Bueno Aires on business I would pinch myself at how far my good luck had stretched.  I’ve spent half my professional life working in Australia, the other half overseas with 5 years working in Asia (China and India in particular), and another 5 years based in London and working all over the world. For all that time I’ve been a fiercely proud and patriotic Australian.

I chose to come back to Australia so that my own kids could enjoy the same freedom, beauty and opportunities that I had, and that only Australia can provide. Especially the opportunities, because I’ve always believed in the extraordinary potential of this country and I count myself magnificently lucky to be Australian.

As Myriam Lyons wrote recently, “our economy is heading for 22 years of consecutive growth, and unemployment is low. Three in four Australian adults are on the global rich list; counted amongst the world’s top ten per cent of wealth owners. Australia’s economic growth outstripped that of most other developed countries over the past 25 years and came with the third-lowest public debt.”

All that said, “Australia is a backwater”. At least that’s what my boss told me when I said I was returning to Australia. He’s a dangerous sample of one, but he is the UK’s highest paid CEO and one of the most influential business leaders in the world with significant interests in Asia. And there are those in Asia who see us as ‘Lotus Eaters’ with leisurely working hours, a ‘lifestyle mentality’ and lazy minds. Or as a place of bizarre animals and an anti-Asian, racist undercurrent.

These characterisations may be harsh, but they should not be ignored. They are part of the context in which the Australian agricultural sector is wanting to do more business. We can be proud and patriotic and still listen to other perspectives. In fact, we must.

I believe that Australia’s story is stuck. And it’s time for a healthy, spirited and holistic discussion about Australia and the brand that it’s become. A discussion that impacts all 7 themes in the Blueprint.

The Supermodel Syndrome

Australia is like a willowy supermodel, born and blessed with an abundance of natural gifts, ogled, filmed and photographed wherever she goes. And wherever she goes she expects the world’s attention, that people will come to her, buy her drinks and listen to her talk about herself.  She suffers from the illusion that the world revolves around her.

Self-absorbed, complacent, a poor listener and prone to fickle relationships.

There’s even a nod to this on Austrade’s official ‘Australia Unlimited’ website with the suggestion that, “our beauty overshadows our brains.”

lily cole1

If we want a role model for the supermodel analogy it should be Lily Cole, who besides being unusually beautiful, gracing the pages of every Vogue on the planet and appearing in several feature films, has earned a Double First from Cambridge between assignments. She’s not just blessed, she’s very bright.  Or Australia’s own Elle McPherson, who has leveraged her natural assets and business acumen into a global success story.

In Australia we say we live in God’s country and assume, to quote Deloitte, that “the world will knock on our door”. We think that becoming “Asia’s Food Bowl” is our birthright.  But let’s get some perspective here. Last year Australia exported $50m of fruit to asia while Chile successfully delivered $4.3b in exports to the region! We assume that our proximity and good fortune should translate automatically into desire and demand for Australian produce. But we don’t tell the Australian story well, even at home. “Just tell them it’s Australian and they’ll buy it.” Is that pride talking or a pervasive complacency?

Mind the gap

There’s a massive gap between the perception and the reality of Australian agribusiness. We think the world is thinking of us in the first place. We think the perception is better than it is. We think we’re a player.  C’mon people, humility.

But the opportunities for Australian agribusiness are enormous.  For all our misguided perceptions, the reality can and should be far stronger than most of us imagine.

On Channel Ten’s The Project last month there was a story about having an Australian produce aisle in supermarkets.

The Project ran a poll in which 90% of respondents said it was a good idea. Coles said they were open to new ideas. Woolworths said their customers like things as they are. As one of the hosts said, everything in the Australian aisle will be more expensive and the pocket wins out over patriotism every time.

That’s the issue right there… that the Australian produce story has been dumbed ‘down down’ to price. Grocery buyers think they’re comparing apples with apples, or fish with fish. If the only difference between Australian produce and the competition is seen to be price, people will pocket the money. The same is true for export markets.

So here’s the challenge. We need to take Australian produce and add value with clever, coherent and consistent brand thinking, consistent market-development strategies, a partnership mentality and a determination to succeed. Can we do that?

If we can, the future for Australia and Australian agriculture looks prosperous. Burgeoning middle-class demand and proximity to Asia are working in our favour.  Currently 28% of the world’s middle class is in the Asian region, that will reach 66% by 2030. Those people are spending USD$3trillion now and are expected to be spending USD$32 trillion by 2030, that’s 43% of worldwide consumption. But if we miss this boat, we’re stuck in a race to the bottom of increasingly commoditized domestic and international markets – a race that everyone here loses.

Australia has a history of being a low-cost producer of commodities – wool, wheat, beef. We’ve been an unbranded exporter of bulk. We’ve traded and transacted with short-term objectives and tried to impress with how “big” we are.  In my view, much of that history is inappropriate for the future.

‘Big’ is a bad mentality

map australia1

Australians love a good map. It shows us our place in the world.  There we are, big and bold and fooling ourselves into thinking we’re a major global force.  All the beef in Australia is a snack for the Chinese market. Thinking we’re a big player is bad for business. It stifles our entrepreneurialism, our creativity and innovation, and dare I say, our hunger for doing business.

For a little perspective, let’s look at a map of the world redrawn on the basis of population.  All of a sudden we’re more David than Goliath. Fitting really because we need to start behaving like a challenger, a start up, an upstart. We need to lose the sense of entitlement and become more agile, entrepreneurial, inventive and engaged.

map australia 2


“Brand Australia” needs to be re-imagined in ways that leverage our very real strengths, address our weaknesses, and connect Australia with the aspirations and desires of stakeholders.

Consumers and customers first of all.

I say this deliberately in the context of the Blueprint, because your focus has been on supply chains.  (Is there anyone in this room who actually represents consumers or customers?)

I suggest to you that the future of Australian agriculture has a lot to do with rebuilding direct consumer and customer engagement.  And there’s nothing quite like a customer focus to inform, simplify and clarify strategic planning and priorities.

So, in the time I have, I’m going to talk about brands and how to make them work for you and share some points to help you on that journey.

Brands drive value

It’s brand that makes Apple, Nike and Google so powerful. It’s brand that makes Denmark, New Zealand and Chile so competitive in agriculture. For Australia, “brand” is a matter of national urgency and importance, not a goal to be achieved by 2025 according to the National Food Plan. It’s a national brand failure that Danish butter is served on Qantas flights. It’s a national brand failure that we’re a net importer of fruit and vegetables.

Brands are often misunderstood. To many people a brand is simply a moniker and a logo – a way to stamp ownership on property and send a signal to the market.

aus logos

To others “brands” are something you do campaigns about in the media at great expense. Governments do this all the time. They promote the idea that campaigns fix things.

In both these views, brands are a kind of intellectual conceit that’s moved around with money. They’re modelled on communications theory that says by telling people something you create awareness and that awareness in turn changes their behaviour.

If only it were that easy.

“Tell them to stop smoking.” “Tell them to lose weight.” “Tell them to stop texting and driving.” “Tell ‘em it’s Australian and they’ll buy it”. But they won’t. The Australian car, canned fruit and fashion industries are testimony to that.

It’s just not a very useful way to think about brands.

In my view, logos, taglines and campaigns are the last thing Australian agribusiness needs right now. They’re expressions, they’re not a plan.

They’re like building a house starting with the door handles and tap fittings.

They’re a tip without an iceberg.

What we need is a new, simple way to think about brand Australia.

 A brand is a relationship

 Think about Australia, or your sector, or your company brand as a relationship. It’s not something you own or control, it lives in the space between you and your stakeholders. It’s made of shared values, experiences and stories.

apple logo man

When you start to think this way the first thing you learn is that brands are not about you, they’re about “us”. There is suddenly a need to listen to, respect and collaborate with other stakeholders.

When AG Lafley took the reins of Procter & Gamble, the world’s largest FMCG company in 2001 he dusted off the values, the 10 Commandments of P&G culture that had been there for years, and he focused the entire organisation on just one – “the consumer is my boss”. P&G, the masters of brand marketing, had been projecting themselves on markets and had forgotten to engage with the people who matter most, their consumers. On Lafley’s watch P&G doubled it’s performance on almost every measure, including it’s share price.

In much the same way Australian agribusiness needs to do a much better job of building engagement and relationships with customers and consumers.  Strong relationships are built on a shared purpose, values, experiences and the stories that exemplify and reinforce them. So it is with strong brands.

So what makes this such a challenge for Australian agribusiness?

Two things.

First, brand ‘Australia’ has a mixed reputation for relationships in the region.

In consultations leading up to the Asian Century Whitepaper comments were made about Australia’s apathy and lack of knowledge towards Asia. Our role as a ‘seller of things’ to Asia influences the view of us – we’ll have a price negotiation on everything. We’re seen more as ‘wheeler dealers’ than relationship builders.

(You may have seen some commentary in The Land recently to back this up).

By contrast, the Canadian beef industry has been working with China for many years. Their approach has been holistic and includes partnering on genetics, live cattle, meat and production technologies.

And Fonterra’s deep and abiding partnership with China has served them nicely through thick and thin.

According to opinions canvassed through Advance, Australia’s community of professional expats, “there is a perception that Australians see things through Australian and English eyes, that we look to Washington for political approval and even resent travelling on business to Asia.”

These are not helpful characterisations for relationship building in the region.

The second reason all this matters is that the relationship model is more about purpose, meaning and values than image and communication.

Let me explain.

No one in Asia (or anywhere else for that matter) wakes up saying, “what a great day to hear from Australian agribusiness”. They’re hearing far too much already. The World Tourism Organisation estimates that there at least 1.4m media impressions made per country per day.  As individuals we deal with as many as 5,000 separate commercial messages every 24 hours.

People are overloaded and overwhelmed with information. We’re up against increasingly distracted minds. These people don’t want more communication, they want to feel connected.

The antidote to distraction is more meaning not more messaging. As Simon Sinek says, “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do what you do.”

This may be something to watch out for with the National Food Plan and all the signals from Austrade suggesting that the promise for Australian food will be “clean, green and safe”.  Clean, green and safe is what we do, not how or why we do it.

Why does Australian produce matter?

A lot of brands fail because they’re fixated on products – with what they do. Brands that succeed long-term do so because they connect with people on how and why they do it:

Apple – to amplify human abilities

Google – to democratise the world’s information

Whole Foods – to make the world better with good food

the scarecrow

Chipotle has a purpose – to cultivate a better world (check out this video). It’s a brand that connects with people who value quality of life, quality of food and authenticity. And if you’re sat there wondering if all this warm fuzzy brand stuff turns into cold hard cash it does.  Chipotle’s share price had risen from less than $50 five years ago to around $536 this week.

We need a big, beautiful “why” for Australia agribusiness. And a big beautiful “why” for every sector.

Denmark has a “why” about innovation and quality.

New Zealand’s “why” is anchored in purity and integrity.

These have both been long-term strategic plays. 100% pure New Zealand is now 14 years old and born out of the insight that NZ is the youngest country, geologically speaking, on earth.

Why buy Australian?

This is the $11bn question. That’s how much we spend importing food into Australia each year. Not to mention the export earning potential that’s unlocked when we get the answer right.

It’s critical. A loud and clear Australian brand will create leverage with Woolworths and Coles who have a public proposition around supporting Australian farmers. (Happily there seems to be a shift towards Australian produce in their high-end house brands of late.)

A more powerful Australian brand might also get Australian agribusinesses better aligned. German and French businesses are purported to approach market develop with a strong, unified nation brand story. So does New Zealand. Australian businesses, by contrast, are rumoured to tell stories about how bad their Australian competitors are, making all of us look like teenage siblings squabbling over the car keys.

So, why buy Australian? We’re not going to answer this question in the room today, but I can tell you where the answer will be found.

australia circles

Right there where the X is, in the sweet spot where these three truths come together.

Thankfully we have some powerful truths to work with:

Australia truths like: high quality (but don’t it take for granted – Chinese markets consider US and Canadian beef superior to Australian), safety (strict regulation, monitoring and certification), traceability (NLIS), biodiversity, fair treatment of workers (think Apple and the lingering Foxconn scandal), employment (more than mining) animal welfare, technology, innovation and sustainable practices.

Some potent human truths: the rapidly increasing desire for food safety (especially in China), certainty (it is what it says it is), premium-ness, provenance and character.

Significant cultural truths to work with:  widespread movement to connect to the natural world, desire for authenticity and transparency to offset a global crisis of trust in business and government.

Of course there’s more, but these are a good start.

How do we get this done?

I mentioned at the start that my concerns with the Blueprint are orientation, speed and execution.

Orientation: I believe that you can only have an effective plan if you are constantly factoring in consumer and customer data and foresight.  There us no business without customers.

Speed: The NFP has a declared goal to 2025, the Blueprint’s vision is to 2020.  The antidote to volatility is agile, long-range thinking.  But the issue of Brand Australia is both urgent and important, and needs immediate attention.

Execution: Who is going to get this work done and who is going to pay? Austrade only have funding for stage 1 research. The NFF is strapped for resources.

Here are three things to start doing now.

1. Small working group – form a small working group representing fruit and vegetable growers, chilled meats and seafood and one or two advisory bodies. The new Australian story is likely to be most compelling for perishables.  This must be an entrepreneurial group (farmers are entrepreneurs and risk takers). This is an exercise in business building, not bureaucracy. It must be lean and fast. Women must be directly involved and thoroughly represented (70-85% of household spending is controlled by women, higher with food). Asian customers must be directly engaged.

The outcomes from the group should be a new brand and engagement strategy for Australian agribusiness. The group can be funded by the DAF levy, or a new DIY levy with full accountability and tight deadlines. $100k from every major sector and a tiered approach for the smaller industries would be more than enough to get this done.

2. Agile innovation model – agribusiness is awash with research already.  What is needed is to get to robust prototyping and testing in the real world.  ‘Design Thinking’ provides a smart, stakeholder sensitive framework for development and forces a focus on customers and consumers.

3. Resilience– success is not based on luck. The harder you work, the luckier you get. This should be the start of a long-term commitment to brand Australia as a core part of the business development plan.  Remember, New Zealand’s ‘100% pure’ story has been in place and developing for 14 years.

The future of Australian agribusiness is bright if we bring our brightest thinking to it.

Let’s not fall for the supermodel syndrome and think the world owes us a living. We need to make it happen.

We need to stop thinking big and start thinking small.

We need the power of a great “Australian” brand to help us. That brand will be a brilliant answer to the question, “why buy Australian?” – a storytelling platform for all Australian agribusiness.

And we need action more than words.

As Madam Chiang Kai Shek said, “we write our own destiny, we become what we do.”

This presentation, Building Brand Australia, was made at the Australian Farm Institute Conference to leaders of Australian agribusiness in Sydney, November 2013 and to the National Farmer’s Federation conference on the Blueprint for Australia’s Agricultural in Canberra, December 2013. 

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