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Seeing through another's eyes

child holding eggs to eyes

Sometimes the challenges we help businesses overcome are relatively simple, at other times they’re much tougher.

In a nutshell

  1. We were tasked with reinvigorating and growing an often-overlooked region of New Zealand. Where the challenge lay was in convincing the various stakeholders to fundamentally change the way they think about the place they call home.
  2. We had to help our clients view their home turf as a brand, whether they liked it or not. By treating the region as a brand, we were able to unlock the potential.
  3. The key criteria on which to assess brands are fit, energy and clarity. The region delivered an experience that people desired, but it was held back by a lack of awareness, no sense of fit, a poor emotive connection through lack of energy, and no clarity as to what the place stood for. 
  4. The outcome was a new strategic positioning for the region. While it's too early to assess the numbers, all anecdotal evidence is positive. 

In the same way that the complexity of the challenge can vary, so too can the height of the bar we will need to vault if we have to introduce a different set of perceptions – for example, those of everyday Kiwis, which differ wildly from those held by the brand owners. Marketing people think about their brand and its eco-structure 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, so they are incredibly immersed. All of us naturally see things through a particular lens, which is especially true when that lens is your hometown.

At face value most people would agree that bringing an understanding of real people and the world they live in into a business is a good thing. It promotes new thinking and ensures relevant strategic decisions – relevant to the wider public that is. So far so good.

TRA believes in using our understanding of human behaviour to identify opportunities for companies to grow – we use the term 'we know people' and our clients choose us to help them with their problems for precisely that reason. Where it gets tricky is that at times, clients may be taken by surprise by what we have to tell them.

We recently undertook a project where this obstacle was tougher to overcome than what we typically see.

A New Zealand region that wasn’t just a brand, it was the stakeholder’s home

The challenge we were tasked with was to help reinvigorate and grow an often-overlooked region of New Zealand through a new brand positioning and proposition which would capitalise on a recent increase in inbound flights and a steady rise in domestic tourism.

This business issue seemed relatively straightforward.

Where the challenge lay was in convincing the various stakeholders and interested parties (of which there were many) to fundamentally change the way they think about the place they call home. To do this we challenged them to let the voice of potential visitors inform their view of the region – to not just to think of it as the place they live, but rather to think of it as a brand. Furthermore, as a brand that is being viewed through the eyes of people that may know factually very little about it.

Not surprisingly, the public’s perceptions were often misguided or misinformed but they were nevertheless what came to mind for people when, or if, they gave the region a moment of thought.

To vault the bar, we had to work closely with our clients and the various stakeholders to help them understand how brands work – that brands are a mental construct and that factual errors are all part of that construct. We also had to explain how brands impact people’s behaviour. And finally that their turf was indeed a brand whether they liked it or not – and that they should like it. Why? Because brands are powerful.

Successful brands represent a proven and powerful way of engaging the emotions and ultimately the behaviour of those with whom we wish to build connections.

Brands may be fictional entities represented only by mental pictures in our minds, but they are mental pictures that we share with other people just like us. If a brand were to close its doors tomorrow, it would not cease to exist in people’s minds. It is this collective belief that is the ultimate source of a brand’s power.

This is what we needed to understand and then build for our client through accessing what people currently believed. At TRA we have learned that the key criteria on which to assess brands are fit (with consumer’s values and identity), energy (the sense of the brand’s positive momentum) and clarity (the extent to which people understand what it stands for).

While the region in this case delivered an experience that people desired, it was held back by a lack of awareness, no sense of fit, a poor emotive connection through lack of energy, and no clarity as to what the place stood for. It had no real top of mindedness or attribute that could act as an emotional anchor for the region.

"If a brand were to close its doors tomorrow, it would not cease to exist in people’s minds. It is this collective belief that is the ultimate source of a brand’s power."

Building a brand people wanted to visit

For many this part of New Zealand was a region largely defined by its distance and a legacy of predominantly poor connotations and perceptions. To energise this special but undervalued part of the country we needed to build a brand around giving people a unique reason to visit. We needed a big idea to hang our hat on.

After talking to lots of potential visitors to bring them into the heart of what we were trying to build we proposed a positioning that provided the region with a unique and distinctive identity, a sense of momentum which created the idea of specialness and that gave the region clarity. In other words, something to stand for in the minds of New Zealanders – something the region could own.

The difficulty lay in convincing the multiple stakeholders (who held very specific and entrenched points of view) that this new positioning was in fact the best course of action for achieving their objectives.

The discovery that the region’s potential visitors consider and assess the value in coming to the stakeholder’s home in much the same way they consider (or don’t consider) which type of washing detergent or insurance to purchase was not one that always sat well.

Telling the story from a visitor’s perspective

This was never going to be the type of project where one presentation and a copy of the deck would suffice. There were multiple flights, presentations, coffees, and conversations had in hospitality venues and taxis.

And, we respect them for their convictions and the scrutiny they put us under – all the stakeholders were passionate about the region and were prepared to invest their time and efforts in order to work with us toward an optimised positioning.  They saw the value that came from having a real conversation with the very people whom they wanted to attract. Ordinary people who were willing to give their time, attention and energy towards helping them build their brand. It challenged stakeholder assumptions of what they thought their potential customers thought about their brand.

That was exactly what we were hoping to achieve here. We needed to challenge our stakeholders to remove themselves beyond their own understanding, assumptions and perceptions and see the problem through the eyes of their future customers.

It’s too early to tell how the new positioning is working out beyond anecdotal evidence. But that anecdotal evidence is positive. Belief and commitment appears to have trickled down from the stakeholders and decision makers we were dealing with and has been picked up, bought into and expressed by those who will actually be responsible for delivering the real, human face of the new brand – the tourism operators, hoteliers, restaurant and café owners and everyone else who plays a role in contributing to someone’s experience of the region.

And that’s a good thing – a really good thing. If brands only survive via the collective belief that people have for them, then making sure that that belief is unified and complete by those closest to it is where ultimate success will be born out of.

Changing a logo, website or tagline is easy. Attempting to change the way a population collectively thinks and feels about their home is far more challenging. However, as brands need to trigger an emotional connection in order to grow, a region is supremely well positioned to create this connection – a place with real people, a real history and an amazing story to tell.

Amber Coulter
Partner at TRA

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