How to build an FMCG brand across NZ & AU: The key differences across the ditch

April 11th, 2023

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Jess Bird
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Tom Fisiihoi
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If you’re reading this, you probably already know that brand building is a crucial component of any successful business, regardless of industry or location. It's the foundation on which companies build trust and loyalty among their consumers.

The FMCG landscape is one of the most competitive and notoriously difficult to stand out in, but also one where brand is particularly essential. Consumers are spoilt for choice, so you have to be able to leverage your brand to make sure it’s your product ending up in shoppers’ baskets, and not your competitors. 

More often than not there’s the perception that Australia is just a big New Zealand, and that what’s worked from a brand perspective in NZ will directly translate and deliver the same results in AU.

But the reality of the situation is very different. 

While the pillars of brand building remain the same regardless of location (and there are a lot of similarities between Kiwis and our friendly Aussie neighbors across the ditch) there are significant differences that you need to consider to build a strong and successful brand across both countries.

Here are the five key pillars to consider when you’re building a brand across NZ and AU and some of the key differences we've picked up during our time in both markets. 

Pillar one: The consumer 🙋

Let your consumer take the lead.

The backbone of any successful marketing strategy is getting really clear on your target consumer.

No matter the market you’re in, you need to understand who you’re talking to. Build a consumer persona that outlines what they value, shops they frequent, areas they hang out in, shows they watch, podcasts they listen to (psychographics), their household makeup, age, gender, income, education level, location (demographics), and their purchase habits and product usage (shopping behavior).

You shouldn’t need to rework your brand for each market, but by understanding the differences in how your target consumer behaves between the two countries, you’ll be able to tailor your efforts and deliver more effective campaigns. 

Key market differences and how to account for them:

Consumer behavior.

When it comes to lifestyle and shopping behavior, consumer behavior for your target audience in AU is highly likely to be different to your audience’s behavior in NZ. To be honest, there are even nuanced differences from state to state. If your consumer is living in a metro area in Australia, it’s highly likely their commuting habits and way they supermarket shop is significantly different to someone who’s living in the suburbs (case in point: we’re not out here trekking around central Sydney with five bags of groceries if we don’t have a car!) Work out what these differences are for your specific audience so that you have an actionable framework for how to best reach your consumers in each market.

Brand perception.

Often people think that consumers will perceive their marketing communications the same way in AU as it has been in NZ, but this is often not the case. Use Tracksuit’s Imagery tool to understand what perception consumers have of your brand, what is resonating in each market, and use these insights to shape your messaging.

Pillar two: Brand positioning 👋

Work out what space you’re going to own.

With a crowded marketplace and intense competition, it's essential for FMCG businesses to establish a unique and compelling brand identity that sets them apart. 

Effective brand positioning helps brands create strong emotional connections with consumers and differentiate themselves from competitors, ultimately driving sales and fostering brand loyalty. In this fast-paced industry, the right brand positioning can make all the difference.

What’s your unique value proposition? What are you doing that’s different to what else is already available? What should your key messaging be? What’s your price position?

Nail these down at a total level before you start getting more granular across your different markets.

Key market differences and how to account for them:

The prevalence of private label.

Private label products are huge in Australia, and they don’t have the classic Kiwi “home brand” perception of being low quality (think the Macro brand). It’s not uncommon for private label brands to be taking up over 50% share of a category. Just because brand doesn’t seem to play a massive role in your category currently doesn’t mean that it’s not important. If nobody else in your category is using brand as a sales lever, you’re perfectly positioned to land a compelling brand story that automatically elevates you above your competitors. 

The competitive landscape.

It might seem obvious, but is still worth a mention. The supermarket landscape in Australia has a lot more competition than in New Zealand (population wise, Sydney is the size of New Zealand, and that’s just one state). The sheer volume of brands available for consumers to choose between is massive, standing out is hard and if your product isn’t great, consumers will switch to one that is without a second thought. Use brand as a tool to clearly communicate and differentiate.

Pillar Three: Product 🥤

Quality and consistency is important in every market. Period. 

But there are a few things from a product perspective you may want to consider tailoring to each market depending on the consumer preferences and category landscape.

Key market differences and how to account for them:

The flavors.

There will always be trends that differ country to country. Your top performing SKU in New Zealand could sit at the bottom of your range in Australia. Get familiar with your sales data, look at the patterns, and use this insight to focus both your marketing efforts and your NPD pipeline.

The range.

Australian retailers often will take a selection of your range, rather than its entirety. Look at the trends not only in your own data, but also across your category, competitors, adjacent categories and outside of the supermarket to work out what SKUS are going to have the highest chance of performing in each market. Use tools like Hootsuite or Sprout Social for social listening, Google Trends for current popular search terms, head along to relevant trade shows, survey your existing consumers, or if you have access to it, have a look at data from your retailers, iRI, Nielsen, Euromonitor or Mintel. 

Pack size and pack format.

Is there a particular way that consumers in each market expect to see your product? Is it in your brand's best interest to show up looking how consumers expect, or be disruptive and show up in a way they haven’t seen before? (Tip: the answer won’t be the same every time).

On pack callouts and certifications.

Australian shoppers and retailers are familiar with a different set of certifications and on-pack call outs to New Zealand consumers and retailers (One example of this is Aussies love a “good source of protein”), and there are different regulations in each country. You’ll want to get familiar with what is meaningful for your consumers in each market and align your on pack call outs to this.

Pillar four: Distribution 🚛

There’s no point marketing a product that consumers can’t get their hands on.

Physical availability is the other arm of brand building that as marketers can get swept aside or left to the sales team to manage. But you have to be available where your consumers are, where your competitors are - and most critically, where the point of decision takes place.

There does come a point for FMCG brands where a few tough decisions need to be made. How critical is e-commerce availability in each market? Should you be going after independents initially, or one big retailer?

Key market differences and how to account for them:

The scale.

Being in just one banner (e.g. just Coles or Woolies) in AU is can be more valuable than being across all the banners in NZ. One Australian banner is double the total number of supermarkets in NZ, so this automatically gets your brand in front of more potential consumers.

Product ranging.

In NZ, there isn’t a huge difference between products that are available in Countdown vs Pak n’ Save vs New World. In AU, not only are there huge differences in products that are ranged between Woolworths, Coles and independents, but there are differences in what’s in one banner from suburb to suburb. Every Australian retailer's favorite word is exclusivity (followed by margin) so keep this in mind when you’re building out your NPD pipeline and distribution strategy. And if you’re selling into retailers, Tracksuit gives you visibility of users within your category. Take a look at how your category has grown over the past 3, 6 or 12 months as growth of category means there’s also growing consumer demand. 

Route to market.

You need to have strong distribution off the bat when launching into Australia. The supply chain in AU will be more complex and expensive (3PL’s and freight) so you don’t want to be spending more per product if you’re not going to be turning over the volume required to make it worth it. 

Pillar five: Marketing tactics ⛹️

Great brands aren’t built in supermarkets. 

Get to know your customer journey in each market, work out what channels are going to be the most valuable to you, make sure you understand what objective each touch point is driving (e.g. sales driver vs. brand awareness) and tailor your comms accordingly. 

Consumers' state of mind and propensity to purchase differs between channels, so it’s important to consider where a consumer is on their journey at each touchpoint to make sure you’re hitting them with relevant messaging.

Key market differences and how to account for them:

The brand life cycle.

Often your brand will be at different stages of its life cycle in each market. You might have been around in NZ for 15 years and have strong recognition and recall, whereas in the Australian market, you’re the fresh face and a new player. Take this into consideration when you’re building your comms strategy for each market, because different messaging and approaches will be required. Getting familiar with the Funnel section of Tracksuits dashboard is a great way to understand where your awareness is sitting in each market. Nobody will be considering purchasing a product they’re not aware of.

The costs involved.

Media in particular is astronomically more expensive in Australia than New Zealand. You won’t be able to deliver the same results with the same budget, and you need to factor this into your planning. Get quotes before you build out your budgets! 

The trade support.

Australian retailers have very different trade support expectations than their New Zealand counterparts. The wild world of co-op can be difficult to navigate and hard to measure. We suggest always overlaying co-op spend results with your own sales data, measuring your baseline uplifts and working out what is actually driving sales (as that’s what this kind of spend really should be doing).

The finishing line 🏁

If you made it this far, congratulations. Getting through this article is no easy feat, and neither is building a brand across multiple markets.

By focussing on these five pillars and knowing what to look out for, it should make it a little easier to build a brand that consumers reach for, every time. 

A big thanks to our friends Tom & Jess at ANTE for sharing their smarts with us. Find out how they’re helping FMCG brands grow through sales, marketing and business strategy.

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