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The importance of leveraging Brand Australia

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Australia is top of the pops when it comes to perception. Look at most of the global brand surveys from Anholt to Future Brand. Australia is well regarded as a place to work and play, to visit and to immigrate to, and Australians are well regarded around the world. And when it comes to business, despite what Sol Trujillo tells the BBC, most surveys (from the World Bank and the like) show that Australia is one of the best places to do business in, invest in, visit and live in.

But one thing that comes up in the brand surveys is exports. Despite 17 years of strong economic performance, the world still thinks Australia is about ‘rocks and crops’ (mining and agriculture), fuelling China and India, when it comes to export success, or at a stretch, ‘China’s quarry and Japan’s beach’.

I have had experience of this myself. I recall writing a story on Australian education exports to China and India, emphasising the expansion of professional services to those two emerging economic superpowers and it was accompanied by a cartoon of a kangaroo with a very large Elephant-Dragon type creature in its pouch. The Elephant-Dragon creature had “The Mining boom” painted across its stomach! And I bet more people saw the cartoon than saw the data or graphs showing the diversity of Australia’s exports to China and India.

One issue may be that our exports are either ‘invisible’ (LNG, aluminium, iron ore) and are in the production process, not on supermarket shelves, or are very ‘visible’ in terms of celebrities (Neighbours, Kylie Minogue, Hugh Jackman, Cate Blanchett and the rest). We don’t have the equivalent of Nokia, BMW, Sanyo or IKEA – major consumer items identified with their home country. And the ones that we do have that are high profile, like Billabong (Billabong has at times earned more income off-shore than Westpac) or Rip Curl, relate back to our beach lifestyle or, in RM Williams case, our outback, rural traditions.

Is this a problem? In economist-speak, it’s necessary but not sufficient. At least it’s a start – that is, we do have a brand that people know about and it’s necessary to have a brand as a starting point. Having a strong beach culture is good, being abundant in primary resources and managing them well is a good thing, as are our wide open spaces.

And having a few high-profile celebs draw more attention to Australia is a good thing. No one did more than the two Croc men – the late Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, and Paul ‘Crocodile Dundee’ Hogan before him – to get Americans knowing more about Australia just as Megan Gale helped lure more Italians to our shores. As they say in Seinfeld, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” But it’s not sufficient. We could always do better.

As Simon Anholt has pointed out, most of the world will not go to Australia in their lifetime, so you’ve got to do everything you can to get in their psyche of what Australia is. In short, we have a great brand, so we need to use it wisely to take advantage of it, especially during the Global Financial Crisis. In an economist’s language, there is great demand for all things Australian, but we need to do more on the supply side to take advantage of it.

In short, the Australian image is a good one, but we can do more to broaden our appeal and encourage more Australian businesses to take advantage of our high standing off-shore. And during a global economic downturn, an exporter needs every advantage they can get, and being Australian is still a great place to start from.

Australian exporters and investors are participating in a Brand Australia survey to help position Australia as a trade and investment partner.

So feel free to have your say: http://survey.austrade.gov.au
C’mon Aussie, C’mon!

Photo: ernieski (Flickr)

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