The evolution of digital marketing in New Zealand

I have been away from New Zealand for over five years. Life in New York and London moves pretty fast, so coming home to little old New Zealand has been quite a shock to the system. But the country is waking up to a more global worldview and embracing design and creativity. It turns out that things in paradise have changed a lot recently. I thought I’d take a moment to share some of the biggest changes that have occurred in my absence.

1. Design Thinking

When I left, talking to conservative business people about design thinking and innovation was a constant struggle. There was a withering cynicism towards any type of creativity. Design was seen as mere window dressing and fluff.

Today, there are wonderful success stories of fast-growing New Zealand companies that are using design, empathy and rapid new product development methods to bring world class products to life. These new products are are grounded in a genuine understanding of what their customers want. The Better by Design program seems to have had real impact in this area.

The core of good design thinking is empathy for the end-user (and a willingness to iterate and experiment). These design thinking mindsets are largely now seen as common sense in many New Zealand businesses. And where they aren’t, there is a growing appetite for change.

2. Brand Strategy

New Zealand has always had a cynical attitude towards sales and marketing. In the professional services the attitude was “the work should speak for itself” and in the consumer products industries there used to be a real lack of ambition and storytelling. Branding was restricted to logos and packaging and seldom went as far as good quality storytelling. Most brand strategy work wasn’t handed over to the client in a form that was durable and usable.

Today, there are some top class New Zealand design firms and a wide range of high quality brands coming out of New Zealand with good brand design, marketing and advertising. The prestige firms like Richards Partners, DNA Design, Dow Design, Designworks and Studio Alexander are all still going strong and there are a range of hot new brand design firms like Little Giant, Inject Design and HardHat Design.

3. Digital Marketing

Different industries adopt digital marketing and social media at different rates. But almost every company in New Zealand was behind the curve in adopting social media. And there was only one really creative social media agency (Young & Shand) who were surrounded by a cadre of old school web design firms like Zeald and Terabyte using outdated technology like Flash and Macromedia.

These days, most New Zealand brands have embraced social media and the two-way customer conversations that come with the new online channels. On the agency side there are now a wonderful range of user experience and digital creative agencies. Everything from the reborn Terabyte, who are championing good UX design, to creative social media agencies like Mosh and Socialites.

Growth hacking and truly cutting edge digital marketing as practised by modern startups is still a little lacking in New Zealand. Growth hacking requires an uncommon mix of willingness to fail combined with a ruthless focus on measurement.

There is also a growing startup ecosystem in New Zealand championed by groups like the Icehouse, Spark Labs and Startup Weekend. Things are looking bright for innovation and creativity in New Zealand.