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When not to target new New Zealanders

family lying on bed laughing

“I never thought of myself as ‘Asian’ until I moved to New Zealand. I’m not Asian, I’m Chinese, and I’m not just Chinese, I’m Shanghainese.”

In a nutshell

  1. Grouping populations together is a blunt measure and means Kiwi marketers miss the nuances of the various migrant groups they wish to communicate with. 
  2. We need to consider exactly who we are wanting to target. A good approach is to opt for a tight targeting of a specific group of migrants, in their language, with a tone that speaks to their unique cultural context.
  3. However, others will need to adopt a different approach that positions your brand as big, successful and popular to capitalise on the decision making shortcuts that new migrants employ. 

These words from a Shanghainese person I interviewed helped me realise how foolishly blunt New Zealand marketers are being when they say they want to target ‘the Asian population’.

While it’s true that Statistics New Zealand predicts 19% of NZ’s population will be of Asian ethnicity by 2038, and while that may look like a desirable target to go after, it’s not really a target at all.

Think about being targeted as an ‘Antipodean’ if you were living in London. Doesn’t feel very targeted does it?

Think about how you would persuade a New Yorker to buy your product versus a Californian. Attempting to target ‘Americans’ may not hit the mark with either person.

At least in targeting ‘Americans’ you could do it all in English. If you were thinking about doing a promotion for your brand at Chinese New Year, were you going to get it translated to Mandarin or Cantonese? Did you know that Shanghainese is a dialect all of its own?

Think about all the different cities throughout Asia, many with populations several times the size of our whole country. People migrating from these cities to New Zealand bring with them all of those unique cultural contexts.

One of the many implications for marketers emerging from our Listening Project* study into new migrants is the importance of investigating the detail of the migrants you intend to communicate with. What is the home city of the ‘Asian’ people on your database or in your catchment area? Are they older with a more traditional mindset or younger with a more global outlook? Are they seeking to be more Kiwi by buying your brand? Are they trying to find a cost-effective substitute for a brand they loved back home?

If you’re a marketer for a global brand, do they already have a preconceived idea of how your brand behaves back home? Do they have positive or negative perceptions of the kind of people who buy your brand back home?

Having asked these kinds of questions, you may decide there is a case for tightly targeting a specific group of migrants, in their language, with a tone that speaks to their unique cultural context.

In a market the size of New Zealand, a target this tightly defined can mean it’s worth considering a highly personalised DM piece or an invitation-only experience that will make a big impression with a small number of people. This may be appropriate for a high-ticket item like a new car or a property development.

However, if you’re marketing for a retailer or an FMCG brand (or a social change campaign for the government) it’s unlikely that reaching so few people is an economically viable investment. In this case, broader targeting of migrants requires acknowledgement that you are marketing to a highly varied mix of humans. In this case a different type of cultural context is applicable.

There are moments where broadcast channels can be used to position your brand as “the popular one that everyone in New Zealand seems to use”.

When marketing to those who grew up in a New Zealand cultural context, there have been many successful brand building campaigns that tap into Kiwi codes and achieve popularity status via television sets throughout the lounge rooms of New Zealand.

But when English is your second language, the migrants we listened to said they didn’t find broadcast Kiwi TV shows particularly desirable (especially with all their favourite content from home so easily available for streaming online).

So how do you reach a large enough number of people and still make a meaningful emotional connection with a super-diverse population?

“If you see it advertised a lot you think it must be one of the big brands here – the one that Kiwis use.”

TRA have also been tracking global cultural meta-currents. These help us identify universal human truths that are likely to strike a chord with all of us.

When setting up a new life in a world of unfamiliar brands, migrants subconsciously rely on mental shortcuts to make sense of the noise and identify which brands are trustworthy enough to try. Positioning your brand as big, successful and popular is one of these decision making shortcuts that will set you ahead of the competition in the eyes of migrants.

“If you see it advertised a lot you think it must be one of the big brands here – the one that Kiwis use.”

‘If you see it advertised a lot’ might sound like an expensive strategy that is beyond your marketing budget but remember that frequency isn’t the only way to infer popularity.

Is there a claim your brand can make like “New Zealand’s top-selling brand in [category]” or “More Kiwis choose [your brand] than any other”?

It’s also possible to create the impression of popularity by selecting a few key media placements that will get seen by lots of people at once – i.e. your audience will know that lots of other people will see your ad too. Even better if the execution is impactful enough that your audience hears lots of other people talking about your brand.

Listening for all the touchpoints our migrants came across when setting up in New Zealand, we learned about places brands can position themselves as ‘the popular one’.

Airport billboards that get seen by everyone entering the country; public transport that is a necessity for migrants before they are able to buy a car; POS in supermarkets. We’ve all gotta eat, so it’s not long before migrants are perusing the supermarket shelves. If you haven’t got the biggest number of facings, clever use of POS can help to give the impression of popularity. Some migrants also expressed the desire to learn more about some of the products that seem popular but they’ve never encountered before. Like, what exactly is Marmite, and how do you use it? POS could be used for this too.

So next time you get asked “what’s our strategy for targeting the growing Asian population?”, pause to think through exactly who is worth targeting. And if tight targeting isn’t viable, think big and do whatever you can to be seen as ‘the popular one’.

*The Listening Project: New New Zealanders is TRA’s 4th immersive research project. It follows NZ’s new migrants to truly understand their whole world as they settle into their new lives as Kiwis. The Listening Project: New New Zealanders was carried out by Antonia Mann, Vanisha Narsey and Colleen Ryan. 

headshot of Carl Sarney, Head of Strategy at TRA
Carl Sarney
Head of Strategy at TRA
Carl has 20 years of insight industry experience. He is specialised in brand and comms strategy with a proven history of effective work for his clients, including several gold awards for advertising effectiveness. His research work has taken him to just about every town in New Zealand to speak with people from all walks of life. He's also conducted qualitative research in eight more countries while based in London for two years and spent seven years as an ad agency planner before joining TRA in 2018.

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