Fresh off my latest long-haul to L.A.—and inspired by what’s popping over there—here are a few need-to-know insights for Kiwi brands expanding to North America:
It’s not just one market. The U.S. is a collection of many markets—each with unique needs, challenges and nuances. In New Zealand, being a generalist can get you far. Morphing and stretching to span categories, consumers and genres is one way to win domestically, with the small population. (Frankly, it’s almost expected.)
But that’s a strategy that won’t play well in the U.S. Your brand needs to be super-niche, and your offer finely tuned.
Start by focusing on a single, specific market where you’re most in-demand first—and know you’ll need to adapt your positioning as you expand into others. Which is to say, not only are there cultural nuances between the likes of L.A. and New York—but micro-cultures that exist within these centers as well. (Think: Manhattan versus The Bronx, or Santa Monica versus East L.A.)
My advice: Get in-market consultancy. (I can help here.)
Bravery is essential. Truth and transparency are today’s highest global currency—intensifying trends of hyper-authenticity and democratized everything.
There’s a real paradigm shift emerging here in North America in particular. Innate product quality and a solid origin story are now table stakes. Younger consumers expect brands to offer all that—and bake in sustainability, inclusivity and ethics as well. They crave products and services that chase the edge in their aesthetic as much as functional innovation. Creative that mashes high and low culture is especially cool in fashion, beauty and music right now, as brands design for self-expression, subversion and emotionally enriching experiences.
Kiwi brands are tailor-made for this. They’re renowned for irreverent, risk-taking advertising and clothing, disruptive technology and natural foods.
But standing out in the U.S. means going beyond New Zealand’s “clean and pure” positioning or even ingenuity itself. It’s about getting ahead of cultural currents where you’re looking to launch and grow, and offering customers a radical alternative to what’s already out there. (Researching macro trends is a fast route to relevance.)
Distribution is different. Unlike New Zealand where e-commerce is still in its infancy, distribution in North America is increasingly direct-to-consumer.
What’s more, that playbook is changing fast.
It’s no longer enough just to be born online. The sheer volume of DTC brands means it’s a crowded space. Tough to stand out and tougher still, to get massive growth.
The upshot? We’re seeing more established brands like Glossier, Stitch Fix and Warby Parker exploring a portfolio approach with offline retail stores and distribution partners, for greater market penetration. Also on the rise: Subscription or “membership” models that reward consumer loyalty with reduced rates for monthly purchases.
So, with some DTC brands in the U.S. already maturing, and most Kiwi businesses still finding their way, there’s both opportunity and challenge here for NZ brands.
Partnering with an adjacent local business is a low-risk first step to master the learning curve and new-to-you consumer-brand dynamics. Get it right and the bigger population in the States equals a greater possible return on investment. (Especially if you’re on Amazon. It’s estimated around 44% of U.S. consumers go there first to search for products.) Most important of all: If your product’s not disruptive, then your brand really needs to be.
What trends are you seeing? If your brand’s a Kiwi one, what else would be good to know?