Australian companies often fail to reach their full potential when doing business in New Zealand. History helps explain why.

A hundred or so years ago, American author Mark Twain travelled between Melbourne and Sydney. When he reached the Victoria-New South Wales border he had to change trains because the two colonies ran different railway gauges.

At the time he wrote; “One or two reasons are given for this curious state of things. One is, that it represents the jealousy existing between the colonies. What the other is, I have forgotten.”

This railway gauge mess isn’t ancient history.

Until 1995, Australia was the only first world country whose main cities were not linked by standard gauge railway tracks. Even now trains in different states use different gauges.

Things get messy on the Gold Coast when New South Wales moves to daylight saving, but Queensland does not. Next time you go to the Gold Coast, try catching a flight to Brisbane and returning from Coolangatta. At certain times of the year the experience is, well, interesting.

Australia’s regional economies

Train tracks and time zones are the thin end of the wedge. Australia has different regional economies, inter-state rivalries and local tribalisms.

Australians can’t even agree on a single football code. There are three that matter; Rules, League and Union. Make that four codes. Thanks to SBS and European immigrants, Soccer also has a sizable following.

About the only thing that unites Australians is that all they support one national cricket team. Even then some supporters give out-of-state players a hard time when they play for their country.

So you’d be right if you suspected senior executives sitting in glass tower overlooking Sydney Harbour often fail to give much thought to the wants and needs of their partners, readers and customers elsewhere in Australia.

I can still recall the blank looks in a publishing management meeting when I asked about magazine sales in Western Australia.

And if Adelaide, Perth, Hobart and Darwin don’t figure much in the corporate consciousness, how would you rate the chances of Auckland, Wellington or Ekatuhuna getting a second thought?

New Zealand can do better than Australian regions

New Zealanders sometimes get a better deal than counterparts in rural and regional Australia.

Being a distinct, separate market helps. Having a different legal, currency and tax system means at least the carpet strollers have to sit up and take more notice of New Zealand than they of, say, Tasmania.

New Zealand’s four million population is tiny compared to Australia’s 20 million, but successfully targeting the New Zealand market can add somewhere between 20 and 30 percent to an Australian company’s business. That’s not to be sneezed at.

A technology company might be persuaded to open support lines early to accommodate New Zealanders – Perth customers don’t have a hope.

Companies and brands investing and hiring in New Zealand tend to punch above their weight in the long-term. Companies and brands who fail to invest here can expect to under-perform.

This isn’t hard. Yet the simple fact of life eludes some bean counters clicking mice over Excel spreadsheets in distant offices. Their mistake is your opportunity.

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