Realising the incredible value of Māori IP – weaving culture into compelling brands the world has never seen

Image by Mountain Jade

Image by Mountain Jade

In the world of Maori, it's as much about culture as it is about design. There are lessons in the Maori world that even they are only just beginning to realise. Going beyond tokenism and delivering a seamless experience in tourism, for example, is still out of reach for many, yet the opportunity is significant in learning how to sell less for more. In a Pakeha world, so often these two elements are dislocated in the roll out of a brand. Few companies practice what they preach, nailing taglines on their walls when the customer experience simply doesn't deliver.

Culture is what determines whether you deliver on your brand promise. A brand cannot be built simply with improved external communications. It must come from the heart, internally, by cultivating a strong brand-led culture. Many companies realise that culture building is important, but waste a lot of money and effort buying ping pong tables and free beer on Fridays. They make employees happy, but they aren’t going to make their employees produce the results that they want. It’s about meaningful engagement, ensuring that everyone contributing to the customer experience understands the part they play and its importance.

How might a Māori brand develop contemporary customs, unique to the guest experience?

Indigenous cultures across the globe all have welcome and hospitality rituals. However, learning how to identify different visitor archetypes is the key to enhancing the visitor experience. It cannot be done unless you understand your world from the outside in.

A New Yorker, so used to a literal world of glass and concrete, cellphones and apps, devoid of nature, will stop in their tracks when the spiritual insights of Māori and the environment are shared on a beautiful New Zealand river bank. A Māori brand is less about who they are and more about why they are they way they are. Their customs, their rituals, their meanings.

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Tokenistic versus iconic visual language

The Maori branding landscape is not a rosy picture. Designers have been guilty of tokenism, graphic anarchy and disrespect for taonga. From their position of justifiable grievance, Maori have over-Europeanised to belong in a Pakeha world. It could be said that Maori themselves are trampling on their own 'Maori-ness' and their Maori origins.

The power of Maori stories

The challenge for every iwi is to cross the bridge into the contemporary world and carry their spirituality with them. The power of Maori storytelling is yet to be fully realised. The Maori worldview has much to offer international markets seeking a new perspective and an emotional experience that transcends the everyday.

Still from Niki Caro's  Whale Rider  by Witi Ihimaera

Still from Niki Caro's Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera

Many years ago, as a member of the New Zealand Film Commission, I was involved in the early funding of Niki Caro's interpretation of Witi Ihimaera's Whale Rider. From a $9 million dollar investment, the story has generated $41 million in screen revenues, which truly attests the power of Maori storytelling and intellectual property to delight a tired world.