In order to be successful in a highly competitive marketplace, the PNG SEASMART Program needs to differentiate its products from those of its competitors. Capturing an appropriate share of the market will allow the PNG SEASMART Program to develop a sustainable, equitable and profitable marine aquarium trade in Papua New Guinea. A fundamental first step toward capturing a large enough portion of the market is effective branding, and, as will be discussed later, in consumer education section.
Branding – A Definition
Branding is the act of building and maintaining a unique and readily identifiable brand or “look” for a company. That brand usually involves a combination of words (e.g., name, tagline, etc.) and images (e.g., logo, wordmark, etc.) that come to be synonymous with the company. Through the consistent use of the brand in marketing, the company builds and retains customer loyalty over time. A comprehensive branding program is fundamental to most successful businesses.
In the spring of 2010, the SEASMART Program underwent an ad hoc brand audit, which identified some key strategies to help establish and build the SEASMART brand in target markets such as the United States. Theses strategies include primarily associating the SEASMART name with “sustainability” (both environmental and socio-economic) and “Papua New Guinea” and/or “PNG” (and, by association, the high profile animals collected there) in all external communications.
In terms of imagery, the SEASMART brand currently relies heavily on the SEASMART wordmark (the SEASMART name used in a consistent font). Where appropriate, the SEASMART wordmark is accompanied by imagery that reinforces the brand. This imagery usually includes recognizable PNG SEASMART animals (e.g., the PNG lightning maroon clownfish) and local fishers engaged in sustainable collection. In terms of words, external communications currently employ the words “sustainable” or “sustainability” and “Papua New Guinea” and/or “PNG”. “Equitability” and “Affordability” are also words commonly used in SEASMART Program brand building activities.
When possible, the EcoEZ Inc. brand is associated with the SEASMART brand through co-branding (e.g., use of EcoEZ Inc. logo in advertisements). Once the SEASMART brand is more firmly established in the marketplace, a more concerted effort will be made to link the SEASMART and EcoEZ Inc. brands. At this point, building the SEASMART brand is the focus within the United States target market, as it is the SEASMART and “Papua New Guinea” names that are associated with product available to target consumers.
Branding is carried out through all external communications, including traditional print media, online media and social media. In the spring and early summer of 2010, the SEASMART Program has effectively taken advantage of opportunities to build the SEASMART brand utilizing high profile PNG species such as the PNG lightning maroon clownfish. This has provided a means to build the brand through timely, intentional marketing, purchased advertising in print and online media, managed media coverage, and viral marketing utilizing social media (e.g., Facebook) and online forums. This is a branding model the SEASMART should attempt to replicate in the future when new species or rare color morphs are discovered and collected by SEASMART-trained fishers.
In addition to traditional print media, online media and social media, the SEASMART brand is built and reinforced through a variety of outreach efforts including, but not limited to:
- The SEASMART website
- Trade Shows
- Hobbyist Association Visits
- Mail Outs of Promotional Materials
- Hobbyist/Industry Personnel Exchange
Each of these efforts is outlined in more detail below, but in all of them, the core approach to building the brand through consistent words and imagery has been maintained.
While the current branding efforts have been very effective in building the PNG SEASMART Program brand within the target market, maintaining brand integrity is not easy and must be monitored and managed like any other important business component. Competition in the marine aquarium trade is intense, especially given the lack of regulation that invites unsustainable practices. If the PNG SEASMART Program brand becomes devalued, a vicious cycle can result, as the Program struggles to recapture necessary market share. In addition to other negative impacts of a devalued brand, lower prices to both fishers and importers and increasing laxity in standards can result in an ever inferior product commanding ever lower prices or prices that never change despite long term negative currency fluctuations. This has happened in the marine aquarium industry in both the Philippines and Indonesia, but both of these source countries continue to command the majority of the international marine aquarium trade. Avoiding a similar situation with the PNG SEASMART Program brand must be a primary part of any and all branding efforts.
In addition to traditional branding, the PNG SEASMART Program must also undertake more consumer education than many other companies in other markets. While exciting new endemic species and rare color morphs sell themselves and offer an excellent opportunity to build the PNG SEASMART Program brand, the availability of these animals is limited and cannot by itself be relied on to make the Program financially sustainable. As such, the PNG SEASMART Program must communicate through its branding efforts the uniqueness of the PNG SEASMART brand in terms of offering customers in the target market a sustainable alternative to the unsustainable products continuing to flood the market from places like the Philippines and Indonesia. A major challenge is that much of the target audience is unaware that unsustainable products are the norm at most local fish stores and online retailers of marine ornamentals throughout North America. The SEASMART Program must therefore educate the target audience, as part of its branding efforts, as to why the Program’s emphasis on sustainability makes the SEASMART product a better choice than less expensive products readily available to the consumer.
Likewise, the general pubic is largely unaware that, in addition to the environmentally unsustainable practices that continue to supply the marine aquarium trade with a large percentage of its product, much of the trade’s socio-economic impact on local fisher communities is also unsustainable. The PNG SEASMART Program, through its branding efforts, must educate the target market as to why promoting socio-economic sustainability in coastal villages is so important in developing island nations like Papua New Guinea. The target audience must understand that PNG SEASMART Program products are a better choice in terms of environmental and socio-economic sustainability, even when the product is slightly more expensive. The greatest challenge to achieving this goal through branding is the amount of consumer education that needs to occur in order to make branding initiatives successful.
The challenges listed above are being effectively addressed through many of the branding efforts detailed in the next section of the report.
The SEASMART program’s brand promotion efforts include the following:
EcoEZ Inc. began this outreach process last year with a very successful showing (voted best booth of MACNA 2009) at the Marine Aquarium Conference of North America (MACNA) in Atlantic City, New Jersey. MACNA is the largest marine aquarium trade show in North America (65-70% of the global market). Much interest was sparked by our presence there. We also were able to get solid feedback from retailers and hobbyists that had purchased PNG marine aquarium life. We were able to confirm that our efforts at quality control were paying off – people liked what they were getting and they wanted more (statements ran from “…the best fish we ever seen” to “When are you going to sell corals?”). The response to PNG’s efforts to build the trade sustainably was met with an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response.
MACNA 2010 is being held the first week in September in Orlando Florida this year. The opening of the trade in Papua New Guinea will be a central theme to this year’s MACNA. We have been given a premium 20’x20’ booth space at the entrance to the show, the number one speaker position at the banquet dinner, and three (3) other speaking positions during the conference. The raffle grand prize(s) are two separate tickets to visit and work with the SEASMART program in PNG (this prize is generating a lot of interest). This year’s MACNA will go a very long ways to establishing PNG’s market awareness by a wider buying public. 2011 we hope to carry out the same level of awareness raising in Europe, part of which would be to attend Europe’s largest pet trade show, Interzoo in Germany. The MACNA folks have sent a special invitation to PNG to attend in force. They are actively supporting our promotional efforts both within the confines of the trade show but also our efforts to learn more about the trade through visits to one of the north America’s largest importers and the world’s largest marine aquarium aquaculture company.
We have ongoing ads or articles placed or being placed in three (3) international industry magazines: Coral, Pet Product News and FAMA. Two of them run our banner ads for free in support of SEASMART Program. We utilized the capture and marketing of a very unusual color morph of a maroon clownfish called the PNG Lightning Maroon Clownfish to help drive our latest promotional efforts. (If you run a web search under this name, you will find a range of articles on this fish and the SEASMART Program.) This effort has been able to build a level of excitement not normally seen in this trade…something really different and spectacular came out of PNG…people want to see what will be produced next. We continue to build on our print efforts with a series of articles coming out in at least three (3) different magazines leading up to this coming MACNA.
We have continued to upgrade our website (www.seasmart.ecoez.com) and accompanying Facebook page and will soon be opening a new page to highlight our efforts at the upcoming MACNA 2010. The site has a strong emphasis on telling our story through photos, film and text. Most of the trade gets it’s information through the internet, we are working constantly to improve this important aspect of our outreach program. We also work through other sites such as industry forums or chat rooms, taking part in question and answer sessions promoting PNG’s efforts. We continue to advertise in a number of industry websites through the placement of banner ads and links.
We continue to make ourselves available for interviews and articles. The interview format is oft times the best way to get a specific message across or to be able to discuss aspects of our business or the trade that normally don’t get covered in a formal article. Interviews have been conducted for print, radio, and webcast/podcasts.
We visit local hobbyist association whenever we can to talk about the PNG program. Response is always good and enthusiasm high. These groups can be effective at getting retailers to order PNG fish from the importers.
Although not always a cost effective way of advertising, we have utilized this option on occasion to distribute brochures and small posters, via the wholesaler, to retailers when they order PNG product.
We periodically run contests (win a poster, free SEASMART T-shirt of the kind actually worn by PNG fishers) on our Facebook page to help encourage readership of our sites. Two trips to PNG to visit and work with the SEASMART program is the grand prize at this year’s MACNA show.
One of the most effective and impactful outreach areas for this program is the exchange or the visiting of the program by people within the trade. As they say, seeing is believing. It is hard for many in the trade to imagine what is really taking place in PNG. We have had three people from the trade visit us in the last year, we learned a great deal from all three (they all had different skills within the trade) and they learned a lot about us. One of them has gone back to write a number of very positive articles about PNG’s efforts to develop the trade including a report to NFA and ourselves on what he saw here. One of them was so outstanding that we hired him to work on the MAR program. The other played a major role in our first film of the program.