The next chapter of the New Zealand story: Storytelling as an export promotion tool in the international business policy context
We live in a world of narratives. Storytelling has become increasingly prominent across marketing and management disciplines in recent decades, due, in part, to its ability to incorporate both rational and emotional appeals. However, despite the proven success of storytelling as a corporate branding strategy, its potential as an export promotion tool is yet to be explored within the international business (IB) discipline. Based on the corporate branding literature, storytelling is important both at an internal level, for constructing an organisational identity, and at an external level, for building brand equity through identity value alignment with consumers. In recent years, the nation brand management literature has shown that the many stakeholders of a nation can be managed in a similar way to corporate brands. Mirroring corporate brands, nation brand management involves both the development of an internal brand identity and external country image. Set against the context of New Zealand IB policymaking, this research has three key aims: (1) to explore how storytelling can support the performance of the nation’s export goods and services in international markets, (2) to ascertain the elements and techniques of storytelling that can be best utilised as an export promotion strategy, and (3) look at the resources and capabilities needed at a policymaking level to support this as part of an export promotion strategy.
To answer these research questions, I propose a conceptual framework integrating existing knowledge from the storytelling, nation branding and export promotion literatures. The framework was tested using a qualitative research approach drawing on expert interviews. I interviewed nine experts from key government agencies involved with New Zealand’s nation branding agency, the NZ Story group. I then analysed the gathered data against the developed conceptual framework to understand how the experts’ practical storytelling experience, as an export promotion strategy, was supported by the literature and relevant theory. The findings showed that there are three levels of consideration when implementing storytelling to support export promotion: the setting, the discourse and the story. The storytelling setting involves the internal identity narrative of the nation brand, including the brand’s values, vision, resource stocks and capabilities. The storytelling discourse is where the key values of the export story are tailored to target the consumer, in a process of co-creation between the teller and the audience. The story level considers how to engage consumers with the story and includes considerations of cultural nuances, such as the consumers’ propensity to engage with rational and/or emotional stimuli. Export narratives informed by these three levels of strategy will have a positive influence on export promotion (and subsequently performance).
This research has both theoretical and practical implications, especially IB policy implications. The study explores the previously untapped intersection between storytelling, nation branding and export promotion. It presents storytelling as a potential, previously unexplored export promotion tool, part of so-called indirect export promotion strategies. Additional research should further extend this field of knowledge. In terms of practical implications, this research has several for New Zealand policymakers. The findings of the study reveal the critical roles of a nation branding agency when implementing storytelling as an export promotion tool, including managing power dynamics between various government entities and stakeholders, developing a meta-narrative, and acquiring and sharing information about foreign markets and attitudes in them towards New Zealand. It also provides practical implications for how to develop effective narratives that are culturally relevant and can have the greatest impact on export performance.