Māori-led Marketing: A Lesson in Luxury Branding

Maori-led Marketing

Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki is one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s oldest art institutions, and the country’s largest art experience. Helping celebrate Māori artists at an upcoming exhibition, luxury brand specialist Tania Stoyanof is using Māori-led marketing strategy to help create exceptional experiences for art-lovers. She shares unique insight and lessons for marketers operating in the cultural space.


Tania Stoyanof
Tania Stoyanof, Head of Brand and Commercial at Auckland Art Gallery.

Focused on sharing art from New Zealand with Kiwis and the rest of the world, Head of Brand and Commercial at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, Tania Stoyanof is spearheading the marketing behind a new exhibition Toi Tū Toi Ora: Contemporary Māori Art.

This will be the largest exhibition in the 132-year history of the Gallery, with over 300 artworks by 120 Māori artists. Contemporary Māori art is dynamic, ever-changing, and incredibly vibrant and diverse. The exhibition will be a crucial update of the story of contemporary Māori art and uses the Māori creation narrative as a framework to create a unique exhibition experience. 

The Gallery, according to Stoyanof, is a place for art and ideas, and its brand is an expression of its desire to connect art with people and to help people see art in everything. “This has been developed into an intelligent and bold, but accessible, brand identity. In saying that, the Gallery’s identity gives primacy to the artworks we hold, and as such doesn’t attempt to compete with them. But like the art we show, we are versatile, diverse and always evolving,” she says.

With a background in marketing luxury brand experiences, Stoyanof sits down with NZ Marketing for a discussion on luxury branding with a unique Māori sway.

Art is somewhat of a luxury, how do you market luxury?

My own experience is in the luxury space, I was formerly Head of Premium Marketing at Tourism NZ, and from there I started my own high-end luxury tourism business, which I ran for five years before joining the Gallery in January this year. In the luxury space, it’s all about ‘experiential’ – bespoke, exclusive, ‘money can’t buy’ experiences. For example, this could be having the entire Gallery to yourself (if you’re an art enthusiast): your own private Gallery experience.

While art can be seen as a luxury, the Gallery is not primarily a luxury brand. We are for a broad range of people. We offer, for instance, free public programmes that are targeted and marketed to fit all ages and socio economic levels – currently we are offering a school holiday programme targeted at working parents, as well as developing drop-in activities for parents looking for things to do with their kids and set weekend activities for all the family to enjoy.

Is there much space in the current economic climate for luxury?

Auckland Art Gallery is free for all visitors. The challenge for us now is reassuring our audience that they can safely return to us, and that they are welcome. It’s the Lockdown level restrictions having the biggest impact on the Gallery. 

When New Zealand moved to Lockdown in March, we pivoted quickly into the digital space. This year, for the first time, we created a new digital series ‘Cultured Conversations’, to enable us to create space for conversations about the challenges facing our sector from the impacts of Covid-19.

And for our regular visitor audience, who couldn’t come in during Lockdown, we embarked on an entirely new digital project for the Auckland Art Gallery brand – a virtual gallery tour. Capturing the content in a whirlwind three days before the Gallery was forced to close, we worked remotely during Level 4 Lockdown to produce our Enchanted Worlds Virtual Tour. This is an augmented reality experience of an amazing exhibition of Edo-period Japanese art, which had only been open for two weeks before we were forced to close, and otherwise would not have been seen by our regular audience. We worked with digital natives and content producers, Postmag. They are a collective of highly innovative, tech savvy creatives who had the right fit for the initiative. In addition, the Head of Projects, Keegan Fepulea’i is well versed on the Treaty of Waitangi, speaks te reo maori and fluent Japanese.

How has this impacted the customer experience?

The customer experience is very much a part of the Gallery brand, and Auckland Art Gallery has always been a sector leader in this respect. Auckland Art Gallery was one of the first galleries in New Zealand to introduce the concept of a ‘Gallery Assistant’. This new role within the Gallery was developed to support our visitors in engaging with art. As opposed to the more traditional security presence that had been the norm up to that point, Gallery Assistants were drawn from a group of passionate art students, graduates and practising artists. Their mandate was not just to protect our collections, but to encourage and support engagement by providing additional information that could be tailored to suit the individual. 

We want our visitors to feel their visit was worthwhile and enriching – so they want to return, to become a Member and to tell their friends. Through our Gallery Assistant team, we are “curating” the experience visitors have with the Gallery – with the brand. In fact, it’s this warmth of welcome and the one-to-one conversations between visitor and Gallery Assistant that really set the Gallery experience apart. And it’s something – this idea of manaakitanga – that we will be developing further as we work towards the opening of Toi Tū Toi Ora: Contemporary Māori Art later this year.

We also conduct regular visitor 360 research throughout the year which we use to inform our strategies and help us understand the experience visitors have in our building, and how we can improve it, so that they come back again and again. 

After our initial digital launches, we saw the possibility of using digital platforms as an extension of our brand. As a bicultural institution, it was important for us to launch our virtual tour in te reo Māori. We also increased accessibility by adding audio options in both English and te reo Māori.

I’m so excited about this project, as it has become a world first – never before has an historic exhibition of rare Japanese artworks like this been available as an augmented experience OR translated into te reo Māori!

What’s your approach to marketing Māori art and culture?

First and foremost, marketing Māori art and culture should be Māori-led, delivered and measured. If we approach marketing with Māori in mind first, then we will have found the right approach for the rest of New Zealand and for the world. 

I am also the first wahine Māori on the Gallery’s executive lead team. Our brand task, which I am leading, is to connect with now –  with this moment and with our communities. In my experience, I’ve found that fluency across cultures and demonstrating “both” is essential – for this exhibition that means having bi-lingual translations across the whole show.

How do you marry contemporary Māori art with luxury?

The realms of digital, luxury and media are my strengths and have been the focus of my career and my expertise, but Māori is my essence, and Māori values inform everything I do. 

Do you have brand advice for marketers working with Māori brands?

Be authentic to the culture and don’t be influenced or guided by stereotypical and mainstream creative that is so commonly seen as conveying ‘Māori’, in design especially.

For instance, to do the exhibition branding justice we decided not to do this ourselves. We recognised early on that we needed relevant expertise to do the best job possible to achieve our objective to connect with a key target audience, Māori.  We went out to market to search for a specialist agency to develop the brand identity for Toi Tū Toi Ora.  We were looking specifically for progressive, modern and contemporary conceptual ideas yet firmly grounded in te ao Māori to fit the context of the exhibition narrative and of course the artworks.

From a shortlist of potential agencies and creatives, we briefed in Tyrone Ohia, creative director at Extended Whanau. We are absolutely thrilled with the results produced for us by Tyrone and his talented. We can’t wait to see the public’s reaction when we launch on 5 December.

More on the exhibition


Read more: Your Brand Purpose Might Be the Most Important Part of Your Business

David Nothling-Demmer

About David Nothling-Demmer

David Nothling-Demmer is Editor of NZ Marketing magazine.

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