For the first 3-4 years of its existence, I was responsible for Haka Tours’ marketing output, most of which was digital. Here is how I witnessed the brand evolve from start-up business to award-winning kiwi tour operator, including what effect it had on the clientele.
2007: The Beginning
Haka Tours’s first tour was in June 2007, about the same time that I was graduating from university. The first tour vehicle was a 12 seater purple Mercedes and it was tour guide Steve at the helm. Director Ryan ran the business remotely from the UK.
At this stage there was the logo, some “Haka Tours bibles” (discount voucher books for customers), and a very simple website with lots of spelling errors. Oh, and I shouldn’t forget, some very boring t-shirts.
The concept of the business was to offer the “extreme” side of adventure touring, and so everything was focused upon promoting activities like bungy, skydiving and so on. After joining the business in September 2007, I ran a UK competition to find “Britain’s Craziest Student” and rushed around universities filming anyone who wanted to take part (mostly drunk teenagers).
Due to the rough and ready nature of the business at this time (as many start ups are), Haka’s first customers were happy-go-lucky, relaxed travellers who weren’t worried about why they hadn’t heard of the company before. They just wanted to have a spontaneous road trip adventure. And a spontaneous adventure was essentially what the whole essence of the Haka Tours brand became.
I officially joined Haka in New Zealand in October 2008, when director Ryan had just acquired a new Ford transit van as a touring vehicle. Unlike the Merc, it had a lot of branding, much like someone had vomited Haka Tours up all over it. At least it was noticeable. Along with the van came two new guides.
The company had begun to offer snow- and surf-orientated tour packages, which were still on the extreme side of things, but the theme was a lot more specific. New logos reflected this. It also came with some overly complex brochures. On the upside, new t-shirts were made and were a great improvement on the previous ones.
With the website rid of bad spelling, duplicate content and grammatical errors, Haka suddenly found a different type of customer – one that thought they were “extreme” but who in fact needed a greater amount of “hand holding”. This wasn’t a bad thing – there are more of these types of people in the world than there are full-on extreme people. So numbers were up.
In 2009 the business model changed – the company had discovered it didn’t necessarily have to be so “extreme” in focus. We were beginning to gain a greater depth of feedback from customers and found they were more impressed by the high level of service, guides’ spontaneous-yet-relaxed attitude, and the fact we weren’t mainstream.
So, with this change came changes in communicating the brand: rather than just being extreme, we wanted to show we were the “funky alternative” to touring New Zealand. After the overwhelming effect of previous extreme designs (e.g. the transit and the surf/snow brochures), everything began to take a much simpler approach. Thankfully it worked well.
It was also at this stage that we began to realise how well the colour black was working for us. As such a symbolic colour to NZ, I don’t understand why black hasn’t been adopted by more New Zealand businesses. But as no other tour operators had nabbed it, it suited Haka perfectly in its quest to be cool and “alternative”.
Hence from that point onward, more and more of the brand became predominantly black. The design of the new tour bus was done in this fashion.
And we got some really neat hoodies for staff, along with some advertising banners.
With this simpler approach, things continued to get more sophisticated. Along with this came the “Shortcut” font, which now appears in all Haka marketing. It was a tidier version than the other font used.
I managed our new brochure design and for me it truly reflects how well the new branding worked. I can’t take credit for the design, that was EllaMac, but all the content is mine.
There were also some other improvements made by myself, such as social media channels and email signatures.
My final big project was the main website, and it was perhaps in many ways the culmination of all my work with the company. We had long realised that a new site was needed.
Old and New:
By then we had acquired an incredibly loyal fan base, and personal customer service had become one of our core USPs. From this we decided that we wanted to focus on bringing a personality to the brand that would help increase our trust in the marketplace – a personality that was spurred on my both our past customers and our guides. The new site brought a great opportunity to focus on them; with more about the staff team, history of the company, customer comments and videos. It also helped that we were able to put lots of our own images online, as taken by guides and tour members, rather than generic tourism ones as before.
Social media was also a bigger focus, which was good as it had become much stronger – Facebook had reached 2,550 fans, with 700 followers on Twitter and a presence on Flickr and YouTube. We also built up numerous excellent reviews on independent sites like Rankers.co.nz.
Whilst the website was being redesigned, many other changes were taking place. Our accommodation venue Haka Lodge was opened in Christchurch, and was an instant success. If Haka Tours was a slightly upmarket backpacker tour operator, the Haka Lodge was a slightly flasher hostel, and so the brand carried over very well.
Now that I have left Haka it is hard to predict for its future. I’m sure the brand will continue to evolve but perhaps not quite as quickly now that it has found its feet. I’m just proud to have played a role in helping it get there – and I hope that Haka’s 2010 award for tourism innovation is not its last.