Connection and identification: Colleen Ryan on the importance of Kiwi Cultural Codes

Last year, True partnered with TRA to identify the Kiwi Cultural Codes through qualitative and quantitative analysis.

These codes are an understanding of what it means to be a Kiwi today, and building on the research, this year TRA and True asked 2500 Kiwis to assess how well 20 brands align to the Kiwi Cultural codes.

The top performers for demonstrating ‘Kiwiness’ are all New Zealand companies, including Whittaker’s, Air New Zealand, Pak’nSave, The Warehouse, Mainland, Kiwibank, Kapiti, Lotto, Anchor and Griffins.

But it wasn’t just local brands put under the microscope. Among the brands in the survey were also a few from overseas that have a presence in New Zealand. While they do not demonstrate the codes as well as the New Zealand brands, it was found that those that do own a code are embraced as local brands by New Zealand consumers.

There are six codes including humour, earned success, individuality and self-determination, social equivalence, outward world view, and connection to nature.  

About the codes, TRA partner Colleen Ryan says while brands don’t need to reflect all of the codes, if they are not reflective of a code consumers think they should be, then there is a gap worth acknowledging.

“The codes can give people benchmarks,” she explains. “Say if we see retailers tend to do well on X codes, then if you are a retailer you would want to make sure well on those codes as well.”

And the survey did identify some room for improvement.

One of the gaps identified in the findings was ‘Connection to Nature’. Interestingly, those surveyed believe brands generally demonstrate the code well (21 percent) but when asked to evaluate individual brands against the code, they often don’t do as well.

But that doesn’t mean sticking pictures of beautiful landscapes in your advertising and making it look like a postcard. Rather, the code represents how the natural environment is important to Kiwis and Ryan says it’s a deep-seated code as it taps into the ownership New Zealanders feel over the land.

When writing about it last year, she said:

“Where connecting with nature used to be primarily a physical challenge, today it serves emotional, spiritual and social functions more evenly. And these dimensions create different tensions that require different solutions. The core tension is that Kiwis fear a loss of connection with the environment which can play out in many ways – care for the environment, a sense of ownership, our legacy through our children, and a conduit for human connection and reconnection.”

Ryan says this code is about engaging with a holistic sense of wellbeing through connection with nature – and specifically with our own nature, our unique Kiwi version that we own and have a common love for.

And while the research identified it’s an area to be worked on, Ryan points out that it doesn’t necessarily mean brands aren’t doing this already – rather, if they are, it’s not strong enough for consumers to pick up on.

Cultural codes in a connected world

While talking to Ryan about the importance of connecting with Kiwis, in a Kiwi way, it has to be asked – we live in a more connected world than ever before so should brands be thinking bigger than just being Kiwi.

To that, she says it’s the connected, global world we live in that makes the codes so important.

Because the codes were given a fresh take last year, Ryan says they are representative of a modern New Zealand and no better is the need for connection to Kiwi culture demonstrated than in the fact one of the codes is about New Zealand’s place in the world.

Called ‘outward world view’, the code refers to Kiwis’ sense of pride in our place in the world and how the world sees us.

According to the code, there is a sense among Kiwi millennials and Gen Z that New Zealand needs to step up.

“It’s the responsibility of business and government to we don’t make the same mistakes as the UK, US and Australia,” states the code.

Alongside this, the code says “we want to shine on the global stage, however, our ‘earned success’ code kicks in and we still expect individuals and businesses to put in the hard yards so we can be proud of them”.

It’s that connection brands have to New Zealand that can help to translate into business results.

While Ryan admits TRA doesn’t have access to businesses bottom lines and P and L, she stresses the importance of the codes being a way for consumers to connect with a brand.

She says if a consumer if comparing two services, they will be more likely to connect with the one most similar to them – in other words, a service reflective of Kiwi culture.

To explain, Ryan gives the example of expats hanging out with other expats – “you feel more comfortable with people from your own country”.

“These brands that reflect the codes give a nod that they are one of ours and consumers say, ‘I connect with you and I identify with you’.

“It taps into that emotional brand level.”

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