Whenever I talk to people about the cultural codes that define us, I get a lot of confirmatory murmurs when I get to connection to nature.
In a nutshell
- It’s not a shock to anyone that Kiwis have a deeply embedded connection to nature. No one ever asks why this is, but it's important for organisations to understand if they are going to leverage that connection.
- The first driver of our connection to nature is human characteristics – nature is a way to escape the cognitive overload of the modern world.
- The second driver is cultural characteristics – an ingrained reliance on our natural environment dating back to both early Māori and European settlement.
- Overall, brands do not demonstrate the Connection to Nature code well because they are failing to engage with the sense of connection that Kiwis feel so deeply and make that relevant to their brand.
And when I mention that parents are concerned that their children will not have that same connection, the parents in the audience nod vigorously. It’s not a shock to anyone that Kiwis have a deeply embedded connection to nature, but no one ever asks why.
Understanding what drives Kiwis’ affinity with nature is important if organisations are going to leverage that connection to influence behaviour, to connect their brand with Kiwiness, to optimise messaging and imagery, to create an unconscious emotional trigger, to improve staff engagement and so on.
There are two answers to why, one relates to human characteristics and one to cultural characteristics…
The cognitive sciences, and behavioural science in particular, has exposed us to the reality that our brains don’t like working hard (or at least not any harder than they have to) and this explains our propensity to make quick, impulsive choices and use shortcuts that take the effort out of decision making. But nevertheless the modern world just keeps ramping up the brain’s workload. We are overwhelmed by choices, exhausted by complexity and driven by the need to achieve ever more. Nature is the place we escape to in order to relieve this emotional and cognitive stress.
And there are physiological as well as emotionally related reasons why it works:
- Exercise gives a sense of wellbeing through chemical releases in our bodies.
- Changing our focal length to long distance changes how we think. A long focal length triggers big picture thinking (while head down at your desk encourages detailed and tight analytical thinking). And, big picture thinking makes the small irritants in life seem less important.
- Being in nature promotes our creative brain to step up. One hypothesis is that our forefathers had to have their wits about when they ventured into open spaces (who knew what was lurking); and play is a form of creativity, and who doesn’t like to play.
If getting out into nature is a behaviour that people are drawn to, why is it a stronger part of our national psyche than it is for other nations?
To answer this we have to look back in time to understand the role that the land played to both Māori and early settlers. Though a Māori concept, Kaitiakitanga has influenced the broader population, especially when the land overtly and directly supported life and the country's economy in the not too distant past. Today three quarters of New Zealanders live in an urban environment but there is an echo of a rural nation, lightly populated and intimately in touch with the natural environment.
The role of organisations
"Organisations may be supporters of environmental protection causes or they might be using nature in their advertising, but they are failing to engage with the sense of connection that Kiwis feel so deeply and make that relevant to their brand."
Our recent survey looking at how well organisations demonstrate the Kiwi Codes showed that ‘Connection to Nature’ was a code that brands do not do well – and that was a surprise to many.
The reason for the poor performance seems to be that brands are not leveraging Kiwis’ deep seated sense of connection. Organisations may be supporters of environmental protection causes or they might be using nature in their advertising, but they are failing to engage with the sense of connection that Kiwis feel so deeply and make that relevant to their brand. Perhaps invoking both the human characteristics and the cultural characteristics that create our connection to nature is what is needed for brands to forge their own connection with nature.