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Kiwi Codes: Your questions answered

woman standing near wellington harbour

You asked. We answered.

In a nutshell

  1. Brands or organisations should be aware of all six codes, but may choose to pay special attention to the codes that align most closely with who they are.
  2. Codes are universal and enduring, but there are some notable differences, especially between Māori and non-Māori, Gen Z and new migrants.
  3. All codes have a negative side - it pays to understand both sides of each code to be aware of pitfalls.

In our latest Kiwi Codes webinar, TRA Partner Colleen Ryan expanded on the latest round of Kiwi Codes research, detailing how the codes have endured and evolved over the past twelve months.

At the conclusion of Colleen’s presentation, participants were invited to ask questions live – we've pulled together the top questions and responses below. 

Missed the webinar? Watch the recording here, and head here for a detailed breakdown of all six codes and how they show up in the culture of Aotearoa. 

Q: Outward World View: What code do we see the most pronounced difference between Māori and non-Māori? 

A: Our Outward World View code has shifted from an obsession with international validation and fame to a focus closer to home. This is a prevalent shift for non-Māori, but for Māori, this may seem like others coming a bit late to the party. “Of course you’ve got to get your own house in order before you put yourself out there”.  

For Māori, there is less regard for how the world sees us, and a greater focus on being right in ourselves and upholding tikanga from te ao Māori point of view. However, there’s still a clear desire to see Māori business celebrated on the world stage.  

Q: Outward World View: Kiwi brands, products and ideas are being talked about more favourably overseas. Is now a good time for NZ exporters? 

A: Absolutely. Kiwis have a growing confidence that our products are respected abroad. That’s why it’s even more important that when we project ourselves to the world we’ve got our values sorted, and we’re taking people with us. We want to be confident – not just in the quality of our products, but that we’re representing ourselves authentically abroad.

Q: Connection to Nature: Are there particular groups that are more likely to practice kaitiakitanga? 

A: People with a more progressive approach to life, and younger people, are more likely to feel a reciprocal relationship with nature.  

Interestingly, new migrants also feel a stronger sense of this code. New migrants often chose New Zealand because of our beautiful environment - a lot of these people came to New Zealand based on a picture postcard image of mountains and rivers and are astonished we go out there and play in those places. These migrants see the respect we have for our natural environment and are quick to understand that our relationship to our environment is a two-way street. There’s a sense of responsibility to be part of that kaitiakitanga.  

Of course, Māori have always had this perspective of nature, and in some ways feel they are waiting for the rest of us to catch up. They are wanting non-Māori to recognise the reciprocal relationship we should have with our environment and make changes to reflect that.

Q: Humor: How do you incorporate this code if you’re in a serious category or trying to communicate a serious topic?  

A: Humour is a powerful tool – but because it’s powerful, getting it wrong can be damaging. In countries like the UK, sarcasm prevails, but in New Zealand that simply doesn’t work. Much the same for humour that hurts people – it's a major turn-off for Kiwis.  

In our everyday life, Kiwis tend to want to end on a smile – and this is even more true with serious or ‘heavy’ topics.  

Humour is often used by Kiwis in hard times to restore a sense of connection, to create a sense of ‘we’re all in this together.’ It’s about tackling the hard things in a way that leaves people with a sense of hope or levity.

Q: What code should new migrants pay most attention to? 

A: Humor. This is the only code where we see a marked difference between new migrants and those living here for a long time. If you’re a new migrant, humour is often one of the hardest things to grasp. Many new migrants report feeling they don't really ‘get’ Kiwi humour. 

It goes to show that there really is a unique sense of humour for every country, and Kiwis' certainly have their own. We heard success stories from migrants who committed to learning and understanding our unique sense of humour - they had an easier time making friends and workplace connections and feeling an overall sense of belonging.

Q: Is there a difference in the codes for Gen Z/young New Zealanders? 

A: There’s less 'difference' and more passion. Imagine a radio: it hasn’t changed to a different channel, but the volume has been dialled up. The Gen Z audience are the broadest mix of ethnicities of any generation of New Zealanders – so they’re absorbing facets of other cultures as well. However, the codes still persist with this generation – they move, but not fast. Gen Z are the engine driving a lot of what we see shifting, but they still identify with the same basic tenets of what it means to be Kiwi. 

Q: Brands that are aligned with the codes – or brands that deliberately subvert them – are more likely to see commercial success in New Zealand. What’s the best strategy for a brand or organisation looking to more closely incorporate the codes? 

A: Think about your brand strategy also in terms of what the codes tell us. Be true to who you are. Build up, leverage and amplify the codes that are already central to your DNA as a brand or organisation. Decide what codes are the most important to you and get those right. Also, make sure you’re at least doing ‘okay’ on the other codes. You can choose to select codes to focus on more than others, but you don't want to ignore any of them.

Q: Have we validated our codes psychometrically? 

A: We have a large sample size. While typically a nationally-representative sample would be 1,000 people, we have a data set of 12,000 people. This means that when we isolate a particular subset, we still have a large enough number of people in that subset to draw confident conclusions. We do break this data down by demographics – age, sex, ethnicity, location, etc. – but we also look at the data through the four dimensions of our MindSets

More than traditional demographics, our MindSets show more variation on the codes – although this variation is still small. Ultimately, the six codes do endure across the wide berth of New Zealand’s population. The biggest thing that’s emerged from this data set is that these codes are universal and enduring. We’ve been through some big stuff in the past few years, but these codes have remained – they're rock solid. What we’re seeing is they’re evolving and maturing. 

Q: Is there a negative side to any of these codes that we need to be aware of? 

A: There is a negative shadow side to all of the codes, in different ways.  

One example is the Social Equivalence code. Talking to people both quantitatively and qualitatively, we are consistently given examples of fairness not playing out, or of people not turning up for others in the right way. We get just as many examples of where fairness isn’t working as when it does.  

We’re quite self-critical as a nation, and not very self-congratulatory. Earned Success also has a shadow side – when we perceive success as unearned, we are very quick to take that down. One example are reality TV stars: people often perceive them to have unearned success, and as such are more likely to laugh at them, rather than admire or want to be like them.

Colleen Ryan
Partner at TRA
Colleen has a curious and strategic mindset fueled by 40 years of experience in business across Europe, North America and APAC countries. With a fascination and deep understanding of what it is to be human, specifically applying principles from cultural sociology, social psychology, behavioural science, and cultural analysis, she brings breakthrough insights to brand strategy, creative development and customer centricity.

Understand the forces of culture and shape radical ideas

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