How IS The Serenity?

Reserved for comic effect or a shared reflection, it’s a statement woven into Australian culture. In a natural setting, its jocular tone acknowledges a genuine perception of a positive moment. It’s a smiling sigh as you reflect on an experience with nature and the effort that’s lead to this moment.

We all know when to say it, and the value of the moment it defines but can technology understand the concept and ultimately foster that moment for us?

David McGowan, Managing Director of Nomad, explores how we can use personal data and digital activity to enhance experiences and our connection with nature.

We’re ridiculously immersed in technology and sometimes we just want to switch off and get back to nature. The desire to connect with nature increases with every email opened, notification ignored and low battery alert. So, tech is bad, trees are good — right? Well, maybe not. Ironically, technology is increasingly being used to discover, inform and empower our experiences with nature.

For example, when your friend’s annoying “Blue Mountain weekend pics” Facebook post motivates you to embark on your own weekend adventure, you will Google accommodation options from your PC in your lunch break, message your mates National Parks links on the train home, order a sweet new pair of boots from your couch iPad and then check weather and map details on the car journey there. Nearing the mountains, you start immersing yourself in the landscape with some Googling…

“Google says it’s the eucalyptus haze that makes the mountains blue”. Serenity, here we come.

What is the Serenity?

The classic Australian film The Castle sees Darryl Kerrigan and family watching the sun set over the lake. He comments, “How’s the serenity?”

A rhetorical question, this implicitly announces, “we are sharing an earned, peaceful moment reflecting on the present embrace of the natural world around us”. “The Serenity” is a nature experience that is personal and shared, positive and reflective.

Exploring this nature experience heuristically, it is comprised of five key elements:

1. Setting — The location is predominantly natural, and the time, season and weather are favourable

2. Earned — There’s a sense of satisfaction, founded in planning, intent and realisation

3. Social context — The moment is shared, either in present company or digitally

4. Activity — There is an engagement with nature taking place, whether it be active, passive or transitional

5. Reflection — There is an internal and external mindfulness at play, considering your place in the spatial setting as well as a present and post reflection of the experience

Understanding the five simplified elements above, it is possible to immediately identify opportunities where people’s technology use intersects with each of these. From here, we can describe a strategic approach that can help to optimise an experience with nature.

The Role of Technology in an Ideal Nature Experience

An individual’s requirements for an experience with nature are uniquely personal and contextual, so the first area to consider is context. Interestingly, this is where our present immersion in technology works for us. The digital tapestry of who we are is weaved with every thumb tap, mouse click, steps tracked or swipe right. It’s a foundation of contextual understanding to work from. Location, weather, past experiences, fitness tracking, social company and more provide context to a persons experience.

For example, if you are a regular bushwalker on a specific track, that context allows us to present information beyond a novice bushwalker, such as flora and fauna on your route, and comparison statistics on others who have undertaken the same walk. For a novice, information might be presented to motivate safety and walking route awareness.

Filling in the Gaps

Of course, we can never know everything and for a great experience, people will always need to provide some detail to fill in the gaps. What type of experience is right for them? Time, location, setting and the like will always require some user input.

The challenge is gleaning this information without making it a chore for the user, instead making it a seamless, enjoyable part of the experience.

When running focus groups for clients, we’re fascinated by the clarity in answers to questions like “Describe your ideal how’s the serenity moment?” For something so elusive in our daily lives, it’s surprising to find that most people have a clear vision of what it looks like to them. They can describe the location, time of day, weather, social context, food and drink and even sensory detail. When answering, people generally smile and speak passionately, adding greater detail as they go and immersing themselves in the mental vision they’re describing.

We can tailor technology to fill in the gaps by providing people a mini time travel into a potential future. This gives us the greatest potential success of uncovering the volume of detail we need.

Empowering the Experience in Real-Time

When we have a strong foundation of knowledge about the user, we can then successfully guide them through concierge-style interactions, centered in a contextual understanding of their present engagement with nature. Put simply, we can use what we know to guide and enhance their experience.

A concierge in a hotel lobby is the guy that hands you an umbrella on your way out, “Looks like rain”. He’s only engaging someone when he knows that they need it. The opportunity for technology is to use contextual data to then present timely and frugal content which minimises distractions in the natural world while maximising information value.

For an outdoor experience, your mobile device knows your location, time of day, physical activity and through an app it can understand previous experiences and the goal of your current experience.

With wearable devices like the Apple Watch, we’re able to refine the interactions to maintain a concierge style, subtle interaction with the user, like light taps alerting you that you’re near a place of significance, or about to go off track.

Serenity Delivered

So, as the intermediate bush walker, your app knows your preferences — you want to maintain pace to stay active, but are interested in flora and fauna, and need to be back by sunset.

The app taps on your wrist with the Apple watch to alert you of an interesting location on route and current progress, “150 metres to Black Cockatoo habitat. 4.8 kilometers to end of trail”. You can pull out your iPhone and see more information or stay in the moment and crack on. Historical information, cultural and geological sites take a back seat and you’re not alerted.

Understanding your context, the app is managing an internal digital check list of the five Serenity moment elements — you’ve checked in with a friend, engaged with info at a fauna site along the way, the weather is great, your physical activity level has been high and you’re approaching a remote setting that has a high community photo count.

The app knows to give you head space and pause all alerts and communication for the 20 minute lead up to the potential Serenity moment. If you look at your iPhone screen now, it shows only a simple guiding message for mindfulness, “How’s the serenity?”

The Brand Opportunity

Brands with offerings associated with natural settings have an opportunity to empower people’s connection with nature using their digital footprint, while increasing loyalty and their understanding of customers along the way.

While intangible and certainly detached from ROI, the value of the nature experience is enormous. In holiday and tourism commercials, experiences shown are usually centered in natural settings with slow-motion “How’s the serenity” moments. This resonates with our primal longing for a healthy connection with nature. That feeling is a primer for action, to take the next step toward research, planning and ultimately committing.

However, seeing that promise of the experience through is usually an after thought for the too hard basket or the sole responsibility of the customer.

It’s a lost opportunity and helping people to craft that experience should be a key goal for brands.

As the custodian or concierge of that setting, a brand should feel an obligation to do everything they can to prepare and facilitate the “Serenity” with their audience. Getting it right has the obvious value of earned loyalty and a brand ambassador for life, while failing means a “Meh” moment delivered. Experiences are brands’ currency, and audience transformation the end-goal.