It’s great to see Sport England’s ThisGirlCan campaign back again. Through various consulting and photography projects I’ve been lucky enough to meet a number of women who feel a strong emotional connection with the core message. More than once I’ve been told “no you don’t understand, THAT IS ME!”

Behaviour change is now a common buzzword, but it’s not just the new name for old marketing.  ThisGirlCan has been a success because it stuck to some clear principles that other sports organisations can replicate, regardless of their budget.

  1. Deeply understand your audience
  2. Think outside-in
  3. Consider the whole journey
  4. Stick to the plan
  5. Show the real experience

1) Deeply understand your audience

Every successful behaviour change programme starts by taking the time to deeply understand the target audience. This is much more than just doing some research or analysing some data. It’s about understanding what makes people tick – how they currently behave, why they make the decisions they do and what would need to be different for them to sustain a behaviour change. The heartbeat of the ThisGirlCan campaign was discovering that 75% of women would like to exercise more but do not because of fear of judgement. Sport England then understood the who and the why, making the ‘what we need to do’ easier to work out.

To achieve this depth of insight, watch out for hidden assumptions. Those “insights” about a target audience, that are really just someone’s opinion or dated experiences. Talk directly to the target audience, then listen to what they have to tell you.

2) Think outside-in

A customer-led approach to growth is about more than just the insight. Once you understand your target audience, you need to look at every aspect of your delivery from their perspective. Tanya Joseph said in an interview last year “We need to focus more on what the consumer wants rather than saying, ‘this is what we do’. To have a bit of courage, to work with different partners, and work differently, has been a big change and in government they have welcomed that approach.”

3) Consider the whole journey

Building on the principle of designing ‘outside-in’, you need to also look at the entire customer journey from their perspective. For example, do the sign-up process or the first impressions when they arrive match with the expectations created by the advertising? Where would potential participants actually look for more information, and what would they find?

Map out each step that a new participant would go through, from seeing an ad to having adopted a new habit. Then decide what experience you want them to have, and how you can make it happen. A great way to do this is to map out the journey with people from your target audience. Start at the beginning then key asking “and then what would you do..?”

4) Stick to the plan

Success comes from everyone staying on the same page. They remain very clear about who the target audience is, the outcomes you want to achieve and what needs to be consistently done to achieve them. Just like on the sports field, consistency, focus and real-time feedback are what separate high performing organisations from everyone else. I find a great way to keep everyone on the same page, is to summarise the plan so it literally fits on one page! If the plan is easy to carry around, see and understand then it’s much easier to stick to.

Of course it’s easy to get distracted by new priorities or the needs of different stakeholders. However Sport England have taken a leaf from the playbook of successful brands like apple. They have stuck to the core idea that the campaign is focused on women and girls who choose not to participate because of a fear of judgement. Of course it touches and influences a wider group of people, but only because staying focused helps cut through all the other noise.

5) Show the real experience

We live in a visual world, with the creation and consumption of photos and videos increasing daily. To ensure your marketing cuts through and engages your target audience, it needs to show that it’s aimed at people like them. But too many sports marketing campaigns are still using:
– stock photos of lycra clad smiley models in beautifully lit studios
– local newspaper-style images where people are posing not doing
– images shot on a phone (or worse clipart) that don’t capture the emotion

ThisGirlCan has significantly raised the bar, by using imagery that shows people like me are already doing this. Real people doing real activities, looking normal and loving it. Yes this imagery is harder to get than snapping away with a phone or downloading free stock images. But the impact it makes is enormous.