OPINION: Tanya Joseph on behavioural change

09 Feb 2017

By: Sport Industry Group

Tanya Joseph, architect of Sport England’s BT Sport Industry Award-winning This Girl Can campaign, on using audience insight and behavioural science to create a campaign that inspired millions of women to change their behaviour and become more active.

Behaviour change is at the heart of all great marketing campaigns.

Whether we want people to buy a particular brand of toothpaste, reduce their sugar intake, or be more active, we as marketers are ultimately seeking to change behaviour.

While I have no doubt that most campaigns start out with this as the primary intention, it is too often diluted in favour of softer options. While outputs such as views, likes and shares are all part of the picture, in isolation they rarely amount to anything more substantial than vanity metrics in campaign reports.

To really change behaviour, there are no short cuts. It isn’t enough just to show people what your new super-whitening toothpaste looks like or tell them about the dangers of consuming too much sugar. You need to get under the skin of your target audience to understand what motivates them, and what is preventing them from doing what you’d like them to do. Is it cost, convenience, opportunity, awareness or desire? Whether practical or emotional, barriers to behaviour change can be overcome if we understand and address them effectively. 

This is the approach we took with This Girl Can, the Sport England campaign to get women and girls more active. 

With around two million fewer women than men playing sport every week, it was essential this gender gap was addressed. It was clear we needed to look at the problem from a different perspective. It was clear that we needed to find out what was putting women off doing sport.

And it turned out we had lots of research and data to work with. Sport England had at its disposal years of research collected from various organisations and projects which had targeted women and had looked at motivation. It was a fantastic resource and we quickly found that woman had been telling us for years what we stopping them. “I don’t like wearing lycra”, “I hate my body”, “I am not fit enough to get fit”, “I don’t know the rules”, “I have to look after the kids”, “I don’t have time". We realised these were not “excuses” - which is how the sector had traditionally seen them - but legitimate concerns.

The challenge was to step back, look at all of these factors and identify a common theme. Was there a single thread which held this huge variety of barriers together? After lots of head scratching and sitting in darkened rooms, it struck us. All these women were expressing a fear of judgement: a fear that they were going to be judged for not looking “right”, not doing it “right” or having the “right” priorities. Judged by others, judged by themselves.

It was a defining moment; from this moment of clarity we were able to develop the whole campaign strategy: to liberate women from the fear of judgement. 

To address this fear, we used behaviour change techniques and insight to craft the right language and tone of voice, the right messages and the right messengers, on the right channels.

This meant featuring everyday women, in all their everyday glory, with no digital enhancement or retouching, who were finding their own ways to overcome their own fear of judgement. 

Whether it was Kelly who was getting fit at home with her kids because she didn’t have the time or the money to go to the gym; or Sam who was running in spite of her jiggly bits. These were women our audience could identify with. They were women just like them.  

The campaign kicked off in January 2015 and in the first phase a combination of impactful above the line advertising, plus engaging and constant social media activity inspired over 2.8 million women to put on their trainers, including 1.6 million who were doing so for the first time since they left school. 

A pretty impressive start, but with behaviour change, it is a long haul. It’s not just about inspiring a single run or game of tennis, it’s about constant, consistent communication that results in people being active as part of their on-going behaviour.

The campaign (the second phase has just kicked off) will need to continue to ensure that it supports women through all stages of the behaviour change cycle: from thinking about it, through preparing for it, to doing it and, for many, the inevitable dropping out phase.

It is a tough challenge but, in the context of getting our nation to become more active, one that is well worth pursuing. 

Tanya Joseph is a member of The Playbook’s Change Network, a strategic consultant on behaviour change and the architect of Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign