Understanding what motivates people to get fit and engage with sports products is a constant challenge for brands. For some, walking a mile each day will be an accomplishment, while for others, completing a half-marathon every year will be their motivation. Understanding these target audiences and what triggers their purchasing behavior is crucial for a brand’s sales.

At HRG, we understand the unique role that customer insight can play in encouraging any retail purchase. Last year, we worked with fitness and sports brands such as TaylorMade, TomTom, Adidas Golf, Mitre and Speedo and through extensive research we gained a deep understanding how societal shifts were impacting the fitness industry. A good example of this movement is Sport England’s ‘This Girl Can’ campaign. Aiming to start a fitness revolution among everyday women, ‘This Girl Can’ showed everyday people in real situations, attaining a level of happiness not influenced by societal stereotypes of body image, but by achieving their own personal goals.



Exploring further, statistics revealed that an astounding 75% of women wanted to get moving more often but worried about other people’s perceptions. ‘This Girl Can’ celebrated women overcoming these fitness fears whilst inspiring others to combat their own.

What Sport England and our own research deduced was that there are a lot of people who clearly want to engage more often in exercise, but that they are awaiting some kind of enabler – a movement, an endorsement or some other kind of cultural shift that would make the benefits of exercise more widely known and shared.

To this extent, we noticed how retailers such as John Lewis utilised a variety of techniques to engage consumers who might not ordinarily visit a dedicated sportswear store. Taking into account customer’s barriers to swimming, such as body anxiety and the uneasiness of being cold and wet, we discovered how the benefits of swimming were being promoted, such as the amount of calories burned and the feeling of wellbeing swimming gives. This was achieved through articles placed in its magazine, as well as front of store displays, which featured mannequins of various body types to engage as many different potential swimmers as possible. Placing these also in positions of ‘movement’ found in the sport, such as for example, the front crawl, is a retail trend often used to remind consumers of feelings of ‘activeness’.

HRG help brands to really connect with consumers when they are considering a purchase. So, though it’s tempting to expect that national hype around tournaments such as Wimbledon and Euro 2016 will raise awareness of a sport, brands cannot simply rely on this to sell their products.

Instead, brands need to take a bold approach in connecting with the shopper using relevant messaging, be it in a digital sense (web banners, apps and in-store touch-screens)or in a more traditional advertising sense (point of sale, magazine ads and billboards). Bottling up that ‘feel good factor’ isn’t easy and it’s important to communicate a sense of achievement whatever the level of the consumer’s fitness.

So how can aspirational messages from brands still be attainable to their audience? Can being too bold with your message get in the way? The trick is to connect with what engages their consumer and motivates them, but keep it authentic. One solution brands could employ is to sign up celebrity brand ambassadors who their audience can identify with. Nike for example sponsors pop megastar Ellie Goulding, and while her achievements in music may seem out of this world, her down-to-earth manner and commitment to exercise allow her to be a mirror image of consumers ‘like you and me’.

Being able to relate to a brand is crucial, and the attitudes of consumers change regularly. For example, since 2013 we have seen evidence of a lifestyle trend dubbed ‘The Optimised Self’, which is all about the importance of feeling good, vibrant and energised. In today’s landscape, the importance of eating healthily and how this affects our wellbeing, is much more important than striving for an impossible or dangerously thin physique. ‘Being your best self’ is emphasised over impracticality.

Younger generations embody this trend perfectly. Generation Z for example, are unwilling to indulge in as much drink and smoking as their older peers. Only 38% of teens have tried alcohol, the lowest proportion since 1982. The drive is to be happy in your own skin, which is starting to move away from the perfect ‘selfie’ brigade. People have realised that perfection is impossible and makes people miserable. It’s all about feeling good from the inside out and the strength this brings.

While ‘sporting fever’ can be an enabler in convincing consumers to part with their well-earned cash this summer, brands must still appeal to them in a considerate manner. Changing perceptions of sport, fitness and wellbeing have evolved the consumer market to a state in which brands must be really bold with their messaging and focused with their targeting if they are to achieve retail success.

To conclude, brands must take the time to examine societal attitudes of their desired consumer in depth first, before they attempt to connect with them at the various touch-points in their shopper journey.

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