Outdoor companies ought to draw more consumers by making it clear in their marketing and participation investments that outdoor activities are inclusive and accessible, it was suggested at the European Outdoor Summit held in October in Treviso.

Tom Goderis, managing partner and director at In Sites Consulting, and Sarah Grant, research consultant at the same company, said that the market could be expanded massively if “outdoor novices” could be converted into more regular participants. They are people who occasionally practice not particularly intense outdoor activities, such as going for a walk in the forest, but have yet to acquire a routine that would turn them into outdoor participants. Outdoor brands were advised to make sure that they are part of the “consideration set” of outdoor novices, as the more general sports brands are closing in rapidly.

In Sites has teamed up with the European Outdoor Group (EOG) to study the perception of outdoor participation and outdoor brands in this group. Their research involved a three-week research project with 103 infrequent outdoor consumers in Germany, France and the U.K., forming the “Outside In” community.

The research showed a striking disconnect between the communication of the outdoor brands and the consumer's perception of outdoor activities. The words associated with outdoor activities were often positive, led by freedom, re-connection, escapism, health benefits and quality time. But many apparently perceived outdoor activities as being out of reach for them, and they could not find ways to get started.

The perceived obstacles to getting active outdoors included the fear of being judged, the supposed hard work to get organized for the activity and the complicated logistics, such as finding second-hand gear and packing for the family. As the researchers pointed out, even a micro-adventure would appear complicated in the eyes of an outdoor novice, in the case that it involves an overnight stay. Other specific issues related to locations, from the difficulty of finding them to the tricky access and frustration about over-crowding.

When asked about the images that came to mind with outdoor activities, consumers picked pictures of demanding outdoor activities, requiring equipment and potentially travel. They often came to the conclusion that the activity is “Not for me.” They felt more comfortable with images that did not involve any cliffs or faraway snow areas, and all the more so with people practicing approachable outdoor activities such as cycling or walking in the park.

So the consultants advised that outdoor brands seeking to raise participation among outdoor novices should think from their perspective – making sure that the target did not get intimidated by supposed requirements in terms of skills or spending. They should focus more on beginner and budget-friendly activities and encourage consumers to use technology, for reassurance, and then try to gradually raise tolerance levels.

When it comes to advertising, the research advocates the use of imagery with accessible outdoor activities, and where people are having a good time. The activities that were regarded as “for me” by outdoor novices included cycling on flat paths and beginner activities with other people, up to zip-lining and horse riding for the more adventurous novices.

Among the examples of marketing activities that worked for outdoor novices, Goderis and Grant pointed to stories that engage a wide range of consumers. A Norwegian magazine generated a strong response with an article that encouraged singles to wear green hats when going outdoors if they were interested in a date.

Another suggestion was to support passionate people involved in outdoor activities, as they will be efficient in reaching out to new potential participants. A community app used by a young woman who wanted to go kayaking in a group in Sweden has turned into a kayaking club with 600 members – the third-largest in Stockholm.

Other examples focused on the idea of creating reasons for people to be outdoors other than the hike itself. A sculpture made of recycled wood outside of Copenhagen or other objects embedded in nature have helped to bring urban residents outdoors. The same goes for activities such as skating in Sweden, which has turned into a natural means of integration for people from all backgrounds in Sweden.

Some of this advice has already been used in “This Girl Can,” a campaign supported by Sport England to get more women active, was described most vividly by Kate Bosomworth, board member of Sport England and a former managing director of Speed Communications, who became an independent consultant at the start of this year. The clip launched in January 2015 had more than 37 million views and it was estimated to have encouraged about two million women to get active. About 750,000 people have joined the online community and #thisgirlcan is now used beyond the sports community. It was licensed in Australia, India and Denmark.

Bosomworth explained that the group behind the campaign started by evaluating the main obstacles for women to practice sports. Apart from the generic reasons applying to both genders, they found that women were more likely to remain inactive due to a fear of being judged. The campaign therefore focused on activities that would be perceived as being “for me” and showed women as they are when exercising – sweat, puffy red faces, jangling fat rolls and cellulite on display. Self-consciousness over these active women's bodies was banished with catchphrases such as “I jiggle, therefore I am.”

Bosomworth said the entire campaign came at a cost of about €10 million, including all costs for the creative development, the media placement and the social media activity. This caused some grumbling in the audience, but Bosomworth said that the “cost of acquisition” was relatively low. She advised that media campaigns should be flexible and reactive, in order to continue engaging consumers.

Beyond the clip, toolkits produced around This Girl Can have been downloaded by more than 8,000 organizations to promote activity among women. The Outdoor Industries Association (OIA) shot This Girl Can Climb, a clip involving women in a climbing wall, and the British outdoor group is preparing a similar campaign around walking.

Bosomworth went on to team with Uefa, the European football organization, with the objective to turn football into the leading team sport for women in Europe by 2020. The related campaign, “We Play Strong,” focuses on the extra confidence often gained by girls and women who play football. Again, toolkits have been produced to make sure the 56 national federations in Uefa can take advantage of the investment and the message.