According to Jabulani Sigege, Executive Creative Director of Hero, old habits die hard. It is difficult to change a behaviour that someone has had for many years. In order to get people to do what they have never done before, you have to dig deeper and go beyond surface-level insights to develop communication strategies and work that will drive them to behave differently.

A perfect example of this kind of behaviour change is the City of Cape Town’s #ThinkWater drive. A crisis could only be averted through significant change in residents’ water consumption.

Tips on developing a sustainable campaign that will change behaviour:

Know your target audience

It is important to understand your audience inside and out, from a demographic aspect (age, gender, location) but more importantly in terms of psychographics (mindset and interests). You need to know who you’re talking to in order to know how to convince them to change.

With the #ThinkWater campaign, the data showed that the majority of water consumption was by residents living in the leafy suburbs with pools and gardens, and to a lesser degree those living in complexes and flats. Any home with water-thirsty appliances like dishwashers and washing machines would be the target of this communication drive. So this defined the campaign’s key audience.

Craft a correct message

Most people cannot be persuaded to change their behaviour. Rather, they need to be motivated to change. The key to motivating people is knowing what matters to them enough to affect them. The next step then is to discover ways to make the desired behaviour appear fun, easy, and popular – more importantly, make it feel like it is a decision that they made themselves.

For this campaign, water usage was quantified as part of the messaging because simply asking residents to save water was no longer enough. Residents needed to be educated about how much water a toilet flush or a two-minute shower consumed. More importantly, residents needed to feel like they could actually make a big difference through even the smallest actions.

An online water calculator was created that allowed residents to check their daily usage. And when they got to their daily total, they were encouraged to share their number on social media. Similarly, an online Hydrometer was designed that showed the dam levels and the daily consumption figures to keep residents updated and informed on the progress.

Choose your outreach strategy

Social media is perhaps the most flexible and affordable outreach tactic, suitable for covering a cross-section of your target audiences. It provides both organic and paid opportunities for marketers to engage their target audience with a specific message, or maintain continuous dialogue.

The strategy for this campaign was to use people to influence people. It speaks to the credibility of the message, and it speaks to the efficiency of the outreach process. It was a partnership with residents that made the campaign a success, along with relevant and resonant communication.

The campaign saw the rise of ‘Water Warriors’ and saving water became a ‘Cape Town thing’. Water-conscious groups popped up all over the city to take on the cause and motivate each other. People wanted to take up the mantle of being the voice of the campaign and echo its message within their social circles.

Continuous evaluation

One significant advantage of digital advertising is its built-in measurability. It’s also easier to change out digital campaign communication than it is with other outreach tactics.

Constant evaluation through social listening is important because it allows you to adjust the messaging to address certain issues that create misperceptions or wrong behaviours. Listening allows you to react and respond in the best manner. After all, who is going to listen to someone who isn’t listening to them?

An example of this was the misconception that the City was wasting water due to the leaks that were not being repaired. In fact, the data proved that the City’s leak rate is 16% versus the South African average leak rate of 34%.

Another illustration of this was the misperception that informal settlements were a major contributor to water consumption through car washes and leaking taps. The data showed that only 4% of water is used in informal settlements. Videos and social posts were created around these misperceptions and the noise around these soon diminished.

Bringing it all together

Behaviour change is never easy, but with the right tools and a defined strategy, it is possible. Remember, a successful behaviour change marketing strategy always starts with properly identifying your target audience and what drives them, followed by putting out the right message, engaging with them, and then evaluating to see what is or isn’t working in order to fine-tune as you go along.

Over three years and with carefully targeted and considered communication, water consumption decreased from 1,2 billion litres a day to 500 million litres per day. This is an incredible feat that saved the city from a potential disaster. As a gauge, when Melbourne was going through a severe drought, it took them 12 years to save the same amount of water that Cape Town did in three years. Cape Town’s example of behaviour change showed other major cities in similar situations how things could be done differently in order to be effective.