Calories and community, weight and wellness - the digital reinvention of WeightWatchers

Profile picture for user slauchlan By Stuart Lauchlan November 4, 2018
Summary:
WeightWatchers has shed a lot of letters to become the slimmed-down WW, for better or worse. Digital spend is intended to add weight to the transformation.

WW logo on mag
All change

One of the black arts of the business world that I’ve never gotten to grips with is the corporate rebrand, that process whereby thousands of hours and millions of dollars/pounds/euros are handed over to expensive design agencies to take an established logo and ‘funk it up’. (Yes, I did say funk, although alternative spellings are normally available…).

Step forward WeightWatchers, the latest culprit here. As part of its wider digital and business model transformation, the firm has ditched its world-famous branding and slimmed down WeightWatchers to WW.

At this point, it’s compulsory to point to the BBC comedy W1A about how the BBC itself works - or doesn’t - and the exercise by the Perfect Curve agency to rebrand the broadcaster as an app:

Apps play a large part in this latest iteration of the reinvention of WeightWatchers. Just that very ‘double-u, double-u’ is clearly intended to appeal to a different demographic than the one that has been most associated with WeightWatchers. Objective - get the app-happy millennials talking about going to WW as a destination. (That’s fine in theory until someone points out it sounds a bit like going to AA and then you’re in line for dirty looks from the marketing department…).

Wellness

Shedding the weight of flippancy, there is method here. The intent is to tap into the rise of interest in wellness, not just to be associated with losing weight. Hence WW is both weight and wellness. Again, this is fine in theory, but when your corporate magazine has to remind readers that this is coming from WeightWatchers (see image above), there’s clearly a way to go on messaging.

But it’s early days. As CEO Mindy Grossman notes, the new branding, complete with updated digital program, only started to roll out on 24 September. She’s also adamant that the WW transition has been tested out among the subscriber base and been received well:

We are not only going to be the world's partner in weight loss, we're also going to be the world's partner in wellness, helping people, all people lead healthier lives. No matter what your goal is to lose weight, eat healthier, move more, develop a positive mindset or all of the above, we will deliver science-based solutions that fit into people's lives.

The WW mark has been associated with the Weight Watchers brand for years and before launch, we tested the combination of the WW mark and the tagline with consumers across four countries. We talked to both current and former members and many other individuals who are not part of the WW family. We heard words like ‘clean’, ‘bold’, ‘clear’, ‘positive’ and ‘powerful’.

Well, yes, perhaps,  but we’re teetering perilously close back to Perfect Curve territory here:

Better then to pick back up on the wellness angle. This is undoubtedly a savvy move if the company can pull it off. There’s a global awareness of the importance of wellness that represents a potentially enormous commercial opportunity.

The starting point will be to build on the existing 4.2 million subscribers to WW and a track record of results on the weight loss origins of the business, says Grossman:

People have always associated our brands as real results and that remains a valuable part of our brand and legacy. If you ask anyone why they joined, stayed with or returned, why WW, their immediate response is, it works. It is the statement that says we can help people achieve sustainable results, regardless of their wellness goals.

Wellness that works is for everyone…We are leading the future and reflecting what people want in a wellness partner today, holistic partner that inspires them, motivates them and enables them to achieve anything and everything that healthy means to them. They are looking for a wellness partner with a mission and a purpose.

The theory is that they’re also looking for the tech to support that and as part of the WW rebrand, the mobile app has been upgraded. Grossman points digital growth as one of WW’s greatest assets, noting that there are now two types of subscriber - Digital + Studio and Digital-only, the latter making up an impressive two-thirds of the overall total.

Digital+studio is an extension of the traditional WeightWatchers meetings. The offline element is slowing in importance, but certainly hasn’t gone away, says Grossman:

Digital + Studio is a strongly profitable business and one that's a key differentiator in providing the in-person community, an inspiration that many of our members are looking for in their wellness journeys. We have and will continue to make improvements to the WW Studio experience building upon the attributes that have made it the gold standard in weight loss and management for more than 50 years, but by modernizing and adapting it to the needs of tomorrow.

She adds that the digital element is complementary here, not cannibalistic:

What we're not seeing is Digital + Studio members all of a sudden [deciding] ‘I only want to be a Digital member’. I mean, those people who really want face-to-face interaction, that's really what they're looking for. So that's not the trade-off that we are seeing.

Digital additions

But it’s clear that digital is the journey of choice to an increasing number, so WW is doubling down on various initiatives. Grossman explains that there’s a goal to “innovate as a technology-experience company”. To that end, she says:

Last month in the US, we launched our first loyalty and rewards program. Unlike other loyalty programs, ours is not about dollars spent. WellnessWins is an innovative program that rewards members with WW-curated products and experiences for everyday behaviors that are proven to lead to healthier habits. Members earn wins for tracking meals, activity, weight as well as for attending WW Wellness Workshops. Wins can be redeemed for a range of products, services and experiences designed to inspire members on their wellness journeys.

As with the wider rebrand, it’s early days on this, but Grossman says that the three weeks following the launch of WellnessWins saw tracking overall up about 20% on the three week period prior to that. The plan at present is to roll the scheme out internationally next year.

Meanwhile next month sees the global roll out of FitPoints 2.0, WW’s Weight Watchers' rating system for physical activity. Basically, the more you move, the more FitPoints you earn, the more you get to eat. The main selling point of 2.0 is greater levels of personalization, says Grossman:

The new FitPoints will be personalized to each individual within the WW app based on their height, weight, age, and sex, so members know exactly what each activity is worth to them. Just as all calories are not created equal, the same is true for activities - 100 calories burned walking is not the same as 100 calories burned lifting weights or running. The new algorithm encourages members to include some high intensity and strength training in their activity plans, but still provides the ability to earn FitPoints for all types of activities.

Personalization is also key to taking the WW offline community spirit online and that’s going to involve the launch of a Connect Groups feature, says Grossman:

Groups will deepen WW's Connect community in the app by helping people to find other members like them with more than 50 groups such as WW bros, brides-to-be, moms and college students. Community is one of the most powerful parts of the WW experience, an important element of wellness.

Watch out as well for more partnering with to expand digital functionality, such as the recent tie-up with Aaptiv, a provider of digital health and wellness content. Aaptiv is developing a selection of exclusive audio-based fitness classes for WW members and later this month this content will be integrated into the WW app for US members, followed by a staggered rollout to international markets in December and early 2019.

This is a big deal, argues Grossman, and the first time that Aaptiv content will be integrated into a third party wellness program. WW has also expanded on a pilot with mindfulness and meditation specialist Headspace to embed its content in the WW app.

Overall, the new logo is only part, albeit the most visible part, of an omni-channel game plan for WW. Grossman summarises:

We're developing an ecosystem, one that encompasses nutrition, activity, mindset, motivation and community. So with inspiration in community from Connect, gamification from WellnessWins, meditation from Headspace, and fitness content from Aaptiv, all on top of our leading program for nutrition, we're starting to truly build out a digital platform that has the opportunity and permission to be more fully integrated into our members' lives.

My take

Leaving aside the branding stuff - and I have some very serious reservations there - the basic strategic intent here is sound. I’ve never been the WeightWatcher’s target weight loss demographic; I might however become part of the new wellness potential demographic. Once everyone stops talking about the logo - and it’s provoked quite a lot of debate in Perfect Curve world as seen here - the test in 2019 will be how the balance breaks down between aspirational slimmers and those seeking wellness and mindfulness. Ideally there will be enormous crossover there. The weight of expectation is now on WW to deliver.