WW looks to digital transformation to add weight to its new operating model

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan May 3, 2019
WW is the new brand, but the customers didn't make the connection with WeightWatchers. Doh!

WW logo on mag

Last November, the company formerly known as WeightWatchers decided that despite having one of the most recognizable brands in the world - and one that ‘does what it says on the tin’ - it was time to make a radical change. Basically the feeling seemed to be that the company had the wrong ‘tin’ for the current age with the focus deemed to be more on pursuit of wellness, less on weight loss.

So WeightWatchers became WW. I said at the time: 

Once everyone stops talking about the logo…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.

Guess what? It didn’t. People who knew WeightWatchers seem to have failed to make the connection between that and WW. Or as CEO Mindy Grossman admits: 

The launch of our new global brand rollout and campaign needed a more overt bridge between WW and Weight Watchers and between weight loss and wellness.

That last point is the critical one. This wasn’t just a logo rebrand; it was an attempt to reposition the raison d’être for the organization. And when you have millions of existing customers who came to you for a specific purpose, that was always going to be difficult trick to pull off. 

So rather than shedding pounds, the story is about shedding subscribers - and how to get them back. This is where WW will look to WeightWatchers previously excellent digital track record. Digital subscriptions is currently one of the few positives, up 11% year-on-year at the moment. 

Grossman is going to be looking to the firm’s tech assets to rebuild, starting with the app: 

The WW app is a powerful enabler of healthy habits for real life. It has never been easier to follow WW. Our members value our incredible digital assets and everything it delivers, including Freestyle and SmartPoints, recipes proprietary -- restaurant guys, FitPoints, Active, Headspace, WellnessWins connect and 24/7 chat with the coach. Beyond our current and former members, there is a great opportunity to galvanize awareness of our app all its features and the tremendous evolution of our ecosystem, particularly over the past year. 

The CEO is effusive in her praise for the app:

Our app experience is unique in the immense value it delivers for all our members. This is a reason that WW app is recently recognized by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences with a Webby award, the Internet industry's highest honor. In addition to be selected by Internet industry experts, our app also won Webby People’s Voice award to the Apps, Mobile, and Voice: Best Practices category. For the WW app to be honored among some the Internet's best technology experiences. It’s an amazing achievement and speaks to the value it's delivering to our members. 

She points to increasing member engagement with the app, citing the Connect social media feature as a case in point. This is now being used by two-thirds of members, up from 50% last year. So far this year, Connect has seen 2.5 million posts, 16 million comments and picked up 76 million likes.


WW continues to use social outreach applied to its ‘ambassadors’. The most high profile remains Oprah Winfrey of course, but Goldman points to other successes: 

For example, last month Kate Hudson shared her weight loss update to more than 10 million Instagram followers, how she's close to reaching her goal weight and how WW's easy and liveable program app and community has helped along the way. This is post drove over 300,000 social media engagements and editorial commentary, aspiring conversation and resulting in mass and well as broadcast and online news coverage garnering over 17 million earned impressions.

Celebrity promotion is all good and well, but WeightWatchers was about ordinary members - your neighbour, your aunt, your friend from work. For WW, the sense of community hasn’t gone away, insists Goldman, bigging up the importance of personalization driven by data analytics and digital channels: 

We are utilizing data science technology to make the experience more customized and personalized including in our 24/7 chat with the coach. Coaching and personalized support is a key priority area for us in 2019 and beyond, in terms of how we can better tailor the WW member experience in content. Our goal is to have every member feel that it is their WW. With a strong foundation, upon which to build across each of these areas, we work to attract both returning and new members to WW.

She adds: 

It's our intent to personalize all that we do. Importantly, this encompasses every touch point in a member's journey. Some are high-tech, such as the recently launched Siri shortcut voice integration,  and others are low-tech… but all are immensely important to the member experience.

There’s an element of gamification creeping in as well: 

Celebrating successes has always been a substantial part of the WW culture. To encourage our members along their journeys, we have in-app digital badges to celebrate their success and engagement in addition to these virtual batches, in our workshops, members receive milestone charms as they hit weight loss milestones and this concrete recognition is deeply inspiring and motivating for many members along their journeys. So, we want to recognize the price and delight our digital members as well, so we are currently in the process of rolling out delivery of charms digital members and these milestone recognitions become significant moments on social media.

By recognizing our member successes to tangible and digital milestones, wins for tracking or coming later this year WellnessWins challenges, we're adding more value to the member experience. From our testing, we know that rewards and recognition drive increase engagement, which then drives longer retention. We look forward to adding even more value, recognition, rewards and gamification to the member experience.

There’s also a drilling down onto specific demographics, she says, pointing to the Connect Groups initiative: 

Connect Groups help WW members find people like them, such as in our LGBTQ WW growth and foodie groups. When members are like them, they don't feel they have to explain themselves to each other and the conversations get deeper and more relatable faster. They get reliable advice from people in the same life stage, such as our Brides Group, which is one of our most frequently visited groups. The Brides Group has high return visit with the members are counting down to a specific significant event and are finding timely content and support, and they find a forum where they can easily contribute or get immediate value, such as our recipes and their group.

My take

This is a firm in self-inflicted crisis recovery mode at present. It needn’t be fatal, but it is hugely embarrassing and needs a clear focus on strategy. The digital arsenal at its disposal bodes well enough, but I’m concerned by some of the ‘management speak’ that’s being used. Try this for size: 

We can control what we can control and the reason why we have been a leader in what we do for over 55 years is because we lead in healthy weight loss and now in the ability to also help people lead better lives as wellness. So what I'm talking about is, very specifically what we diagnose is, what we could have done in a more effective way and that's why we're seeing the results of that in the improvement. Nobody is more disappointed than us that we didn't perform, but we immediately diagnosed, we immediately responded, we created new assets, new ways to engage the customer and our focus is on absolutely controlling what we can control and do what we can do best.

And breathe out. 

I still maintain that WW - urgh! - can be cited as a digital transformation champion and that it has, up till now, responded to disruptive forces in its sector in an appropriate manner. I hope that the next time we check in on its digital transformation progress that it’s back to fighting weight. 

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