Friday, May 25, 2012

Weight Watchers Lesson: Be the Bravehearts of Marketing

Insights behind Weight Watchers’ phenomenal marketing success were revealed last week by their SVP of Marketing, Cheryl Callan, at the Alliance for Women in Media luncheon. Bottom line, Weight Watchers was brave enough to follow what they knew to be true about their business and consumers, even when it flew in the face of well-established marketing tenets.

Here’re a few examples of Weight Watchers’ bravery:
  1. Change before change was necessary. The old adage is “never waste a good crisis.” But what if you have the research and foresight to act to avoid a crisis all together and change before it becomes necessary? That’s what Weight Watchers did when they put aside their highly successful, clinically validated Points program to launch PointsPlus. Why? Because it no longer represented the most up-to-date science about weight loss.
    According to their CEO,
    David Kirchhoff, in a Wired magazine interview, “On some level, you operate with belief. We believed it was the principled thing to do.” Weight Watchers had a strong core belief about what their brand stood for and took the brave move of “pro-acting” on it rather than be lulled into complacency by their ongoing successful business.
  2. Be a slave to results, not metrics. Weight Watchers no longer copy tests their ads, because according to Callan, they found that over time copy testing was not a predictor of success in the weight loss category. Rather, they invest their time and money into developing deep insights about the Weight Watcher consumer. It takes guts to move away from trying to bulletproof your decisions (and career) with stacks of well-accepted studies.
  3. Free advertising from the tyranny of the claim. The Weight Watchers program has powerful claims seemingly made for advertising, including those published in Lancet and JAMA. However, their signature Jennifer Hudson campaign that helped change the trajectory of their brand contains no efficacy or competitive claims. It is based on the insight that most people felt Weight Watchers was effective but “not for me.” Or, as one Long Island focus group attendee told them, “Statistics don’t apply to me.” So Weight Watchers made the brave choice to walk away from clinical assets in their advertising and let their insights guide them.
The results? Their stock rose from $24 to $70 in the first 6 months after their campaign and the opt-in rates for online subscribers grew from 19% to 46%. According to their Q1 2012 earnings call, consumer growth continues with 12% growth in global combined paid weeks in Q1 2012. Weight Watchers’ deep understanding of their business drivers, coupled with the discipline to keep investing in strengthening their core brand attributes, continues to pay strong dividends.

So how can a healthcare marketer apply the lessons of Weight Watchers? Here are some questions to ask, particularly as 2013 planning is around the corner:
  • What part of my research budget is dedicated to developing deep insights into my consumers?
  • Have the metrics I track been predictive of my brand’s business results?
  • As science, technology, and marketing have evolved, has my brand kept up?
The father of the real-life Braveheart, William Wallace, once said, “Your heart is free. Have the courage to follow it.” The knowledge needed to make a Weight Watchers transformation doesn’t come cheap. However, the bravery to act upon it is available to all marketers with a passion for results.

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