WW chief brand officer: Creating a global health and fitness brand

Weight Watchers rebrand is part of a wider-scale business transformation aimed at shifting from weight loss to wellbeing, says first brand chief

Weight Watchers has rebranded to WW, introduced new communities and is transforming its apps platforms, partnerships and rewards programs in a bid to cement a global position in the health and wellbeing space.

WW global chief brand officer, Gail Tifford, told CMO the new brand name and tagline, ‘Wellness that works’, is designed to reflect both the company’s heritage as well as its broadening focus on inspiring health and wellbeing as habits. The brand change isn’t as revolutionary as might first appear, with members often referring to themselves as ‘WW’ for several years, she said.

At a visual level, the change sees a new logo, colour palette, font, photography and style coming into play, featuring a circular icon to reflect its iconic coin symbol.

“It’s an evolution of our brand that’s very much based on the behaviour of our members,” Tifford said.

A new global campaign will launch in December  supporting the rebrand. However, what excites Tifford is what’s underneath the brand tent: A broad business shift to becoming a health and wellness brand.

Tifford joined WW six months as its first chief brand officer after spending the last 21 years at Unilever. At that point, the organisation had just completed at a leadership level to define purpose, articulating this through the line: Inspire healthy habits for real life.

“We’ve done a lot of work to keep up to where the members need us to be,” she said. “When I came in, we had started to think about that through our purpose, and how to make sure the brand is in line with the focus to look at broader health and wellbeing, not just weight.

“The impetus was how to make sure the brand is meeting the needs of members. This is starting to move into activity and a wellness mindset as members are demanding it. And this has to be across every touchpoint.”

Following on from the purpose work, WW has put a purpose filter over how the organisation evaluates all decisions as a company and defines strategy moving forward against the aim of helping people live healthier lives. The first step was to put the current business and its products and services through that filter, Tifford explained.

The good news was 90 per cent of what WW was doing fit the bill. Yet some things didn’t. For example, across its consumer products, artificial ingredients remain within a significant part of the portfolio. As a result, WW has refined 500 products and will relaunch these in January.

“The second thing was how to continue to build out experiences both online and via WW’s physical meet-ups,” Tifford said. Digitally, this culminates in enhancements to the mobile app.

One of the biggest support mechanisms is groups and community interactions. So WW is launching Connect Groups, which will allow members to deepen community ties within the platform. At present, 1.8 million unique users are engaging in communities monthly. They will now have a better ability to do so around themes such as food, life stages, wellness journeys, activities, mindset and hobbies. Connect Groups debut in December.

“We have 4.6 million members and it’s amazing what they share, their understanding and honesty. They had already started to self-organise around life stages and interests, so this helps us tailor their journeys further,” Tifford said.

Other app enhancements include the launch of ‘WellnessWins’, a program that rewards members for small, everyday behaviours that help with forming healthier habits. Members will earn ‘wins’ for tracking meals, activities and weight as well as attending workshops. These can be redeemed for exclusive products, services and experiences.

The program launches in the US this month and will be available in global markets including Australia in Q1, 2019.

Building a global brand-led organisation

Tifford’s own appointment as WW’s first chief brand officer is another reflection of the group’s commitment to transformation and building a global brand-led organisation. She suggested the difference between her previous roles leading marketing and the new role is her ability to oversee every component of the customer’s journey with WW, from prospect and acquisition through to retention and advocacy.

“My responsibilities span every touchpoint the consumer experiences our brand,” she explained. “We have to that role of whole customer insight. As marketing, it’s more about selling the brand and product. I see this new role as being in service of members. 

“There’s still a big role for selling, but if you think about experiences in the app, or membership products, or us delivering content on TV or in media, it’s a much broader customer proposition.”

WW has many touchpoints including retail and in- app, and Tifford said the company has largely become a technology company.

“There are so many nuances when you’re a tech company in customer interactions, especially when you think about first-party data,” she continued. “We have the biggest food database in the world and we know what people are eating and tracking. We take that role very seriously.

“The thing is, we’re talking to people who have been on the program and improving their lives. That’s an incredible responsibility. In fact, the first three sentences people say to us have nothing to do with weight loss – it’s usually about why, the things they’re achieving and what they accomplished as a result. In our community, our number one hashtag is #NSV – non-scale victory – while number two is #better.

“The data and insight we have on our consumer is helping us to leap forward to keep up with them.”

This means the way brands WW positions itself via media also changes. Tifford noted historically, weight-loss brands often used a celebrity as endorsement, using their story of weight-loss to promote their wares. And it was always done in January.

“What we have learnt through our research and time with consumers is that people are looking to get healthy all year-round and the focus is less on seasons and more on reasons,” she said. “It’s about the ‘why’ when you’re getting healthy – for example, starting a new job, your wedding day, getting divorced – these are all life triggers. Our plan is to better use these in media and how we respond.”

Ways of working

Alongside the front-facing work, WW has been looking at the framework of the organisation and putting in the right people to suit. Tifford has brought several existing staff into her team from different parts of the company, and is also hiring in special skills. This is about improving focus on new and future prospects, as well as building an ability to talk to members on a more holistic level, she said.

The other thing that’s new for WW is true globalisation of its brand efforts while still retaining ways of working in local markets.

“We believe in having global brands but them being informed by local market insights and we’re cognisant of local market nuances,” she said. “A related piece is that our biggest strategy to bringing new members into the brand is word-of-mouth. How we do that via members and influencers is really important, and that has to be clear at a local level – we need to establish ways of working with local markets.”

All of this brand transformation will impact the types of creative, channels and communications and media planning moving forward, Tifford said. “We’re moving from a spray and pray approach to a thoughtful, targeted, personalised approach,” she said.

“One tenet is meeting people where they are – will hold time in terms of advertising. Knowing the mindset and being ready to be where they are with messaging that resonates is the ambition.

“For example, brides are a big cohort for us. How we are there for them in their journey of getting ready through messaging, content and support, is a key focus. That’s very different to a new mum who’s just had her second child and who’s managing a family. We’ll definitely dial up our content.”

WW is also putting more healthy habits content into its app, a move designed to encourage members to join who want to improve habits rather than purely lose weight. These members will have access to specific offers and the WW Freestyle tool guiding healthier food choices.  

“It’s hard to think of global health and wellness brands, so we want to establish ourselves as a global thought leader in this space. Central to that role is to provide educational and inspirational content - that’s critical,” Tifford said. “That means we need to meet consumers where they are, whether that be TV, digital, print or social. I see a robust content strategy across all of these channels, not just in educating them about WW. It’s about more purposeful as well as more integrated content that plays a role in their journey.”

The product evolution, meanwhile, is driven by realigned purpose and what is needed to fill the gaps. With clear emphasis on what you can eat, Tifford said WW sees a big opportunity in the fresh food arena.

This week, it launched WW Fresh in the US providing ready prepared fresh meals for consumers. Notably, the WW points have been moved to the back of the packaging in order to suit both people in and out of its core program.

Another area of focus is in the ‘healthy kitchen’, and WW has created a sub-line for this space looking at kitchen tools, cookbooks and recipes that fulfil this brief.

“Then it’s about dabbling in experiences,” Tifford said, pointing to WW’s first cruise holiday offering. To date, the group has sold out four cruises across Europe, Cuba and the Caribbean. “You can expect more from us in that space.”

Partnerships don’t stop there. WW has also joined forces with Headspace, which provides one of the world’s leading meditation and mindfulness mobile apps. The alliance will see customised content developed specifically for WW members, and comes off the back of a successful initial pilot in the US of the Headspace app embedded in the WW app. Content will launch initially in English but is also expected to become available in German and French.

Tapping into its traditional points-based recognition of exercise and fitness, WW is also evolving its FitPoints system to encourage activity choices based on their impact on health and wellbeing. These will be personalised based on a member’s height, weight, age and gender, with a new algorithm encouraging individuals to earn high-intensity points and undertake strength training.

WW has even taken the wrappers off its first beta voice integration with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, enabling members to look at points on food items, track their ‘SmartPoints’ and foods, and add points into their individual tracking dashboards.

WW has definitely set out with a bold ambition of changing the health trajectory of the world, Tifford concluded.

“Clearly we can’t do it all on our own and we see partnerships as a key way to help us create that,” she added.

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