Strategy

How WW shifted physical engagement to virtual success in 5 days

WW marketing leader for A/NZ talks through the virtual pivot for members and how customer centricity promises are truly being tested in the COVID-19 environment

Nicole McInnes
Nicole McInnes

Thousands of WW’s (formerly Weight Watchers) A/NZ members have made the switch from face-to-face studio engagement to virtual workshops after the company translated its physical engagement offering to digital globally in just five days.

More than 3100 virtual workshops have taken place across Australia and New Zealand since 19 March via Zoom for WW ‘studio’ members who would normally have attended an in-person session. WW runs more than 30,000 workshops per week globally, all of which transitioned to virtual on the same day in response to the COVID-19 crisis and restrictions.

The work saw WW create ‘Virtual Groups’ on its app’s private social network, Connect, specifically for workshop locations, allowing members to engage virtually with people they used to meet with weekly, including coaches. These are being supported by daily content and wellness challenges shared via the WW app to encourage people to stay engaged and on-track with their health and wellness goals.

WW director of marketing and commercial, Nicole McInnes, told CMO while 64 per cent of members were engaged via digital and mobile prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the remainder were highly engaged in face-to-face time. What was also clear was the significant impact this physical engagement had for members in achieving their goals.

“It was so important for us to be agile and transition quickly for those members who used the face-to-face format and to make sure we provided continuity, connection and routine in such an unsettling time,” she said. “We needed to bring that special place of meeting with coaches into the digital experience.”

To do this, the customer experience team, which manages face-to-face workshop business in A/NZ, had to quickly build virtual meetings and educate members on how to find these new virtual meetings in a seamless way. Another key part of the process was training coaches to ensure they could extract that same engagement online, McInnes said.

“This affected marketing, retention and program teams, which had to look at anything impacting how people experienced things is a virtual environment and what had to change - every team has been impacted,” she said.

The new virtual format has already been leveraged to deliver additional special events, such as the first ‘Cooking @ home’ demonstrations attended by over 1200 members. More live fitness and app tools sessions are also expected to debut in coming weeks. In addition, WW has increased Headspace meditations and Aaptiv and FitOn workout sessions provided within the app.

McInnes said feedback from members to date has been incredibly positive, with 96 per cent of those surveyed satisfied or extremely satisfied with this new experience.

Supporting this quick pivot internally was the work done by WW over the past two years as part of a widespread brand transformation plan. This saw a real emphasis placed on streamlining process and technology internally, work which provided the platform foundations for the latest virtual offerings. McInnes said a flexible working environment was also already in place, with Zoom the standardised video conferencing globally, and tools such as Slack and messaging well used.

Even so, McInnes said she was impressed with the way WW people pulled together in such force and without hesitation to rise to the virtual challenge. She attributed this largely to the strong leadership and singular mission of WW CEO, Mindy Grossman, and global commitment to being member-led.

“The purpose of this hard task was to make the member’s life better. Everyone across the business is focused on member experience, and doing what is right for the member,” McInnes continued. “We knew we had to keep them connected, meeting coaches and the people they like meeting with weekly, and work through this as team as it’s a hard time.”  

For McInnes, the current COVID-19 environment is where customer centricity goes “from buzzword into a material belief”.

“Marketers bang on about putting customers first, but this is where the rubber hits the road. If you were customer centric, it streamlines all decision making in this situation and there’s no second-guessing on what you need to do,” she said. “That’s the unspoken element of companies that are moving at speed right now.”  

Re-evaluating and contextualising

More widely, McInnes said her team’s response to the COVID-19 situation has been swift and extensive. From a digital experience perspective, the focus has been on getting all sessions right, communicating to members with clear, seamless ways for them to join the new groups, and ensuring comprehensive Q&As for the customer care team so they can support any members struggling with the new way of engagement.

The marketing communications for acquisition also had to change. “We had to start talking about where those customers were at, because suddenly they weren’t out and about,” McInnes said. “A lot of our imagery for example, had people in meetings or social situations, and we audited everything to ensure it was relevant in these new situations.”

What was also clear to McInnes is what WW represents is even more relevant in today’s environment than ever. “Our brand is about health, using the app to keep to a routine, and helping you with things like healthy snacking,” she said.

“Our marketing in response has been about saying hey, if you need a hand to stay on track we’re available and we’ll cover you from mindset to fitness, food, recipes and all the things in your life right now. It’s putting us in the shoes of the customer.”  

With retention and acquisition both sitting under McInnes, she quickly made the decision to switch budget to focus heavily on member retention and experience in the last four weeks.

“Now we have great experience frameworks set up and we know how to execute those initiatives, and they’re more iterations from here, I’m now more comfortable with turning my attention to share of voice,” she said.  

“What’s become clear from member feedback but also what non-members are going through [during COVID-19 restrictions] is they’re out of routine, it’s hard to exercise and it’s really easy to snack. The relevance of our WW app has gone through the roof. We want to let people know about this piece of gold we have in the WW app. It’s five apps in one – food tracking, recipes, there’s Headspace for meditation, fitness and more features are coming in next few weeks. It’s a Swiss Army Knife of health.

“I’m not worried about saying that loudly, because it could be helpful. I stand up for that if anyone questioned our motives. It does make you more successfully healthy.”

Nonetheless, McInnes agreed marketers need to have their proposition crystal clear given the huge economic impact COVID-19 is having on business across industries.

“You have to have your argument as a marketer water tight if you want to be brave and spend on the long term,” she said. “It depends on where your business is at – is the P&L in a shape where that risk, if it doesn’t pay off, will cause major problems?

“But if there is that opportunity, and if you can get stakeholders over the line, then yes I do see long-term opportunity for brands.”

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