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CMO50 2020 #26-50: Nicole McInnes

  • Name Nicole McInnes
  • Title Marketing and commercial director A/NZ
  • Company WW (formerly Weight Watchers)
  • Commenced role September 2019
  • Reporting Line Managing director A/NZ
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 20 staff, 6 direct reports
  • Industry Sector Health and wellbeing
  • 2019 ranking New to CMO50
  • Related

    Brand Post

    WW’s marketing and commercial director, Nicole McInnes, thought transferring 30,000 workshops globally from physical to virtual in five days was the most intense initiative she would experience in 2020.

    “What I didn’t know was this would lead to one of the biggest transformations the A/NZ business had undertaken in years,” she says of the COVID-fuelled task.

    WW’s workshop transformation project involved every business unit, with McInnes and her new retention manager leading the communications workstream. The aim was to transition the business and its members back from a virtual-only engagement scenario to a world where physical interactions increasingly became possible once more.  

    “Re-opening was surprisingly complex, with attendances, venues, staff all in different states across two countries. It was a multi-faceted puzzle to piece back together,” McInnes explains.

    To help, McInnes mapped the different member scenarios and systematically designed the best messaging for each. Nine mutually exclusive groups were created, with a coinciding flow chart defining their state becoming a map for the project.

    McInnes says the project team adopted the naming conventions within days and is using them across everything from prioritisation to member impact analysis, profitability and more. Beyond comms, the marketing team used the ‘map’ to build workflows and create a hierarchy then deployed by the CX team to intercept membership cancellations with relevance and effectiveness.

    “All this in addition to the core task of ensuring the right message got to the member at the right time through the right channel, which involved hundreds of unique email sends to thousands of members, coach-to-member comms, SMS, outbound and FAQs for every member touchpoint,” McInnes says.

    The project disrupted nearly one-third of WW’s A/NZ member base and resulted in several positive outcomes. McInnes points to member satisfaction stats, which showed nearly half of those who had attended virtual WW events during the COVID-19 lockdown, wanting the experience to continue post-reopening physical meeting and experiences.

    Innovative marketing

    Innovation really has been all about member engagement in this year of disruption, McInnes continues. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic striking, WW had a six-part content series partnership, a new emotional ‘scales’ capability and confidence index planned. These were promptly shelved as the business turned its attention to members impacted by the lockdown.

    In one week in March, 30 per cent of members had their weekly experience transformed from a physical meeting to virtual.

    “Members' health was being challenged by lockdown and we needed to be there for them, despite not being there face-to-face,” McInnes says. “I rallied the team to think of ways we could make wellness more than a marketing message for our members during this tough time.”

    The #WWellness Challenge was born, created in-house and deployed on social, the WW app and member social platform, Connect, all within a week of WW’s virtual platform going live. The challenge gave members a week-by-week framework to keep their health on track across food, activity and mindset. It saw WW UK ambassador, Robbie Williams, engaged in gamified content and a series of newly created live events. One of the most popular was ‘Cooking at home’, which attracted thousands of members virtually, while others included Workouts with WW and App-y hour.

    “Additionally, I asked our ambassadors to join us in inspiring our members and this unexpectedly generated broad editorial coverage,” McInnes says. “We created an ‘Ask an Ambassador’ series where they dropped in on our new virtual meetings to surprise and delight members.”

    As a result, thousands of WW members and everyday Aussies were inspired to stay healthy at home, McInnes says. On Connect alone, the challenge hashtag appeared over 5000 times across a five- week period.

    “As a health brand, we had to be sure we were supporting people’s wellness, we had a head start as this is our everyday purpose. But we audited every touchpoint to ensure we were adding value in everyone’s new reality,” McInnes says. “Our content pivoted to immunity-boosting, exercising at home and recipes were redesigned with fakeways and snacking at home.

    “Most importantly, member app engagement that had steeply declined due to lockdown was reversed by the challenge, live events and ambassador experiences within a week. We’d restored half of all lost engagement within five weeks.”

    Business smarts

    One of the ways McInnes has been able to execute so promptly is a structural shift in the way WW’s marketing team operates. For many years, the marketing team was divided into digital and brand silos. For McInnes coming in, it was paramount to get them future-proofed, working together and aligned behind WW’s goals.

    “We needed a focused, strategic approach based on lifecycle segmentation,” she says. “I broke down the functions and reconstructed them around business growth levers along the customer lifecycle, allowing and encouraging every person in the team to have accountability and clarity around their contribution to the business.”

    The function now consists of acquisition, social, content and PR, digital experience and retention, as well as a new team created with sole focus on increasing customer engagement and lifetime value. McInnes says this has been especially key in rebuilding engagement with “the quiet majority” of WW’s member base - digital subscribers.

    “They each own a key part of customers’ journey from prospect to member to advocate and measure their performance with clear KPIs and metrics,” McInnes explains. “Although the new structure is only six months old, the best result is the happiness of the team. They are contributing and collaborating in a way they say they never have before. They all have a voice, and the team has come to life and their results reflect that.

    “It has also buoyed us through COVID, where remote agility and collaboration has been crucial. They were set up to succeed and it has been so satisfying to see them thrive as a result not just of a new structure, but a team culture change, too.”

    Customer-led thinking

    In a subscription business, member retention is as important as acquisition. As she began to understand the company, McInnes says it was clear a retention team could pay commercial dividends. But importantly, it would bring the customers’ voice to life in order to deliver more relevant and engaging experiences, especially for WW’s largest member group: Digital subscribers.

    Segmentation had been done in the past that defined members geographically, demographically and attitudinally but behavioural, dynamic lifecycle segmentation had not been considered. As the company’s members now primarily experience the brand through its app, McInnes used her previous app experience to begin to define a new approach to engagement.

    “This would have us nurture our customers through ‘new’ and into the pathway of ‘engaged’ and eventual ‘advocacy, avoiding infrequent or inactive states that often lead to premature churn. Most importantly, it’d help avoid a failure in positively impacting our members’ health,” she says.

    Two new seasoned retention marketers joined the email team, onboarded during lockdown. They became integral as WW transformed from physical to virtual and even as new members enhanced WW’s member engagement program during COVID, McInnes says.

    Among the work done were new churn reduction offers, incentive and reward initiatives. The team is now working on ‘Spring Games’, an expanded 12-week incentive program with weekly prizes born from the learnings of the #WWellnessChallenge.

    “Early wins for the team include increased app engagement, increased Connect engagement, automated trigger comms and quick wins including push notifications and email journeys, which are key in preparing for operationalising lifecycle segmentation,” McInnes says.

    Commercial acumen

    Through of all these efforts, McInnes has sought to shake up thinking while demonstrating commercial impact. Another area she points to is WW’s media approach.

    Like many, WW had been largely leveraging digital media, especially given its clear visibility to ROI. McInnes, however, hypothesised the business was missing an opportunity by not further utilising non-digital media, not only for short-term sales but for long-term brand and business growth. But the shift in spend had to also generate short-term ROI, not just move long-term brand metrics, to ensure buy-in.  

    In preparation, McInnes ran multiple media mix scenarios using first-party historical results and compared predicted sales. “To prove or disprove my theory that the WW audience would be receptive to broadcast media, I suggested a final scenario with some media which hadn’t been used for three years,” she continues.

    This scenario predicted the highest signups of the five run and was then used to plan the all-important Q1 media. “The model delivered and we outperformed the two years prior,” McInnes says.

    More widely, McInnes has implemented four key changes to increase marketing’s margin contribution, while maintaining a focus on generating the buzz in market to grow the WW brand.

    The first is optimised media mix by introducing daily media tracking to optimise bottom of funnel channel efficiency, while the second is reducing non-working marketing budget. For example, even with less than half the marketing budget available in Q2, her team generated near the same level of signups as 2019.

    The third change was the restructure and creation of a retention team, generating increased lifetime value from WW’s current A/NZ member base. The fourth strategy was changing the way ‘sale’ creative was developed.

    “We were able to generate significant savings that funded always-on and more customer-oriented promo creative that increased signups outside of ‘sales’,” McInnes says. “This has generated more consistency, straight non-working budget savings to the bottom line, and higher margin contribution across the lifetime of the customer.”

    Key results include increased year-to-date signups in digital year-on-year membership, all-time weekly app engagement (February 2020), bottom-line annual saving on marketing budget, and a 200 per cent increase in year-on-year marketing spend ROI in Q2 2020.


    It’s clear the biggest change WW had to navigate when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived was closing all physical meetings and pivoting everything to virtual workshop.

    “Marketing was pivotal in communicating the change and then ensuring the member experience was still amazing while significantly changing it,” McInnes says.

    But during this time, WW also pivoted its acquisition approach. Initially, advertising into potentially low demand seemed too risky, but McInnes quickly realised the situation presented an enormous opportunity for WW.

    “We were a wellness company in a global health crisis and media was highly cost-effective and incredibly cheap. We put together a case to not just advertise as we normally do, but to launch a fully integrated through -the-line campaign to gain unnatural market share, just when global were asking all markets for savings,” she says. “Once approved, we went to market with only three weeks lead time.”

    An authentic, member-driven UGC campaign was created that encouraged members and prospects to stay healthy and strong.

    “This pivot not only kept WW top of mind when people needed us most, but also drove sales such that we are significantly ahead in digital signups YoY,” McInnes adds.

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