What is more important: a great product or a great marketing? The truth is that a mediocre product with great marketing will always defeat a great product with mediocre marketing. This is because great marketing can influence consumers through psychological tactics. For example, a marketing campaign that creates scarcity and urgency, makes consumers think the marketed product is more valuable than the one that exists in abundance.
When a market is so overloaded that is difficult for you as a merchant to stand out, your marketing may be more important than the product you are selling.
Weight loss is a very crowded market. It is comprised of commercial weight loss chains (i.e Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig), diet pills (i.e Alli, Belviq), diet food home delivery services (i.e BistroMD, Nutrisystem), medical procedures (i.e gastric bypass surgery), and even weight loss gamification (gadgets and mobile apps). In fact, at some point, an incentive-based app by IBM aimed to bring weight loss gamification to the workplace. Many of these products and services offer effective solutions to the problem of obesity. Yet, as is the case in almost every market, 10% of these weight loss products absorb 90% of the customer base. What’s interesting, the weight loss solutions that are most successful do not necessarily provide a better service than their competitors. They are just better marketed.
The largest weight loss program in the US today is Weight Watchers. More than 8 million people visit it website every month. With more than two-thirds of the U.S. population overweight or obese, there is an enormous weight-loss market – to the tune of an estimated $66 billion this year. Weight Watchers has cornered a significant share of it, thanks to a smart strategy in targeting dieters.
With $1.16 billion in revenue in 2016, Weight Watchers is at least two times larger than its biggest competitors in the space, Nutrisystem and Jenny Craig. It’s also seen a meteoric rise in shareholder support, as its stock price has skyrocketed more than 2,000% from $2.13 per share in 1999 to $44.44 in December 2017.
So how did Weight Watchers rise to the top? Surely, the product they sell is very well designed. For over 50 years they keep improving what they offer to the point that today the company’s reputation precedes its service. But, the company’s success is based to a substantial degree on great marketing tactics, not the product itself. This is, after all, expected for a company that spends 90 million a year on advertising campaigns. Let’s take a look at what Weight Watchers does right.
Lesson 1. Present the Problem, Make it Look Complicated
First, the company makes the weight loss problem look complicated. Despite what dieticians may have been telling us, according to Weight Watchers, it’s not just calories in, calories out. Instead, it’s all about how your body processes different types of foods. A 200-calorie cupcake is processed differently than a 200-calorie salad, according to Weight Watchers’ nutritional scientists.
Weight Watchers’ new Freestyle program incorporates new data from recent research in the field of eating behavior and psychology. What makes us gain weight is not homeostatic hunger (eating to meet the body’s energy needs) but hedonic hunger (eating for pleasure), they tell us. This makes the issue complicated in the eyes of the consumer. If weight loss is not as drop-dead simple as we thought, then we feel that we have to turn to a company who can provide us the right solution.
Lesson 2. Offer an Exclusive Product that Solves the Problem
This brings us to our next point: Weight Watchers has created a solution to a complicated problem that looks relatively easy… but not so easy that someone can follow the system all on his or her own. Weight Watchers has created the PointsPlus system that assigns a certain number of points to each food based on how the body processes it. It used to be that points values were calculated based on calories and fat content, but now calories have been taken out of the equation. It’s now based on what it does in the body, a more complicated equation that considers carbohydrates, fat, protein and fiber. A 272-calorie apple serving has 0 Points while a 272-calorie ice cream serving has 7 points. A sophisticated mathematical formula calculates the points which means that consumers need some type of a guide—whether it be a special Weight Watchers calculator, a book or online tools—to tell them the number of points for each food.
Lesson 3. Exploit Your Competitors Weakness
Another smart marketing strategy employed by Weight Watchers has to with taking advantage of its competitors’ weaknesses. People who struggle with their weight generally don’t like rigid food plans or having someone else tell them what to eat. If they did do well with meal structure and discipline, many of them probably wouldn’t have weight difficulties in the first place. Weight Watchers has smartly tackled this in its marketing campaigns by contrasting the freedom to eat what you want in their program to the food restrictions in their competitors’ programs.
For example, Optifast, Jenny Craig and Medifast are all meal-replacement programs. And Nutrisystem is considered by many the best diet meal delivery service. Although all of them do offer some flexibility in letting customers choose different meals, Weight Watchers has taken advantage by referring to their foods as a “’boxed burger” and “microwave pizza.” Weight Watchers then contrasts this with its own strengths by saying you can eat “real food in the real world. You want a burger? Go ahead you can have it. Weight Watchers is not a diet”.
Lesson 4. Sell Feelings Not Products
That brings us to our next point: Weight Watchers focuses on people’s feelings and making them feel good. On the Weight Watchers plan you can eat “real food” versus “boxed food”–that just makes you feel better. Even in the company’s promotional materials, famous singer Jennifer Hudson talks about how great Weight Watchers makes her feel as a mother and as a performer. She talks about how Weight Watchers gives her so much energy, makes her “feel great and liberated in so many ways”.
In one interview, Jennifer says: “Weight Watchers has helped make my new lifestyle a reality”. What Weight Watchers is doing here is selling the feelings around the product, not the product itself. Currently, in the Weight Watchers home page, spokesperson Jessica Simpson “feels like she’s on top of the world” inviting readers to see why Weight Watchers worked so well for her. Weight Watchers knows how to sell feelings.
Sean D’Souza of Psychotactics explains that businesses make this mistake all too often. They try to sell software, marketing strategies, copy-writing services, websites, etc but what customers need is not the product; they want what the product will give them: money, respect, freedom, etc. They want the feelings associated with the product.
In his book Start with Why, Simon Sinek proves that successful businesses are those that have managed to clearly communicate their “why” (the belief, the lifestyle and the feelings the brand represents). To the contrary, businesses that focused on the “what” (the product), didn’t go that far.
Lesson 5. Give them What They Want, Not What They Need
Finally, Weight Watchers is so successful because it employs one of the best marketing tactics in the book: it gives people what they want, not necessarily what they need. By allowing members to choose the foods they love (as long as they stay within their PointsPlus limits), they are still letting members follow their desires. Perhaps members should be eating more fruits and vegetables (and those foods are enormously rewarded in the Weight Watchers system by usually being worth 0 points), but Weight Watchers gives them the option to eat chocolate, cake, ice cream, donuts, burgers, you name it. By doing so, consumers don’t feel restricted or feel like someone else is telling them what to do, and so they will gravitate more towards that type of weight-loss program.
Lesson 6. Let Potential Customers Join for Free
Allowing people to try your product without attaching any strings to it (i.e credit card information), eliminates the sense of fear and risk that often stand as an obstacle between your product and your potential customers. Weight Watchers allows you to join their program for free. You can experience a Weight Watchers meeting discussion free of charge and without any obligation in some of the 30,000 weekly meetings in the US for people trying to lose weight. For those who want to continue the program promo codes for Weight Watchers products are always available. Of course, there is always a sense of hurriedness as the offer ends soon.
Overall, Weight Watchers provides a fantastic case study of marketing weight-loss products. From offering exclusive solutions to a complicated problem, to letting people join for free, the company has been incredibly savvy in the way it promotes itself to consumers. With the weight-loss market only expected to go up for the foreseeable future, Weight Watchers only stands to benefit as more and more people seek the program that gives them the right feeling when it comes to shedding their extra pounds.
What can YOU learn from Weight Watchers’ marketing approach?