WW's brand boss Gail Tifford on putting members at the heart of its bold pivot to wellness

WW chief brand officer Gail Tifford explains the drive behind its rebrand, and the impact of influencers / WW International

Last week, Weight Watchers announced the surprising decision to rebrand to WW and shift its strategy to focus on wellness. Many in the industry were left baffled by the decision to pivot away from a 55 year-old global identity towards one with no prior brand equity – but chief brand officer Gail Tifford believes the business has sent out an “incredibly powerful” statement in doing so.

Since February, the recently-instated marketer has been leading the charge on the one-time diet company’s refreshed ‘Wellness that Works’ proposition which is focused on creating healthier habits, mindfulness and community.

"[The new brand was created] in response to how people are really talking,” she tells The Drum. “It’s not so much about the name change versus the substance of what we're really working on.”

She adds: “Our members are really all about not only what they put in their body, which is critical, but they know then how they move your body and how their mind supports that. In my mind it's a very natural evolution.”

Until earlier this year, Tifford was Unilever’s vice-president for media in North America and for digital media innovation globally. She was brought on board by WW chief executive Mindy Grossman, but admits she initially turned down the position saying she “never thought she would leave” Unilever.

Having been offered chance of the WW gig, she was immediately conflicted; not least because she had been on the WW plan 15 years prior having gone through a difficult personal period.

Tifford says that despite having an “emotional” connection to the programme she credited with having changed the course of her life after the birth of her second child and a period in which she was unable to return to work because she felt deflated and depressed, she was torn.

“It's just not relevant to me anymore,” was her thought when considering the offer. That was until Grossman informed her she wanted to embark on a new vision with the company. The pair met, and an-hour-and-a-half later Tiffoed departed, telling herself; “this is my calling.”

The reason why Tifford tells this story, is to explain that the recent rebrand of Weight Watchers to WW, is the culmination of six-months of work she was brought on board to do.

“I've been there,” she states, offering her own personal perspective on the company. “But I think it's really the intention about the future.

‘Non-scale victories’

Tifford has spent the better half of this year trying to connect with WW’s 6 million members and developing a community using social media platforms and the WW app. Within months, she noticed that a simple hashtag, #nsv for 'non-scale victories', had circulated among the groups and realised that for members, winning was about so much more than just weight loss.

"The reality of it is," Tifford explains, "You know weight is one part of what people need to be on top of to be healthy. And by the way, we are not moving away from weight. As the best weight loss program in the world, we will always worry about that.

"But it is one part of how we serve our members. And as we think about other ways in which we serve them, whether it's through community – which is a critical part – or through contact or meetings, or innovation in the app or [through partnerships like] the one we're doing with Headspace.”

In response to being asked ‘why now?’, she is emphatic: “You know I think maybe if we had really been listening to our community before, we would have done it a lot sooner.”

Though the brand refresh raised eyebrows from marketers and mainstream press alike, Tifford claims that members have already been referring to themselves using abbreviations already, and that by transferring that into the brand mark representing the organization it has sent out an “incredibly powerful” statement.

Advocates, not influencers

Asked about the use of influencers, which for WW includes collaborations with DJ Khaled, film director Kevin Smith, and arguably the world’s greatest — Oprah Winfrey — as a brand champion, Tifford says she has “a hard time” referring to those the brand works with as ‘influencers’ but instead chooses to call them ‘advocates’.

She explains; “The advocacy part is really critical for the success of this. And first of all, when you look at the number one strategy that drives people coming in to the program, it's through word of mouth. And so that's why we soft launched this summer and we'll be rolling it out in a much bigger way.”

She continues to explain that the right advocate for WW should wish to inspire others; citing Smith who lost 51 pounds after a heart attack led him to join.

“I had lunch with him two weeks ago in L.A. and he's sitting there talking about how he can be part of our new rewards program because he wants more people to get healthy. So we not only want to work with people who want to share their journey because it's not always easy,” adding that the journey and shared desire of advocates to inspire people to make change is crucial to their success.

“Oprah does that on a on a daily basis,” she says of the most visible face for the brand. She also believes that setting out ‘a bold ambition’ to diversify in order to reach a new group of potential members, from age to ethnicity, is key to the future as well.

“We've really identified what triggers people who really need to consider getting healthy. And so you'll see an advocacy program that aims to motivate and inspire different groups of people,” she reveals.

By comparison to her previous employer Unilever as a purpose driven brand, Tillford is positive that she has joined another with the ability to make us much change.

“The ability to truly transform people's lives, we haven't even tapped that potential yet… I've never been more excited or proud to be part of something in my life to be honest with you.”

Under its new chief executive and brand manager, the newly christened WW has some high expectations ahead as it aims to help more people around the world shed weight and develop a healthier lifestyle for their own benefits.

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