Weight loss brands use social media to fatten results

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The weight loss industry is showing us how effective use of social media creates engagement and brand loyalty.

The weight loss industry is booming. Leading brand Weight Watchers’ shares hit an all-time high last month and its Q4 profit more than doubled to $49 million.

This is impressive on so many levels, not to mention the obvious one that will come to all our minds – the fact that we expect something so relatively luxurious as dieting and going to the gym to be one of the first expenses to be slashed when we start penny pinching in tough times.

But it seems that many of us are waist pinching too, and not liking what we see. Because despite launching a risky new programme, and Q4’s holiday season bingeing hardly being conducive to people taking on a new diet regime, the mighty weight loss brand has performed above the odds, and is expecting to see up to a further 20% revenue growth in 2011.

And as shown in our trends feature last week, a survey of 1,000 people revealed that 44% chose Weight Watchers as their programme of choice. Forty-five per cent also said that they chose a brand without shopping around, meaning brand awareness is key.

But what has also been key is how brands like Weight Watchers have embraced social media so naturally and seamlessly. By the very nature of their origins, weight loss brands are built around a community of users, a common goal and ambition, and a body of expertise knowledge disseminated to the community by the brand – for a premium subscription price.

Before the days of the web, Weight Watchers was built around meetings, so being social is in this brand’s blood. And in today’s world of constant content demand, there are endless opportunities to wrap your user community in your brand and its conversations. Not just customer magazines and recipe books, but apps, blogs, forums and online chats. People who are losing weight want to talk about it, want encouragement and want tips.

Weight Watchers might be the leader in this industry by our survey’s standards, but the social element is not unique to just this brand. Other brands in our feature have also harnessed social media. Rosemary Conley offers online chats for users to talk to her experts, and Slimming World offers online membership and a glossy magazine to boot. Thirty-eight per cent of people in our survey said they chose their weight loss programme based on how easy it was to use, and continual communication through social media facilitates that ease of use.

While only 8% of our respondents said they were part of the Tesco Diets programme, the supermarket brand giant is the dark horse to watch in this sector.

Tesco has already picked up on the promising opportunities here and that is why its future in this market looks so good. As Tesco Diets’ head of marketing and business development, Catriona O’Brien, says in the feature, the brand not only has a huge distribution channel and existing customer base to sell to, but it is already working with Closer magazine and TV show This Morning to offer programmes for their audiences.

Tesco is offering this as a white-label solution, meaning there are further opportunities for brands to get involved, and effectively stamp their name on a product that has already been developed. I can see more magazine brands, high street fashion brands and even gym brands offering their own branded programmes as Tesco has done all the leg work.

And there are opportunities to market not just to image conscious women. There is a growing demographic of health conscious men, as well as over 50s, who have different requirements and communicate differently from what you would think would be a typical Weight Watchers customer.

Brands looking at extending their offerings could find what they are looking for in this market.

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