Weight Watchers the latest brand to hop on the wellness wagon

Weight Watchers the latest brand to hop on the wellness wagon
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In a marketplace where technology and unprecedented amounts of data now allow marketers to finely segment and narrowly target niche markets, many brands are struggling with broadening their appeal and customer base and trying desperately to remain relevant in order to appeal to the next generation of consumers.

The most recent of these efforts is iconic weight-loss brand Weight Watchers, which announced its rebranding to WW. The move takes the emphasis off of weight loss, which has always been Weight Watchers’ main course, and attempts to focus instead on “wellness” with a side of technology. 

The eventual update of any brand, while expensive and challenging, often makes sense. When a brand is initially conceived, one important goal of the brand name is to make it clear what the company is, does and sells.

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So, for example, when Kentucky Fried Chicken was branded, it made sense to make clear that their sole focus was Southern fried chicken. Decades later, however, while their focus remains chicken, they wanted to take the emphasis off of “fried” to appeal to a more health-conscious customer base, so they rebranded as KFC, which was already their popular nickname.

MTV, likewise, dropped the “Music Television” moniker from its logo to represent the fact that the focus on their programming was no longer music, while network Spike TV dropped the TV from its brand name altogether, leaving just “Spike.” This allowed it to be thought of as more than just television, which is an outdated vehicle for entertainment for many younger audiences.

Most recently, Dunkin Donuts announced that they are dropping “Donuts” from their brand name; not to eliminate or minimize their donut offering, but to shift the focus from the deliciously fried sugary rings of carbohydrates to their coffee and beverage offerings.

This move follows their more subtle update in 2002 when they added the steaming cup of coffee to their pink and orange logo.

While the WW logo itself, with two blue Ws stacked on top of eachother, is thoroughly uninspired in its design and already in need of an upgrade, the overall goal seems to be a positive strategic one for the brand’s long-term strength. 

WW seeks to accomplish a major goal with this move, which is to attempt what many brands have enthusiastically embraced over the last couple of decades: become a lifestyle brand.

According to Wikipedia, lifestyle brands “seek to inspire, guide and motivate people, with the goal of their products contributing to the definition of the consumer’s way of life.” The way they are attempting to do this is by tapping into the fast-growing wellness movement.

While their CEO claims that WW is not an acronym, its current tagline is “Wellness that Works” and, like any good lifestyle brand, it attempts to embody the priorities, aspirations, interests and attitudes of a culture of people for marketing purposes.

The wellness industry is a popular and potentially lucrative wave to ride. The Global Wellness Institute values the wellness market at $3.7 trillion in 2015 (up from $3.4 trillion in 2014) and growing steadily, as people of all ages focus not just on physical health, but also on mental, emotional, social, spiritual and financial well-being.

To facilitate this focus on wellness, WW has created a new app that includes a partnership with Headspace, the popular meditation and mindfulness app, and facilitates connecting participants both in person and online to build community around similar wellness-related interests and goals.

This shift toward wellness as opposed to simply weight loss helps WW remain relevant and competitive in an increasingly crowded industry.

In addition to other weight-loss competitors like Jenny Craig and NutriSystem, the increased focus on overall wellness ushers fitness programs into the crowded weight-loss space; programs like Beachbody’s suite of fitness products  include not just exercise instruction, but meal programs and food guidelines as well as the community offered through online chat and motivational sharing.

In an industry where “diet” has become a bad word and the focus is on sustainable lifestyle shifts, this more complete model is becoming the standard. 

The timely move by WW is savvy and helps to ensure that it remains competitive in a rapidly changing, technology-enhanced marketplace that focuses more and more on fitness and overall health as opposed to just diet.

It also allows the brand to expand beyond its largely female and somewhat older demographic to incorporate more males and younger, tech-savvy consumers.

The move also makes the whole “wellness” movement a bit more approachable and tangible for the average person. It demonstrates that wellness is not limited to women or wealthy consumers, only small swaths of whom were targeted with healthy, natural food and beneficial activities like yoga and meditation.

The more well-known and approachable brands embrace wellness and make it accessible — like Whole Foods’ partnership with Amazon — the more we see a democratization of wellness, and that’s a good thing.

Marlene Towns is an adjunct professor of marketing at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University.