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Life Lessons from the Weight Watchers Re-branding Experience.

Since September 2018, Weight Watchers, the diet company which was established in 1963, has been on a re-branding jaunt. However, despite the intended marketing and advertising boost that was hoped, its name change from Weight Watchers to WW was met with a 10% drop in membership in the first quarter of 2019 – usually its busiest time of year post-December holiday season and New Year.

To add insult to injury, over the first few months of 2019 their share value dropped 35% (MSN article).  My go-to-guru Oprah Winfrey, who in 2015 became a stake holder in the company, was called in to revamp the company’s imagine and remind everyone that WW (which a few months later re branded AGAIN and became WW- Weight Watchers Re-imagined) was really Weight Watchers of old and was doing the same thing it was famous for, just under a new name and a new modern outlook.

Before I delve into this topic I want to be up-front and say that I never joined Weight Watchers in all my years of dieting. I personally did not have time for the counting of calories or points, and the thought of calculating and restricting what I could eat every day filled me with dread. However, some of my best friends swear by Weight Watchers, many of them loosing significant weight, supported by the structure, eating plan, own brand food products and weekly meetings the organization is so famous for.

So you guys must be thinking why I am talking business, stocks and shares, profits and losses when I am a yoga teacher, running a yoga business. Weight Watchers is an institution in the dieting world and its demise really got me thinking about the perceptions we have of things, people and ourselves and how that can change over time.

One of the biggest critiques against Weight Watchers re-branding is that it is moving the company away from what it has been known for, for the last 55 years, that being promoting and encouraging weight loss towards a new more contemporary, holistic tagline: “Wellness that works.” i.e. focusing on the hugely popular and ever growing health and wellness industry.  And while it is true that the health industry in general is moving to a more nuanced language of the relationship between food, weight, health and overall well-being, Weight Watchers/WW seemed to have thought that 55 years of branding and advertising, could be upgraded within a few months. Their audience has seemed to be less convinced.

So what does this all have to do with YOU? Especially if you are NOT looking to join Weight Watchers, but ARE trying to manage with the reality of your daily life, trying to preserve your mental, physical and emotional health whilst also managing your family, a job and everything else that comes with being a woman, mother, wife, sister, friend etc. etc.

Here are a couple of things for you to consider:

  1. In spite of its so-far poor performance, one thing is clear from the Weight Watchers story – big companies/organisations need to adapt and change to keep up with the changing environment. Change is not a bad thing, in fact, it is a totally natural part of life. As women we know only too well that our bodies are constantly changing, our hormones are never the same one day to the next, and our moods can change with the wind. This is all NORMAL. The important point however is this: Understanding that change is always going to happen, how do you prepare for it? Weight Watchers did not prepare their existing and potential audience well enough for the changes they were about to make. Without preparation, understanding and a plan in place, you will not be able to adapt to the changes that will inevitably appear. We need to focus on creating a supportive structure (physically, emotionally, mentally) so that we can deal and adapt to change as well as possible.

  2. The need for Weight Watchers to re-brand may have been legitimate as the food and health industry have changed and are now more intertwined than ever before. However, changing perceptions of who you are and what you stand for needs to be done in an authentic and honest way, as part of a life journey of learning, growing and developing. Not just to tap into the latest craze. This is true for us as women too. Only when you know who and what you are, can you connect to the most authentic part of yourself. It is not always easy and there are often many obstacles along the way, but only when you are able to be confident and honest about who you are as a woman, listening to your most authentic voice, can you fulfill your purpose, learn and grow, and live a full and rich life.

  3. Weight Watchers was not a weight-loss program that ever resonated with me, BUT it knew who and what it was, what its message was and what it set out to achieve. It didn’t care that I didn’t connect with its message or program, because there were millions of other people who did and loved it! Yes, the diet market may be changing and Weight Watchers needs to be connected enough to their audience to know how to change with and for them, BUT they should have done that by staying true to their original purpose.

As a yoga teacher who educates women about their health through yoga, I am very much aware that not everyone will connect with the things I am saying or my approach to using yoga as a tool for dealing with, treating or even preventing health issues that arise throughout your life-cycle. It is only natural that some women will love what I have to say, and some less so. That is totally fine, as I know how much those women who are open and ready to participate in a Yoga Nashit class will get out of it. But not every woman will respond to what I am saying, and that is totally fine. For me, the Weight Watchers re-branding fiasco has reinforced how important it is to stay true to what you believe, what you stand for, what you know you can offer and how you can serve your community. There will always be people who love it and people for whom it is less relevant.

Much has been and will still be written about the trials and tribulations that Weight Watchers/WW have experienced. I don’t believe this is the end of the road for the world’s largest diet promoting company. However, they will need to keep themselves grounded and focus to reclaim their sense of place and market stability. And after this experience, their position in the food-health-wellness industry may be different. But that is fine, because there are important lessons for all of us to learn as we observe their journey in dealing and managing with change!

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