The Weight Watch­ers Case


Weight Watch­ers had been the most dom­i­nant play­er in the diet­ing mar­ket for decades up until 2015 when the company’s sub­scrip­tion rev­enue shrank from $6 bil­lion to $1 bil­lion over a four year peri­od. In response to this, the com­pa­ny sought to fig­ure out why peo­ple were now reluc­tant to join their pro­gram.  As a result, the com­pa­ny iden­ti­fied an ongo­ing cul­tur­al phe­nom­e­non,” diet­ing fatigue”. Peo­ple no longer want­ed to hear about “diet­ing” or “weight loss” but were instead inter­est­ed in becom­ing healthy and fit. Clean eat­ing and con­cepts such as “strong is the new skin­ny” heav­i­ly fueled this new mindset.

In response to this shift, Weight Watch­ers decid­ed to alter it’s mes­sag­ing and cre­ate new slo­gans like “time to move beyond the scale”. The com­pa­ny also suc­cess­ful­ly revamped its mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy and invest­ed in new tech­nolo­gies. Today Weight Watch­ers has gained new momen­tum and it’s stock mar­ket val­ue con­tin­ues to climb. This is in large part due to the company’s open-mind­ed and dynam­ic approach to solv­ing this cul­tur­al challenge. 

Here are three busi­ness lessons that fit­ness club own­ers can take away from this story:

1. Rec­og­nize Cul­tur­al Shifts: 

Don’t assume! Ask them and listen!


The Weight Watch­ers case illus­trates that being in touch with your client base is essen­tial. But what does this mean for fit­ness and health clubs? It is essen­tial for you to be in touch with your client base and be aware of how your clients feel about their mem­ber­ships. This is why it is cru­cial to check in with your mem­bers reg­u­lar­ly. Don’t sim­ply assume what they want, ask, lis­ten, and then adapt. This will not only boost mem­ber reten­tion, but also sig­nal to your clients that you val­ue their opinion.

2. Adapt your messaging:

Diet­ing fatigue can also become a lia­bil­i­ty for your business


Many busi­ness­es are plagued by the “we’ve always done it this way” men­tal­i­ty toward new busi­ness ideas and strate­gies. This is espe­cial­ly the case when it comes to mar­ket­ing, where it is essen­tial to stay up to date and rec­og­nize new trends and cul­tur­al shifts (see point one).

As we’ve learned from the Weight Watch­ers case, diet­ing fatigue, for instance, can become a real lia­bil­i­ty. As a response to this chal­lenge, the com­pa­ny altered its mes­sag­ing to be more inclu­sive and less guilt-dri­ven such as their “move beyond the scale” campaign.

Fit­ness and health clubs are also impact­ed by this social phe­nom­e­non of diet­ing fatigue. Yet they often still rely on old tropes in their ad cam­paigns and con­tin­ue to pro­mote the stan­dard new year’s res­o­lu­tion slo­gans like,  “final­ly los­ing those ten pounds that have been bug­ging you for years”. If there is any­thing we can learn from the Weight Watch­ers case, we need to acknowl­edge that peo­ple no longer want to be told that they have to lose weight. That’s why more innocu­ous slo­gans like strong is the new skin­ny” are gain­ing in popularity.

Instead of guilt­ing new clients into sign­ing a con­tract after the hol­i­days, fit­ness clubs should seize the oppor­tu­ni­ty to con­nect with their clients. For instance, they could replace the old “final­ly lose those ten pounds with us” ad with new more pro­duc­tive mes­sag­ing that res­onates with their tar­get group.

3. Invest in new technologies

Anoth­er les­son fit­ness own­ers can learn from the Weight Watch­ers case, is that invest­ing in new tech­nolo­gies pays off. After their sales fig­ures had plum­met­ed, Weight Watch­ers decid­ed not only to rethink its mes­sag­ing but also to final­ly keep up with its fierce com­peti­tors and cre­ate an online plat­form and a new app. Espe­cial­ly because Weight Watch­ers joined in on the “quan­ti­fied self” move­ment, they were able to con­vince cus­tomers that their com­pa­ny also belonged in the twenty-first-century.

As the world moves toward a ful­ly dig­i­tal econ­o­my, fit­ness club own­ers can ben­e­fit from new tech­nolo­gies as well and there­by increase their rev­enue. As we’ve already point­ed out in a pre­vi­ous arti­cle about bou­tique fit­ness, experts pre­dict for exam­ple that data-dri­ven work­outs are the future. So why not invest in solu­tions that will quan­tifi­ably improve the work­out qual­i­ty of your mem­bers, improve their expe­ri­ence and there­fore among oth­er things increase mem­ber retention?

Busi­ness lessons for fit­ness club owners


So here’s what we’ve learned: First, it is essen­tial to be in touch with your client base and to always be on top of cul­tur­al shifts that also affect the atti­tudes of your club mem­bers. Sec­ond, always be ready to adapt your mes­sag­ing and don’t rely on old tropes. Be Cre­ative. Third, invest in the future of your busi­ness and keep up with tech­no­log­i­cal and dig­i­tal innovation.