Tony Miller is VP, Growth and Performance Marketing at WW (formerly known as Weight Watchers), which is now helping more than five million members around the world lose weight and build a healthier lifestyle.

Miller recently spoke at Econsultancy Live about how WW uses data-driven personalisation to forge meaningful (and long-lasting) connections with consumers.

Creating experiences relevant to the individual

Personalisation is at the heart of WW’s current strategy, underpinned by the ‘MyWW’ app, which Miller says “is designed to provide high quality experiences to individual audiences.”

‘We all know that health and wellness is a personal experience, and not the same for each and every person. [The app] is focused around the right content, having the right conversation, and ultimately leading to a commerce solution that helps each individual.”

Miller explains how personalisation has been a journey for WW, beginning with basic optimisation, “where our goal was really to improve conversion rates. This was about sending the masses similar things – visitors are seeing the best-performing choice, but everybody is getting that.”

At the other end of the spectrum (and the highest level of personalisation), WW has arrived at one-to-one personalisation. Miller describes this as ‘the holy grail’ of marketing, with brands striving to give customers a data-driven experience that is, crucially, relevant to the individual. 

“As marketers we are always asking ourselves, how do we provide what our customers want, what they need, what they expect, with a frictionless journey that doesn’t break, and actually puts the consumer first and foremost above business needs? When this is done right, it can provide great return on investment, and optimisation at scale.”

tony miller econ live

Is personalisation future proof?

One-to-one personalisation might be considered the holy grail for brands, but with increased scrutiny around permissions, compliance, and data security – how will personalisation evolve?

“We’ve got less third party available in our ecosystem today, and third party data sets that enhance audience segmentation will shortly be a thing of the past,” says Miller. “With the rollout of iOS 14, that means tighter restrictions across Facebook, lower opt-in rates, and reduction in cookie consent. Ultimately, moving into the future, when there aren’t cookies at all – is this really future proof? How are we going to achieve the same level of personalisation that we have been doing?”

Ultimately, Miller explains how Covid-19 (and WW’s response to it) has helped shine a light on how WW can best reach consumers. 

“Predictability, seasonality, and buying patterns have gone out the window. We’ve all seen distraction and inertia set in, and that has altered people’s focus on their health and wellness journeys,” he says. “Healthy eating and exercise have quickly been de-prioritised. Physically our worlds have reduced and our focus is on our local area and local communities, and sustainability is becoming more and more important.”

“Recognising these changes in our consumers – both their preferences and behaviour – and being able to act on this in an agile way is of the utmost importance.”

Miller suggests that Covid-19 has actually enabled WW to meet consumers’ needs “like never before.” This is because “consumers want more than just a message that is based on some data that we hold on them.” Instead, the majority of people want an emotional connection that goes beyond what their customer data might say about them. “What data can’t do.. it can’t infer what I am thinking or how I am feeling,” says Miller.

Leaning into emotional drivers to form connection

So, how can brands create this emotional connection, as well as factors that build and drive trust? Miller suggests that ‘emotionally-led messaging’ is the answer.

“People don’t just want to be talked to and given ‘personalisation’ to get them to the next action. They want to be inspired – not just have information sent to them.”

WW proved this throughout the pandemic, as it swiftly reacted to shifts in consumer behaviour (and need). “We’ve been a business built on physical relationships and one-to-one connection. When everything shut down last year, we had to be agile and think outside of the box. We immediately closed all of our workshops but opened everything back up virtually, globally, within six days. We were able to still extend a helping hand to our consumers – we trained all of our coaches to be able to run their workshops in a virtual environment.”

Miller explains how this approach has generated better business results.

“Leaning into emotion actually provides more profit in the long-term, it will drive more connection with our consumers. We see this first hand when we’re talking about our campaigns, we’ve moved from what is, quite traditionally, functional messaging into the more emotionally-led messaging and we’re seeing our CPA’s lower, our conversion rates increase, our click-through rates increase, and ultimately our sign-ups increase. Engagement rates are four to five higher than the benchmark.”

Last year, WW changed its marketing plans in reaction to consumers not going on holiday when they normally would, and instead reached out to consumers with more home-based content. “Continually, we’re leaning into ‘what are our consumers thinking and feeling?’ They wanted more connection so we set up live cooking classes for them so that we could cook and commune together over Zoom. They wanted more activity but they wanted to be guided through that, so we gave them ‘healthy body, healthy mind’ live classes…”

As the pandemic progressed and lockdowns continued, WW also worked to build new features into its app to ensure that consumers felt cared-for, understood, and to further that emotional connection.

One of the features implemented is a question-based weekly recap, which contextualises progress based on the user’s mindset rather than weight loss results. “Were you on plan? Did you get enough sleep? How are you feeling or what are you thinking?” Miller asks as examples. “Then it gives you a progress report and changes course so it’s actually more relevant to you going into the next week or two weeks.”

WW for the digital generation

Finally, Miller explains how WW is building on its digital transformation with a new generation of virtual coaches (that consumers can interact with online), and that are designed to engage new customers. It is also something that has been entirely borne out of customer insight.

“We’ve tapped into consumer insight which told us that people want accountability, they want connection, but they want to do it on their own terms. They don’t want to go to a weekly class or see a coach face-to-face. So this innovation, a new experience built from our highly curated suite of coaches, is here to motivate and inspire that new cohort.”

“It is a sense of… you get a personal chef, a personal trainer, and a mind-set coach all wrapped up into one.”

Miller says that WW’s emotionally-led approach to personalisation is paying off. 

“Even through a pandemic year we’ve seen year-on-year growth, and we’ve had a flip in our overall mix, moving away from physical and into digital. This has been possible because we have still used personalisation, but we haven’t been focused on personalisation as a means to an end, but personalisation to really get under the skin of what [consumers] are thinking and feeling, and offer them a program that’s layered in positivity, emotional connection, and community.”

Harnessing the Power of Personalisation Best Practice Guide