January is the biggest month on weight-loss firms’ calendars, with ‘new year, new me’ customers eager to put their money where their mouth is by shedding those pounds. Industry stalwart Weight Watchers welcomed in 2018 by announcing superstar entertainer DJ Khaled as a brand ambassador for its new Freestyle program, fattening its shares by up to as much as 7.3% upon the news.
‘I'm grateful for what's to come and to share my journey with you all,’ said Khaled, who also explained how joining Weight Watchers was a partner in his ‘process to greatness.’
With four million followers on Twitter, almost nine million on Instagram and a Snapchat account that is said to rake in 3-4 million views per ‘snap’, Khaled’s journey will certainly be shared with a lot of people.
Weight Watchers has been in rapid turnaround since Oprah Winfrey took a stake in the company back in 2015. Last year was the first time an annual gain had been posted since 2011, and a raft of other positive figures have been attributed to Oprah’s inclusion as the brand’s public face.
Weight Watchers had 3.4 million subscribers in Q3 2017 - its highest figure in half a decade - and revenues were up 15% to $323m. Bringing DJ Khaled onboard doubles down on the same strategy the company used so successfully with Oprah: partner up with influencers to engage with potential customers.
Influencer marketing, in which companies focus on noteworthy people rather than target markets by traditional ad buying, is hardly a new thing. In 2017, spend on influencers topped $1bn for the first time through Instagram, and this is only set to increase. ‘Long-term, substantial relationships between influencers and the brands they work with are no longer a "nice to have" but are a "must have",’ said Crystal Duncan, senior account executive at PR big beast Edelman. Here are three reasons why.
Cord-cutting, another trend that is likely to continue this year, is one of the main reasons influencer marketing has taken off. Market researcher eMarketer reports that time watching video on digital devices will continue to rise, as more consumers switch from TV to tablet, particularly at the younger end of the market.
Users have more power than ever over their viewing experiences in a crowded space of content providers and creators. What is remarkable about the creators, who use social media channels with relentless savviness to promote their personal brand, is the extent to which they are able to engage their fans.
Most users engage with their favourite social posts at least once a day. Weight Watchers is not so much getting DJ Khaled as his community: the large, social pool of users that are tuning into his every publicised action.
‘Social media changes the relationship between companies and customers from master and servant, to peer to peer,’ says marketing expert and speaker Jay Baer.
Khaled’s mastery of social media has given him increased public presence and huge influence. People don’t just watch what Khaled is doing. They engage by liking, commenting and tweeting in droves, because they actively relate to and care about him.
Weight Watchers isn’t so much paying Khaled to post about the brand, but rather getting him involved in a content partnership. This fits in perfectly with the company's strategy that aims to sign up customers to a weight loss journey through a monthly subscription, rather than a flat fee.
‘By capturing and sharing his process, [Khaled] will enliven and inspire his community, showing that it's possible to integrate healthy habits into your life,’ said President and CEO Mindy Grossman. A long term relationship with an influencer creates a more meaningful interaction with the brand beyond a one-off post that would only engage users passively.
Just under three quarters of consumers say that social networks influence their buying decisions, according to the Marketing Agency ODM group, and influencers can tap into this by involving users with social content.
This particularly helps Weight Watchers, whose product benefits are tangible. When Oprah announced that she had lost 40lbs using Weight Watchers last January, subscriber numbers reached record highs. Fans who engaged with Oprah could literally see and follow the difference the product was having on her.
In an industry where inspiration and motivation are key to retaining loyalty, Khaled can be an active model for a change that the company sees most of its customers as willing to strive towards (so long as he actually loses weight…). Khaled will also appeal to a much younger demographic than Oprah.
Oprah and Khaled cross the line between celebrity and influencer. the two terms tend to be separated by marketers because the level on which they engage their audience is different. The conventional methods of placement, endorsement and sponsorship are hallmarks of celebrity advertising.
Oprah and Khaled might be celebrities in that they came from the traditional backgrounds of TV and music, but where they cross the line as influencers is by how they makes themselves accessible to people through social media.
‘We are seeing consumers start to look for greater authenticity from influencers and to try and look beyond the post to what the influencer actually likes and what their day is like,’ says entrepreneur and investor Murray Newlands. ‘This will provide an opportunity for brands to find even more novel ways to feature products in the lives and routines of influencers and drive customer engagement.’
Influencers have a dimension of credibility because their brand, unlike celebrities, is fundamentally social. Instead of just providing exposure to a brand, influencers lend their credibility to it. Today’s consumer can tell the difference between an advert and a personal recommendation.
Influencer marketing relies on finding the balance between the two in order to retain authenticity among an audience. With Khaled and Oprah, Weight Watchers have tipped the scales in their favour by making them a part of the product. Their weight loss is the company’s gain.