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Creating Nutrisystem’s Healthy DR Diet

1 Feb, 2011 By: Thomas Haire Response

Chris Terrill says the weight-loss leader’s brand is built on a mix of DRTV, online and social marketing.


The nearly 40-year-old company offers its 28-day meal plans targeted to women, men, seniors and diabetics. The weight-loss program has had great success in the past half-decade after suffering through some lean times after the turn of the century.

“When Connerty said, ‘Let’s take the business direct,’ Nutrisystem had been a little dormant and had lost market share,” says Terrill. “But using DR gave him the confidence the company could spend bigger dollars more wisely. That ability for quantitative results — the ability to track spending, pull it back where it wasn’t working and spend it in other areas — allowed Nutrisystem to take off again. And it went to this new business model with a new diet but the same brand equity, making it the perfect candidate for DR success.”

When Terrill joined the team under CEO Joe Redling, he found a brand on the upswing. “We were able to continue to layer in spending across all media because DR and online were the right way to tap into a new base of consumers,” he says. “Plus, with our product, you need more explanation of how it works to interest people in the higher price point. DR lends itself perfectly to that.”

Nutrisystem helped customers lose more than 10 million pounds combined in 2009. And even when the economy turned sour late that year and over the next couple years, DR helped the company sustain its success. “Navigating tougher times meant testing different media mixes, but the business model allows us to maintain efficient spending and a comfortable budget,” Terrill says. “The ability to keep our DR machine running while building our brand is based on a lot of fresh creative and constant testing and monitoring.”

Flipping the Script

Terrill knows that Nutrisystem’s core brand is its female-focused meal plan. And he says that in such a competitive space, innovation in the company’s product offers and marketing efforts is crucial. “We need to keep innovating because of all the copycats in the market,” Terrill says.

While Nutrisystem has had much success using celebrity endorsers — including actress Angie Everhart, Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, singer Marie Osmond, NFL Hall-of-Famers Don Shula and Dan Marino, and tennis legend Billie Jean King — its most recent campaign hits at the heart of its customer base, featuring current real customers using Flip cameras to film their weight-loss efforts and talk about their experiences with Nutrisystem’s plans.

“We requested our customers send us Flip videos as a way to get to know our customer base better,” Terrill says. “What we received was full of potent emotions — powerful real stories. When we sent the videos to our new creative agency partner, DonatWald+Haque, it was only as a way for them to learn more about our customers. However, they immediately responded, ‘This is gold! How do we put it out to the public?’”

Terrill calls the videos “perfect testimonials.” The company’s newest campaign — which hit TV airwaves in late January — allows Nutrisystem’s members to express their success stories directly, while “also letting folks know about the new Nutrisystem, including lower prices on frozen food programs,” Terrill contends. “By combining these two things within a branded-response campaign, it’s something fresh for consumers, but it doesn’t deviate from our brand.”

Social media has also become a key part of Nutrisystem’s direct response mix, thanks especially to the company’s own community on “Some businesses are able to build an online community naturally, and we’re lucky to be one of those,” Terrill says. “Folks in the program naturally want to talk with other dieters, to share tips and tricks, to have a true social discourse about their weight loss.”

The company has a dedicated social media team that “monitors our customers’ discussions,” Terrill says. “We want that direct feedback, and we also want to be proactive in answering any questions that come up. We pass along information internally to the right sources and try to answer every question about the program we can, which furthers customer loyalty.”

Nutrisystem is also expanding its social media base to external sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and more. “We find that customers who are engaged in our social spaces stay involved in our programs longer,” Terrill says. “Exporting our internal community success to places like Facebook is crucial.”

Building on Lessons Learned

Terrill credits Nutrisystem’s “stable” of agencies and vendors for their efforts in building the company’s success. “When you have the budget we do, you always have a litany of partners, and they’re consistently in tune with what we need,” he says.

But he does single out the company’s newest agency partner, DonatWald+Haque, for their work on the current campaign. “We knew the agency had done well in this branded-response space, especially via their work with eHarmony,” Terrill says. “We knew that’s what we needed — to tell our whole story, but still drive new customers. The story of weight loss is an emotional one, and we needed a partner that could make the story of a life transformed come to life. The team at DonatWald+Haque is good enough and smart enough to realize that the Flip camera footage we had would tell that story perfectly.”

Terrill’s knowledge of the right type of agency partner, the right media mix and more comes from close to two decades of experience in marketing, E-commerce and direct response. During that time, he’s learned a number of valuable lessons, including putting the right people in place as the face and/or voice of a campaign.

“If you have great celebrities that have used, understand and love the product, they can be a tremendous asset in a DR setting, but if you bring in a paid voice, one that’s not a loyalist, it’s a lot harder to make it work,” he says. “The folks who embraced the brand consistently outsold those who didn’t, it’s just that simple.”

A final lesson that Terrill carries with him is more circumspect for anyone considering combining direct response and branding across multiple media. “As much as DR is DR, you can’t underestimate the spillover effect of a good DR campaign,” he says. “DR drives people to the Web and other outlets, and for many decades, a lot of marketers have underestimated these spillover effects. I know, because we want to be able to measure absolutely everything, and sometimes you can’t. Just because you’re running something and it’s not fully traceable doesn’t mean it’s completely untraceable.”

Terrill continues, “We’ve definitely pulled back shows we thought weren’t performing, only to find they were actually having untraceable effects to our Web conversion. DR sells, but it also helps the brand in ways you can’t always measure directly.” ■

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