In recent weeks you’ve probably heard that Melissa Joan Hart is the new spokeswoman for Nutrisystem. You may have even seen their five-day sample kits on the end caps at Walmart. What you may have heard less about is their new CEO, a woman worthy of being known. Dawn Zier assumed her new role in November and in doing so became Nutrisystem’s first female chief.
The timing for such a transition couldn’t be better with the resurgence of women’s rights discussions lead in part by Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, something Zier planned to read on an upcoming vacation. As Sandberg discusses at length in her book, Zier also acknowledged a hard work ethic, managing priorities, and having great mentors along the way to help her achieve this breakthrough role.
Breakthrough because there aren’t a lot of women sharing that CEO status with her. The Fortune 500 only lists 21 female CEOs, or 4.2 percent of the total list. That’s one more woman than the US Senate. Amongst ten of the largest diet brands, she’s only the third woman to sit as the chief executive, joined by peers Dana Fiser at Jenny Craig and Elise Donahue at South Beach Diet. Weight Watchers, Medifast, Bistro MD, Atkins, Biggest Loser Resort, Retrofit, and even Jillian Michaels all have male CEOs.
“We need, as a company, to understand the female perspective,” Zier told me in a recent interview. We say, the entire industry needs to better understand the female perspective since 80 percent of its consumers are, in fact, women. Now, better than ever, Nutrisystem is primed to do so and in a way their competitors may miss out on with the gaping discrepancy between male brand leadership and female consumers.
Currently, Zier says Nutrisystem’s marketing “lacks an emotional hook in advertising” because the messages focus on good carbs, the scientific foundation, glycemic index, clinical studies. “When someone decides to go on a diet, it’s an emotional decision,” she said. Together with the company’s new Chief Marketing Officer, Keira Krausz, who worked with Zier at Reader’s Digest, Zier plans to speak to women in a way that proves the brand is listening, that Nutrisystem gets it.
“A woman’s goal is not to be a bikini clad beauty on the beach, it’s about health,” Zier explained. “The obesity epidemic is real, it’s growing, as are health care costs. Women don’t want to be a size two, they want to be at a healthy weight. They want to be comfortable in their own skin.”
She talked up some of the changes consumers can expect to see under her leadership. For one, she wants to get the brand’s message across with assets they already have.
“We don’t get credit for the amazing counseling department at Nutrisystem,” she told me. Nutrisystem members receive complimentary access to registered dietitians and weight loss counselors as part of their meal subscriptions.
There are five main ways Dawn’s focusing her attention as she spends her first months as CEO and works to improve the company’s sales and position amongst its heavy-hitting competitors.
1. A return to direct marketing fundamentals with more targeted offers and messages that are relevant and engaging.
2. Improve margins, an internal initiative that consumers won’t directly see.
3. Explore a retail approach to widen their audience, something they’re already doing with five-day samples in Walmart stores.
4. Re-examine digital initiatives, including investing in the user’s experience on the website.
5. Product improvement through simplification, tailoring, and personalization “by next diet season.”
The marketing will be key to carrying out several of those initiatives. For years, celebrity spokespeople have been a primary tactic, employing Dan Marino (a move she says helped “legitimize” male dieting), Marie Osmond, and others to tout their own weight loss as a result of Nutrisystem’s plan.
“We’re going to look at the celebs we use and use those who are very authentic and that a large population can relate to,” Zier told us. Melissa Joan Hart appears to fit in to that plan. After she was announced this month, Krausz said, “[Melissa] mirrors our values and will resonate with our customers as authentic.”
But it’s about to get a lot more authentic. Both in Krausz’s statement and in our interview with Zier, the two Nutrisystem chiefs said that their new strategy will be a mix of both real people and celebrities who’ve had success with the diet.
Zier admits that “losing weight is hard, it’s not easy,” but that their programs make it simpler. She’s already a staunch champion for the Nutrisystem brand and spent a lot of time touting the benefits this 40-year diet industry leader has to offer.
She says in their four-decade history the brand has seen competitors come and go, but Nutrisystem carries on because “it’s not a fad, it’s not a miracle. It’s a program that sustains behavior modifications to live life differently.” She asserts that weight loss comes down to joint accountability, that it’s a two-sided commitment by the diet itself and the consumer. When both parties are putting in all they can, everyone wins.
Under her leadership there stand to be a lot of winners. The brand’s potential for growth is outstanding and the company has the right players and assets in place to make big moves. The consumer, both new and loyal, can expect more personalization, price differentiation, and product innovation. And for women in business, Dawn Zier fulfilling the role of first female CEO is some positive disruption to a stagnant and cliche business environment.
April 15th, 2013