At Nutrisystem Healthy Marketing Is an Ongoing Endeavor

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Nutrisystem EVP and CMO Keira Krausz speaks candidly about her personal relationship with the brand and why she's passionate about the business.

 

Nutrisystem's customers aren't the only ones looking to improve their health. Company executives at the Philadelphia-based weight loss company know that keeping the organization fit and healthy needs to be an ongoing endeavor. In fact, EVP and CMO Keira Krausz joined Nutrisystem in February 2013 as part of a new executive team committed to reinvigorating the company and its strategy. Direct marketing training was a central component of the strategic turnaround, says Krausz, who speaks candidly about her personal relationship with the brand and why she's passionate about the business.

What's your marketing passion?

What I love about marketing—and about direct marketing in particular—is that there's always room for improvement. I'm a super-competitive person. For me, this job is a never-ending puzzle. There's always a challenge, and that's something I convey to new hires and to my team. If something is working today, great; let's take a moment to celebrate, and then let's figure out how to make it better for tomorrow.

Is it difficult to sustain that commitment to continuous improvement?

It isn't, especially with regard to direct marketing at Nutrisystem. I was a customer long before there was a job opening for me here. I also come from a family where my father is overweight and has relatively severe complications from Type 2 Diabetes. My mother struggled with obesity for most of her life and, genetically speaking, I was not destined to be a Skinny Minnie. I relate on a very personal basis to our customers. Now, I'm not going to say that I assume I understand the mind of the customer all the time. We are a heavily research- and testing-based company, but I have a passion based on personal and family experience. 

As the leader of the marketing organization, what do you emphasize to your team?

One of the most important approaches relates to our organizational culture, which is friendly but candid. I encourage our people to speak up and ask questions, and then to go get the facts that answer those questions. Questioning authority is a good thing; people should challenge me, just as I should challenge [CEO] Dawn [Zier]. We're a medium-size company, but we run the marketing group like a small company—a small company that loves data and analytics. 

What are some practical ways you integrate the drive for improvement into daily activities?

We use formal and informal approaches. One informal way is that when I wake up each morning, I scroll through my Facebook newsfeed, looking for posts from our customers, before I even put my feet on the floor. I especially like to see what the informal Facebook groups are saying. I read through the conversations to see what successes and challenges our customers are experiencing. Something interesting almost always captures my attention. I'll take a screen grab of it and then email it to some lucky soul on our team and say, “Hey, take a look at this....”

Tell me about something from your early morning research that you sent to someone on your team.

A few weeks ago I saw that a woman was upset because the breakfast items she was planning to enjoy to get her through the next week were gone. Her husband had eaten them. She was asking her Facebook friends what she should do because the meal plan [that Nutrisystem] lays out is quite specific. You're supposed to eat what we send you and stick to a plan. The woman's friends on Facebook were coaching her on what she could substitute for the missing muffins. I took a screen grab of that and sent it to the head of our contact center and customer care group. My email said something like, “Wouldn't it be nice if she got a care package that said, ‘A little birdie told me that somebody ate your muffins; here are six more to get you through the week.'” Our team did just that. It was a lot of fun for the team, and it really showed us that we're a direct marketing business. We don't have face-to-face contact all the time, but we can be highly personal.

Very cool. What's a formal way you focus your team on improvement?

We're very metrics-driven here. Every day a large group of people receive the same key metrics. The measures are all driven by consumer behavior: delayed orders, reordering, what they're ordering, etc. We take a look at them and discuss what they mean. If everything is in line, we don't have to discuss much. Once a week our channel managers, creative team, and leader of the contact center sit down together and decide what those metrics are telling us about each key part of the business, and what actions we're going to take immediately based on those metrics.

What else do you do inside the marketing function that drives continuous improvement?

The fact that our contact center is on site is a major advantage. All we have to do is walk down one flight of stairs and we're in our contact center. We have ongoing and regularly scheduled days where our marketing team visits the contact center and shadows a colleague there, someone who works in sales, retention, customer service, or counseling. We listen in on their calls and learn what customers are experiencing. It gives all of us a very hands-on understanding of the customer and also sparks ideas about what we can do better.

What's one marketing improvement opportunity that you identified and took action on?

Our current leadership team is mostly a combination of people who are brand new to Nutrisystem or who, like our CFO, returned to the company after a period of absence. We all basically started within a six-month period or so, and one of the key pillars of our first-year turnaround strategy was to focus on direct marketing fundamentals. For many legacy reasons only a few of our marketing people had received training on the basics of direct marketing. From the outside, we definitely look like a direct marketing company. E-commerce is our primary channel, we do direct response television and we basically use channels that are highly measurable. It's difficult to suddenly become a metrics-driven organization when people don't have a background in marketing fundamentals. So we've done lots of training, and basically two types of training.

What are they?

One is classroom training. Having somebody amazing such as [renowned direct marketing expert] Beth Smith come in has been really valuable. We had large scale representation from across the company in that classroom training, and it served as a very good foundation. Additionally, I'm a big, big believer in day-in, day-out, hour-by-hour on-the-job training. I'm not alone in that belief, which stems from my own experience. When I was a newly minted MBA starting at Reader's Digest, a guy named Bill Taylor, who is a legend there and a direct marketing wizard, spent half of every day with me, teaching me the basics of direct marketing. He showed me that I shouldn't have to use an Excel spreadsheet for everything—that I could also use my brain to think and constantly ask questions rather than running more numbers.  There were a couple other very senior managers at Reader's Digest who spent a lot of time with the newest product manager on the block.

How else do you spread the gospel about improvement?

Our culture really helps. Everyone's goal is to stay two steps ahead of their boss. The two-step rule is such that when your manager asks you a question, you should have an answer ready and also be able to suggest an action. Since we're highly metrics-driven, this means that we're constantly looking for ways to draw insights from data that lead to actions, and these actions lead to improvements. Now, it's a little tricky in my case because our CEO is very hands-on in monitoring our metrics, and she is very high energy. But that's the rule, regardless of who you work for.

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