More than 2.5 million of Weight Watchers' best customers will begin receiving four-color self mailers today, just in time to meet all of those New Year's resolutions next week.

This time of year is a major direct mailing period for weight management companies, especially since the average adult gains six pounds between Thanksgiving and Christmas. In the spring, Weight Watchers, Woodbury, NY, will send out more targeted mailings thanks to its new database marketing services company. The company is helping Weight Watchers eliminate over mailing and improve tracking and understanding of its membership base.

Although Weight Watchers has been collecting data for 35 years — with 18 million names, demographic and weight-loss information — it couldn't manipulate that information.

“We weren't able to delve into the data and work with it the way we wanted to,” said Wayne Perra, general manager of marketing. “We thought we could do a lot more in terms of profiling and modeling and making selects for mailings. We knew that we needed something that we could use to access the data and do some analysis with it and be able to have the same or better response rate on our mail, just not necessarily drop as many pieces.”

Both the company and its franchises use this information to send 24 million primary direct mailings seven or eight times each year. For example, by examining the data more closely, Weight Watchers could avoid sending mailings to dormant customers or to people who don't usually respond to mailings. The company decided to go with MBS/Multimode, Islip, NY, a database management services company that is a subsidiary of DIMAC Marketing Corp., St. Louis.

Weight Watchers, which has a database that is 95 percent female, was attracted to MBS/Multimode because of the work it has done with other companies that target women.

“We especially like the 30 years of experience [MBS/Multimode] has in database management and marketing to women for several other clients such as Bloomingdale's, Tiffany, Coach and Saks Fifth Avenue,” said Kent Q. Kreh, president/CEO of Weight Watchers International. “That's going to be a valuable asset in targeting the Weight Watchers market.”

The two companies began working on the data over the fall, and MBS/Multimode will use Klondike, its ODBC-compliant data warehouse and data mining tool, to analyze the customers and integrate internal and external data for both its company-owned divisions and its franchises. It will use the information to drop up to 2 million direct mail pieces in the spring.

Weight Watchers will send its data to MBS/Multimode, which will run it through a conversion and update process. At that point, the information will be available online to Weight Watchers through a password-protected Web site. MBS/Multimode manages the data integrity of the system, but Weight Watchers will be responsible to the end-user activity and will use it to create customer snapshots, perform counts and view database profiles.

Weight management companies are assiduous about nurturing their customer bases because of the difficulty in finding names or renting lists of names of people who have weight-loss problems.

“These lists are not easily attainable,” said Lissa Napolillo, vice president of sales and marketing at MBS/Multimode. “Even if you were to recognize that demographic, perhaps the person doesn't want to lose weight — so you are sort of infringing on a privacy issue.”

Internal data is important because weight management companies' customers usually have an affinity to them.

“Weight management companies are rare in that even if customers terminate or become dormant — when the time comes emotionally where they are prepared to lose weight again — they'll go back to where you were,” Napolillo said.

Klondike will help Weight Watchers track its customers' weight-loss cycles so it can better market to them.

“A person could have started an enrollment, is active and part of the retention programs. They could terminate, they could re-enroll or they could be dormant on the file,” Napolillo said. “Our goal is to utilize the data mining tool to assist in the cycle a given customer happens to be in.”

In general, weight management companies are becoming more proactive when it comes to database marketing and direct mail.

“Companies have to have more information and be able to integrate and analyze information more specifically,” she said. “The weight management industry has to keep up with its customers and their demands to stay successful. It has to integrate the information, analyze it and come up with a customer profile so that companies can speak in a personal nature to that customer.”

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