It looks like apps are going to be the death of Weight Watchers. Not appetizers—software applications, specifically free online fitness apps. These apps that “suggest diets, count calories, and track progress” are carving heaping helpings from their profitability, according to a recent Washington Post article.
To be fair, competition from apps is not necessarily a death sentence. A lot of companies have survived technological disruptions by adapting to the new environment. But it looks like Weight Watchers is not going to be one of them, if recent comments by WW’s CEO Jim Chambers are any indication.
On an analyst call last year Chambers said, “We do not believe that free apps will solve the obesity epidemic. [But] I see now that the situation we are facing as a business and organization is more difficult than it originally appeared.” An honest admission and a good base to build on.
But then, during an analyst call this past July, Chambers said something that only Captain Edward “Those Icebergs Ain’t So Big” Smith could appreciate. “It is our fundamental belief,” he said, “that tools alone, technology alone, food programming alone will never reach the levels of success that are possible when they are combined with human engagement. … The strength of the Weight Watchers brand is and always will be in the human connections that make a weight-loss journey more successful.”
Unfortunately for Weight Watchers stock holders, Chambers is dead wrong about the technology. Apps don’t operate in a vacuum. The folks who share their app-derived weight-loss data on Facebook and other social media platforms enjoy the same support and encouragement as those who hop on a scale in a church basement, only on a much wider … uh, scale. The same goes for recipe-sharing, step-counting, and tearful binge-eating-confessions.
Chambers isn’t alone. History’s highway is littered with the wreckage of blue chippers who ignored the "paradigm shift ahead" signs posted whenever a game-changing technology alters the landscape.
If you want to see how we would handle Weight Watcher's existential crisis, check out this video.
How about you? Is some new technology willful blindness threatening to make your organization obsolete? How about your industry? Especially you, my association associates, is there a valuable service you provide that could be replaced by technology? Are there any services that can’t be?