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FAT or FAD? Marketing Lessons from the Diet Industry

When it comes to fad diets, most systems will only work for a fraction of their participants, and those that lose weight on the system often regain that weight in a matter of weeks or months. Still, hundreds of fad diets and nutritional gimmicks have become successful thanks to their websites and online marketing.

Why is this the case?

There’s nothing magical at work here. Instead, founders of fad diets and eating plans understand some basic marketing components, and the fundamentals of human psychology, and are able to exploit them with carefully calculated tactics. As an online entrepreneur and marketer, you can use some of these lessons to improve your own campaigns.

Marketing Lessons from the Diet Industry

Internalize and apply these key lessons from successful fad diets:

  1. Know the power of branding. Several diet plans have risen to public attention only after they successfully branded themselves. In the diet and weight loss world, this is often done by harnessing the recognizable power of an existing celebrity, such as Jenny Craig leveraging Kirstie Alley, Jason Alexander, and Queen Latifah as spokespeople. Associating your brand with another influencer is a powerful shortcut to build your brand visibility; otherwise, you’ll need to create an in-depth and instantly recognizable identity to serve as your brand’s foundation.

  2. Make it easy for your customers. You’ll be a bigger hit with your customers if you make it easy for them to understand and use your products. For example, Nutrisystem (and systems like it) rely on pre-packaged, pre-planned meals to help their customers stay on the right eating path, rather than forcing them to crunch numbers or learn an entire new system of what’s okay to eat and what isn’t. You can use this to your advantage by reducing your product or service to its core fundamentals, such as with a three-step presentation, or a before-and-after showcase.

  3. Target one specific audience. Rather than trying to get everyone to love and use your product, you’ll want to narrow your focus down to one specific target audience. Focusing on one niche audience has several benefits, including reducing your competition, increasing your relevance, and improving your chances of spreading socially. Diets often do this by going after females, who are statistically more likely to be "weight conscious" or "dieters" than comparable demographics—but your target audience will depend on who’s most likely to buy your product.

  4. Offer a guarantee. Most weight loss products offer a money-back guarantee—even if they don’t truly work. Why? Because a guarantee makes people feel safe. It’s a mark of confidence in your product, and makes customers feel like they’ll have some level of protection in case the product or service isn’t as good as it looks. You don’t have to offer a money-back guarantee, necessarily, but you should offer something risk-free, such as a free trial.

  5. Understand and give positive reinforcement. If you want your customers to keep coming back, you need to give them some kind of positive reinforcement. Some systems, like Weight Watchers, use goal tracking and milestones to encourage their participants to stick with the system. Outside of the diet industry, apps like Stash (a way people can enter the investment world with as little as $5) update users on progress (dividends paid, however small). Other online brands use regular discounts and special offers to make customers feel closer to the brand. It’s a good way to keep your brand not only top-of-mind, but associated with positive benefits.

  6. Attract more people with content marketing. Not all fad diets rely on content marketing, but those that do end up far more successful. They’ll often publish studies, findings, and “quick tips” on how to lose weight, which automatically draws in their key demographics. At that point, all they have to do is add a quick call-to-action that leads to their product, and they could make a sale (either immediately or over time). Never underestimate the appeal of content marketing when it addresses your target customer’s needs.

  7. Harness the power of social media. You also can’t afford to neglect the power of social media. Fad diets become fads only when they’re frequently talked about and shared with peers. Modern weight loss companies use social media to their advantage, stoking the flames by announcing free offers, engaging with their followers, and encouraging their customers to share their experiences. If successful, it can trigger a cascade of popularity.

Putting the Lessons to Work

Chances are, you aren’t marketing a diet or eating plan—but that doesn’t matter. Any product or service you market can take advantage of these key tactics and principles. One of the best ways to improve your online marketing is, strangely enough, by looking at products completely unrelated to yours; it’s like seeing the marketing world from an entirely different angle. Through that lens, you’ll be able to generate some of your best, most innovative ideas. 

About the Author

Larry Alton is a professional blogger, writer and researcher who contributes to a number of reputable online media outlets and news sources. In addition to journalism, technical writing and in-depth research, he’s also active in his community and spends weekends volunteering with a local non-profit literacy organization and rock climbing. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.
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