How a former Reader‘s Digest exec turned Nutrisystem around one data point at a time

Investors and dieters, curiously, share a basic commonality: Each relies on numbers to measure performance. While the former long for an explosive surge upward and the latter a rapid decline, the numbers nevertheless gauge success.

Dawn Zier is a firm believer that numbers are key — not only to measure performance but also to drive it. Fortunately, her analytics approach has been a boon both for dieters and investors.

Zier, a businesswoman with a master‘s degree from MIT, believes analytics are the way of the future. When Nutrisystem hired her away from Reader‘s Digest in 2012 to help turn around the struggling weight-management company, one of the first things she did as president and CEO was institute a facts-based culture, believing that if you can gain better insights into existing and potential customers through data analysis, you can serve them better.

“When I came to the company, everybody was talking to me about their opinions on things, but we are an e-commerce driven company, so there‘s lots of data,” said Zier. “My theory was, I will have any conversation with anybody that wants to, but it has to be fact-based. And we have so much data, so come into the room and let‘s have a conversation not based on what you think but based on the data. … We went through several different transitions where we actually stopped meetings because nobody was talking facts, and then we moved into the mode where people would come to meetings with reams of paper and tons of data.”

Zier‘s analytical approach helped leverage its database of more than 7 million customers and renewed its focus on product and program innovation to offer a more customized and personal approach to weight loss.

Under her realm the company partnered with in 2013, which put Nutrisystem products in 3,700 stores. Two years later they acquired South Beach Diet, giving Nutrisystem a second big brand and a big boost in the company‘s stock price. Last year the company focused on personalized nutrition with the launch of a mail-delivery DNA testing kit that provides individuals with a weight-loss action plan based on metabolism and behaviors. Nutrisystem also has a huge online presence and is now focusing on cleaner eating and less frozen food. Each year it ships more than 185 million boxed meal kits right to consumers‘ doorsteps.