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Adding "First" to Digital

Lucinda Newcomb talks about the legacy of the pandemic for product and the future of the digital-first consumer experience.

  • December 2022

How does a product founded on face-to-face human interaction cope when the whole world goes digital overnight? Lucinda Newcomb, former Chief Product Officer of WW (Weight Watchers) can tell that story. Piloting WW's product experience was her job through the lockdown. And in it, she learned valuable lessons about digital transformation and the role of Product in the lives of consumers. Lucinda and I connected to talk about the legacy of the pandemic and the future of the digital-first consumer experience. 

What brought you to a career in Product leadership? 

Like so many in the Product discipline, I feel like I was discovered as a Product Manager. The first ten years of my career were in consulting during the dotcom boom (and bust), helping big companies figure out how to define their digital strategies. I asked a friend: Isn’t there a role internal to companies where you are both defining big picture strategies and then bringing them to life? She diagnosed me as a Product Manager and promptly hired me at Yahoo!. In the 17 years since, I have led large Product teams at Sephora, Walmart, Weight Watchers (WW), Gap and Lonely Planet, so it seems my friend may have been correct!

You were CPO of WW during the pandemic lockdown. How did you manage the pivot to virtual meetings? What did you learn in the process? 

I started at WW on March 9, 2020. As you can imagine, it was a wild time to onboard. In my first day we had a hypothetical discussion: What if we need to close one or more of our in-person workshops, a significant portion of our business?  Fast forward eight pandemic days, and we had launched Virtual Workshops in 11 countries, with thousands of online workshops for our millions of members. 

Initially, we just wanted to be there for our members -- to help them stay on track during an emotionally fraught time. Like most companies, we assumed we’d switch back in a few short weeks when the pandemic was over. But obviously that’s not how things happened. Instead, we saw a fundamental shift in member behavior. Ultimately, that accelerated our move to becoming digital-first. 

Over the two years I led Product, we and our members embraced the ways in which a digitally-delivered experience can be more convenient and more effective. It required us to rethink the role of our app - from companion to coach. We shifted our mindset from delivering features to driving habit change. We launched a new experience in which members could access premium coaching experiences via the app. We started to build a personalization engine that would put the best experience in front of the member based on their engagement state. And we simplified our growth strategy to focus on selling digital first.

Most importantly, we became relentlessly member-centric, putting their changing needs at the heart of every decision. You always have to meet your customers where they are, and we had to be nimble to keep up with the rapid pace of consumer change.

How do you see the consumer digital experience evolving over the next five years? 

Back in the early days of e-commerce, it was so easy: Your customers were either in your stores or on your website, and never the two shall meet. But mobile changed all of that. In order to succeed in this new omnichannel world, you need to recognize the same customer is shopping you in ALL of your channels, and wants to be seen and understood across all of them. It’s not a competition between channels; it’s a collaboration across channels to meet the customer wherever she wants to be in that moment. That means understanding the end-to-end, omnichannel journey your customer is on. As an example, when I was at Walmart, we knew it wasn’t enough to make groceries available for order online. We had to make sure our customer had a complete order that would help them feed their family. Creating a successful omnichannel experience means empowering your store associates with digital experiences that make them smarter and more efficient in helping customers. It means bringing down your internal walls between store and digital organizations to figure out the best possible way to service your customers. 

How do you think the Product function will evolve in scale, scope, and pathways?

When companies first build a Product team, the focus is usually on delivering a lot of great features. There’s a backlog of requests, and quantity and speed of delivery is key. But ultimately, that’s not the end game. When you put the customer at the center of everything you do, you start to think about the entire experience. Sometimes digital features are the answer, but sometimes the best, most efficient and effective answer is new content, or messaging, or the call center, or virtual coaching. The more Product is integrated with the rest of the business and functions, and aligned together around the impact you want to have on the customer and the business, the more innovative and effective the answers you will deliver. Product is at the intersection of business and technology, and should always be helping every function collaborate in service to the customer. 

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