When Lisa Borg joined the ATF Health Group as the head of marketing four years ago, she found one of their companies, the Toronto Laparoscopic Band Centre (TLBC) had hit a wall.

TLBC had a simple, proven procedure that had helped many clients shed unwanted pounds, but it was having trouble getting the word out. Borg identified two main roadblocks: the company was labouring under an awkward and forgettable name, and it was promoting itself through doctors, which kept it from working directly with clients and taking part in the wider discussion around obesity. “The company originally thought this was the easiest way to attract new customers,” says Borg. Yet they soon discovered it was more difficult. “Many doctors actually find it uncomfortable to talk about weight issues with their patients.”

The company—now known simply as Slimband—uses a 30-minute surgical procedure that involves placing a laparoscopic band around the upper part of a patient’s stomach. The band is then tightened to control the amount of food that’s allowed in at any one time, which makes patients feel full more quickly, thereby reducing the amount of food they eat.

Slimband says clients can expect to lose about 58 per cent of their excess body weight over the first three years and maintain this weight loss even after seven years. Unlike many other surgical procedures it can be reversed at any time.

One thing that sets Slimband apart from the competition is its strong focus on post-operative care. For a full five years after you have the procedure, you’re completely supported by Slimband’s patient-support team, which includes nurses and dietitians who help you make sure the weight comes off—and stays off.

Borg is particularly proud of the recent improvements Slimband has made to its post-op approach. She’s brought her extensive online experience to make sure the company keeps its patients well-informed at all times. On the day you have the procedure, you receive an email that tells you, step-by-step, what you should be doing and how you’re likely to feel as you begin your recovery. These emails continue—every day—for 30 days before they are switched over to a weekly message highlighting nutritional tips, recipes, weight-loss-related news and other useful information.

According to Borg, many patients have come to rely on the emails to get the most out of the procedure. “Some days, 100 per cent of these emails get opened,” she says. “And clients don’t hesitate to call us if they don’t receive them.”

Slimband also runs group seminars for clients through its website, often numerous times a day. “Using an online model like this lets clients participate at their leisure,” says Borg. The company also sees the seminars as a way for clients to share their stories and get feedback from one another. “By hearing other patients’ questions and experiences, they often pick up ideas that they wouldn’t have thought of on their own,” she says.

Q&A: Lisa Borg

Slimband’s chief operating officer shares insights behind the company’s stellar growth.

How did the name Slimband come about?

I always felt the Toronto Laparoscopic Band name posed a challenge. On one occasion, I was doing a media buy, and the sales rep had trouble spelling “laparoscopic”. That’s when I thought to myself, ‘We really need to change this.’

On top of that, the company was more commonly known as TLBC, and our main competitors also went by acronyms, so we had trouble setting ourselves apart.

The Slimband name came from one of our surgeons. One day we were tossing ideas around and he said, ‘You know, I’ve always thought Slimband would be a good name, but no one else seems to like it.’ And I said, ‘Well, I like it.’ Once we’d settled on the name, we secured our trademarks and web domains and created a new brand identity around that.

How did your clients respond to the name change?

We had some pushback from clients who felt we were going too mainstream and moving away from a medical standpoint. But most felt the new name made weight-loss surgery more socially acceptable. As a result, they no longer felt the need to hide the fact that they’d had the procedure.

I think businesses are often 10 steps down the line with their marketing plan, and they never stop to consider the company name, which really is step one. If people can’t remember your name, none of your other marketing strategies will work. Don’t be afraid to change it. Your clients will come around.

What do you feel has been Slimband’s most successful marketing initiative?

Television has really helped us build brand identity. Many people believe TV advertising is expensive and measuring results is difficult, but we’ve proven time and again that is not the case.

Before I arrived, the company ran a $60,000 TV ad produced by a big agency. It was a failure, partly because it used actors, so it couldn’t show the weight-loss benefits of the procedure. So the next time out we dropped the agency, featured our own patients and included clear before-and-after pictures. This ad was far cheaper to produce and resulted in a huge increase in response.

You can also easily measure TV ad response by paying close attention to your website traffic around the time the ad runs, and if you use a 1-800 number, you can purchase a package that comes with software that will let you track and measure call volumes.

What’s the most surprising result you’ve seen from a marketing campaign?

We recently introduced multivariate testing to our website. This lets you change a number of elements at once and see how users respond. So we’re always trying new things, like which success story to put on the homepage, for example, or whether images of men or women get more clicks.

For one test, we simply changed the colour of the buttons on a page and saw a 29 per cent increase in response. It always surprises me that you can spend hours on a big project and see little change in your results, but something as simple as the colour of a button can make such a huge difference.

How does social media fit into your strategy?

It’s crucial to know where your clients are in the social media world. Our customers tend to be more private about their weight, so focusing entirely on Facebook, for example, doesn’t make a lot of sense for us.

In light of that, we decided to set up a password-protected community for people who’ve had the Slimband procedure. That’s been a big success so far: right now, it has over 5,000 members with over 20,000 posts. Of course, we also have a Facebook page and accounts on other social media sites, so those channels are part of our social media presence as well.

I think it’s important to step back from the free aspects of social media and look at paid advertising through these sites. This way, you can more clearly target your efforts and measure response, but you do have to monitor it, because social media sites change the rules often.

What does the future hold for Slimband?

We obviously want to keep growing the company, but we also feel that we have a more social role to play. Doctors are often focused on exercise and diet as the main ways to deal with obesity, but that often doesn’t work for patients with a large body mass index. We really want to drive the discussion around obesity and educate patients and the medical community, so we can resolve the problem before it becomes an epidemic.