Weather strategies work because they are by nature real-time, localized, and extremely relevant.
Immediately following the last (or any) snowstorm, there was a secondary flurry of reports on online activity during the bad weather. During, or just prior to, a storm, people increasingly check their mobile devices to stay informed on weather trends. Site stats for weather sites of course pick up, but people also access weather apps or sign up for weather and news alerts via tweets. They most definitely increase their social media, online shopping, gaming, and gambling behaviors, but they may also be searching for indoor activities for kids, a new e-book to download, recipes to do some comfort food cooking, how-to videos to help them light a fire, and a thousand other activities that may be relevant to your business goals. They may be more likely to use the unplanned respite and additional hours from everyday work and activities to research everything from new diets to high-ticket purchases online. Discount and coupon codes can be very productive at this time.
All this online weather-related activity is not restricted to snowstorms. During peak travel periods or prior to and during holiday breaks, you will see some of the same patterns - people go online. There are many ways to capture the incremental attention and these short bursts of unusual activity, but some of them require thinking ahead. Weather-triggered strategies or ads are not new. Weather sites and desktop applications have long sold ad inventory activated by localized weather conditions focusing on pollen counts, temperature, and rain or snow estimates. Makers or marketers of allergy medications, suntan lotion, yard or gardening equipment, and tropical vacations or ski parkas will all be familiar with the drill. Catch people when they are miserable with the current weather conditions and offer them tools to cope, or alternatively, a dream of escape. Weather has the ability to create a frame of mind as well. A beautiful day puts us in the mood for a game of golf or a bike ride. Why wouldn't promotions for a golf vacation or new clubs or a new bike be more effective when we are predisposed?
The options to deliver your weather-related messaging are as broad and creative as you are. Banner ads can be readied with dynamic content to display appropriate content with a strong call to action. Localized search ads can rotate in weather-appropriate ad copy when the conditions are ripe. E-mails can be segmented by location if your database supports it to deliver weather-specific offers or content. Imagine a retail site offering up ski equipment with overnight delivery or other cold weather gear when snow is on the horizon, but sunglasses and bathing suits when temperatures soar. Food marketers could e-mail chili or hearty soup recipes that feature their products and other pantry staples for those who are snowbound and bored at home. Having specific landing pages or specialized promotions ready to pair with all these qualified traffic drivers will help conversion rates immensely, but you could take it a step further even with pages optimized with content adjustments tied to weather factors.
In a more general sense, if you are already buying weather content-related sites and your objectives are a good match, try to negotiate additional impressions or a high impact placement during times of high attention on those sites. You might be able to find a mix of sites in a network-buy centered on specific weather conditions, content, and searches. Also, remember to check product inventory levels, budgets, and budget caps when leveraging intense periods of activity. You don't want to either burn through your budget or lose opportunity due to inflexible budgets. Nor do you want disappointed customers when your promoted product is not available in a timely manner.
Many audience segments will naturally turn to social media when they have some extra online time. This might not be a bad time to increase your Facebook advertising exposure or tap into the audience to further engage with them while you have their increased attention. Maybe you can get them involved with some online gaming or other activities for Facebook credits or to earn discounts on shopping. Time with brand is a valuable trade-off for both parties.
Socially-minded folks might be prompted to do some good while stuck at home. I have not seen this done but I would be interested in the results of non-profit solicitations for time, money, or support tied to weather. The psychology should work - people are starved for action, looking to get something accomplished while forced into hibernation, and feeling communal ties since they and their neighbors are all struggling, more or less, with the same set of circumstances. Social media offers the perfect environment to try this approach.
Some of the increased online shopping activity during stormy weather may simply be a trade off for brick-and-mortar sales that happen when good weather teases people out of their homes to scan the physical clothing racks or try out that treadmill in the store. That means smart retailers with both physical stores and an online store have to carefully balance promotional activity across channels so as to take advantage of spikes and gain ground from competitors without giving away unacceptable margin during periods of increased online activity. Using bundling or related product suggestions to increase the AOV during this period can help.
Be a bit cautious in your overall weather approach and differentiate between weather that gets noticed or interrupts normal function from that which is truly debilitating. Unless you are offering emergency services with an immediate response to help them cope, a population devastated by truly severe weather conditions like a tornado, flood, drought, or blizzard has bigger problems to solve. If they even have online access or have the mental bandwidth to pay you any attention, you may seem predatory at worst and ill-timed at best if you are trying to benefit from their pain.
The reason weather strategies work is that by their nature they are real-time, localized, and extremely relevant. Almost nothing is more top of mind or more of a fascination to the general population than weather, in particular extreme weather conditions. With a little planning - plus some good forecasters and a little help from Mother Nature - you might be able to boost your marketing results by incorporating the weather into your plans.
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Robin is the CEO and cofounder of NetPlus Marketing Inc., a top 50 interactive agency established in 1996 to focus exclusively on online marketing and advertising best practices. Robin brings innovative strategy and a depth and breadth of marketing experience to the agency's practice and management. As one of the industry's pioneers, she is a driving force behind NetPlus Marketing's ongoing success with a diverse and discerning client base that considers online results critical to their business success.
Robin is a frequent speaker at national industry events, including ClickZ, internet.com, OMMA, Ad:Tech, SES, Online Marketing Summit, and Thunder Lizard conferences and is a sought-after resource for industry and business publications for her insight and advice on such topics as digital strategy, social media marketing, and behavioral targeting.
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