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What's More Local Than Weather?

  |  October 1, 2012   |  Comments

And why that matters to marketers.

As we continue to explore the idea of local and the impact of local (both proximity and relevance), I've started thinking about the things that are most local to individual consumers. A few things jumped to my mind:

  • My family and friends. The interests, location, desires, and interactions with my family as well as friends can greatly shape how I am feeling, what I am thinking about, how I spend my time, and what is important to me. This differs greatly depending on who your family and friends are.
  • Politics. As we enter a time with far too many political ads and opinions being thrown down our throats in the U.S. and then looking at the maps of colors on TV, we can see that there are very different political beliefs depending on what state you are in and often what portion of a state you are in. Not to mention local politics that might really matter to you (e.g., school funding) but not at all to people even a few miles away.
  • Weather. We often don't think about this as being tied to local, but you can make the argument that weather only matters in the local sense, either where you are or where you are going. Weather is important in terms of what you wear, if you bring an umbrella, if you decide to drive a certain route, or even go outside at all. But it also has a considerable impact on how people are feeling and what they are thinking about. For example, when seasonal affective disorder (SAD) ends - that feeling on the first day of spring when the sun is out, people have an extra pep in their step, and are smiling more. Companies like Home Depot and others see huge implications on revenue based on when this occurs and ultimately leads to spring cleaning fever. (It's interesting to note Wikipedia tells us that "spring cleaning is especially prevalent in climates with a cold winter," which isn't just a coincidence.)

The impact of weather caught my attention as I hadn't spent much time thinking about how much it impacts people and the impact it can have on marketers. As I started to think about it, I got more and more excited about the implications for marketers. So I decided to go to the source of all things weather - The Weather Channel. I contacted Curt Hecht, chief global revenue officer for The Weather Channel to ask some questions, share some ideas, and hear if in fact marketers were starting to leverage weather information. Below are some of the interesting things Curt shared with me.

Jason Burby: Tell me about your view of the connection between weather and local.

Curt Hecht: As storms sweep across the country, they take shape, dissipate, grow, and impact everyone differently depending on where they are. For example, in San Francisco there are multiple areas with very different micro climates, even just 10 miles away from each other. It doesn't matter what the weather is in the "Bay Area," what really matters is what happens where you are in the Bay Area. And we know that weather drives feelings, moods, choices people make, and behaviors. Whether you go out to lunch, go for a walk, watch television at home, etc.

JB: Why does or should weather matter to marketers?

CH: Poor weather will impact store comps; weather was quite mild last year, so numbers will most likely be down this year for many retailers in comparison. Smart marketers will turn from using weather as an excuse for lack of performance to better using the weather to target their message or timing. This could be when to mark down, advertise, or have sales based on weather in a certain area. With us, marketers can connect sales data to weather data and activate with media on The Weather Channel properties - we call it WeatherFX.

Another example, recently a large insurance company mentioned the impact of weather 22 times in one earnings call. There are obvious connections between weather events and insurance companies. For example, we can forecast hail very accurately (time and location). Insurance companies can use this in two ways: first by sending alerts to their clients about an upcoming hail storm telling them to move cars under cover. This saves the insurance company significant money from claims as well as saves the customers the hassle of having a damaged car and needing to get it repaired. Secondarily, marketers can also use weather information to better target messaging right after a storm or major weather event. They can better target people when they are most interested in their products.

These don't always have to be storms. An example could be the first time in the spring where a specific area records an 80+ degree day, promote sunscreen or a refreshing summer drink. Or promote a trip to a warm climate for vacation after three days of consecutive rain in a certain area.

JB: How does weather impact changing consumer behaviors?

CH: Weather makes you feel different ways; if it is sunny and warm out you feel differently than when it has been cloudy and cold for five days in a row. By understanding how it impacts buying or consideration behavior you can better target your audience. Should you tune your messaging based on weather in certain areas based on what is happening with the weather? I can't tell you it will make a difference for your business, but many companies are seeing success by understanding the weather.

This answer made me think about ways marketers could start to put this information to work. Here are a few of the ideas that came out of our conversation:

  • Weather makes you feel different ways. If it's sunny and warm out you feel differently than when it has been cloudy and cold. Understand how weather drives moods and how those moods impact consideration and purchasing behaviors in-store or online.
  • Targeting specific areas where weather is very important. Marketers are doing this through geo-fencing and targeting their message around events or specific locations where weather is important like outdoor sporting events or activities.
  • Digital media can be triggered off of weather conditions. We can both learn and identify differences in search results based on weather but also understand what messages and promotions work best in paid search and display based on what is happening in the exact area where our audience is from.
  • Leverage weather days to determine when to promote certain products in advertising or in-store. This can be done through simple tests. How does site performance differ in areas where it's raining vs. areas where it's warm? This doesn't need to be comparing Southern California and Michigan in February; it could be comparing digital performance on five days it was raining to five days it was sunny in the same area. Through testing you may find you should talk to people differently, show more content, or show less content. In many cases the things that change won't be intuitive but may have considerable impact on conversion. Savvy marketers change their messaging on weekends vs. weekdays or daytime vs. evening if they discover significant enough differences in performance. Is weather the next and most impactful thing those advanced marketers should be looking at? I'm not sure at this point, but the technology is there and knowing how weather impacts feelings and attitudes, I'm willing to bet there are considerable opportunities.

It was inspiring to talk to Curt to explore ways to leverage something that is literally right outside all of our doors or windows. Something that has considerable impact on what we are thinking, how we are feeling, and what we are doing - all of which will impact how we engage or ignore marketers' messages. Hopefully this triggers as many ideas for you as it did for me.

Please share your thoughts on other ways marketers should/could be leveraging weather data to improve their success. Also let me know other things that are extremely powerful that are often overlooked.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Burby

As President of the Americas at POSSIBLE, Jason is responsible for leading the long-term stability and growth of the region. With more than 20 years experience in digital strategy, he is a long-time advocate of using data to inform digital strategies to help clients attract, convert, and retain customers. Jason supports POSSIBLE's clients and employees in driving new engagements and delivering great work that works. He is the co-author of Actionable Web Analytics: Using Data to Make Smart Business Decisions.

Follow him on Twitter @JasonBurby.

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