Weather Company’s Webster touts the power of forecasting data in local marketing

Many of the recent advances in marketing technology are built on the promise of an increasingly sophisticated ability to anticipate consumer actions and movements. But what kind of information can you rely on to make the educated guesses that lead to real transactions? Of all the data that can be collected and used, what works best to increase the accuracy of these predictions? Some will say that it is the most local information that surrounds us: the weather.

People checked the predictions via The weather company for more than three decades, and most of the company was acquired earlier this year by IBM, which saw potential in its Watson Internet of Things division. Street Fight recently caught up with the company’s EMEA Managing Director, Ross Webster (who will be a speaker at our upcoming LOCALCON conference in London next week)to talk about what makes weather data so valuable to businesses.

Of course, no information is more local than the weather. How can it be leveraged to help businesses connect and engage with consumers?
We call ourselves a location company that is driven by the weather. We map 2.2 billion locations worldwide for weather forecasts and provide information to enable people to plan their lives – to make decisions about what to do, where to go, what to are going to wear. And we work with many businesses on a B2B basis: airlines, energy companies, retailers, anything whose business performance would be affected by the weather.

Over the past four or five years, as data has become much easier to mine and manipulate, we have begun to think of ourselves as a product and technology company as well as a media company. From there, we start having conversations about how we can take data and predict consumer behavior based on weather conditions. We don’t just take the weather as absolute – “It’s nice outside, so let’s have some ice cream.” It’s much more about the different layers of weather data, relativity and seasonality.

For example, 60 degrees in Austin and 60 degrees in New York may be the same temperature, but people in Austin would react very differently. [from people in New York]. We’ve started building algorithms that can basically predict consumers’ propensity to buy or behave in a certain way.

This weekend in London we had the first sunny and warm day. It wasn’t very hot, but it was sunny, and suddenly everyone was in shorts, buying ice cream. But it’s still early April, so no one was taking advantage of this change in behavior. Humans act like a swarm, and when the weather changes, we all change our behavior accordingly. Smart advertisers would be those who advertise ice cream and summer activities even though it’s April. We divide the seasons into six, and the most important are the transition seasons between spring and summer and autumn and winter.

How does a long-established organization like the Weather Company embed innovation into its DNA?
I think a lot of it comes down to talent. We started to go from a media company that behaved like a media company to a company that behaved like a product technology company when management changed. [Weather Company CEO] David Kenny came from Digitas, especially on the tech side, and he brought people behind him like Curt Hecht from VivaKi Nerve Center. We’ve always known that the weather affects people, but Curt and David realized that if we started delivering solutions that were much more in tune with what was happening with the data explosion, we’d be ahead of the part.

Obviously we were bought out by IBM, and one of the reasons they were interested in us was that our forecasting platform was so involved that they wanted [incorporate it into] their Internet of Things platform. We were already doing on the B2B side, and it took a shift in mindset to also start innovating in the media industry and innovating for consumer engagement using the same tools.

How does company strategy vary from country to country?
We’ve been much more of a B2B offering outside of the United States. In the UK and some other countries we operate on a similar scale to the US, but there are areas where we have no real footprint. In these countries, our offering is quite different — we operate much more like a product and technology company. We provide a solution for advertisers within their technology stack that can enable them to leverage weather information. This is where the company is heading outside of the United States. We also have ambitions to expand our media platforms, but I think the opportunity right now is mostly to work with advertisers and their ad stack.

How is brand adoption of marketing technologies different outside of the US?
I think there are parts of the UK that could be more advanced than the US, when it comes to adopting and adapting to new technologies. Each market has its own personality. There are some in Europe that are not as fast as other places, and we got around that by starting a partnership strategy with local media. We have a deal in Germany with a company called Burda, a big online content producer. We go to a market and learn with a partner how to integrate into that market. We are not just looking at an American or British perspective. We learn exactly how to approach a market and how to define our products there.

What do you see as the biggest issues for locals in the next year?
I would look at some of the mobile issues. I think we still have a long way to go when it comes to measurement. Intuitively, we know the importance of hyperlocal in terms of marketing opportunities, and I think the companies that can really get their hands on it to prove who, proving impact and deliverability, will be the ones who succeed. We work very hard to ensure that we can prove the effectiveness of location marketing. We need to shake the wheat from the chaff, as with any type of innovation market. There needs to be a bit of re-engineering to make sure every vendor is doing everything absolutely right. And the proof is in the pudding.

Annie Melton is the editor of Street Fight.

Find out more about Ross Webster at our upcoming talk April 20-22 at Chelsea Football Stadium in London. Click below for tickets!