By Mark Kersteen - July 30th, 2014
This November, Eric Hadley is going to find some time out of his role as the Senior Vice-President of Sales and Marketing for the Weather Company to speak at Incite Summit: East. I got the chance to chat with Eric about the ways The Weather Company and its marketing department have been changing, a topic he’ll be elaborating upon at the summit.
The first thing I asked Eric, before our interview had begun in full, was “How’s the weather?”. I was, in part, joking. It’s a joke I imagine everyone at the Weather Company is sick of. Still, thinking back, I think I’ve asked that question in seriousness before almost every interview I’ve done.
"It’s the first thing you check in the morning and the last thing you check at night,”
Weather is universal. While using it as the subject of small talk is a beaten-up old cliché, it’s also fundamental to everyday life. Now, Eric and the rest of the Weather Company are using it to deliver value to their customers.
“Customers connect to the weather more than just about anything in their lives. It’s the first thing you check in the morning and the last thing you check at night,” says Eric. “We really orient our marketing department around what customers are doing, and how the weather impacts and weaves through their lives.”
Speaking with Eric really drives this point home. His excitement for the scope and impact weather has over his customers’ lives is inspiring. Recently, while interviewing a candidate for a job, the prospective hire mentioned some photos they’d seen of Eric with Jay-Z at a launch party for the rapper’s biography. Eric was quick to emphasize to them how, despite the massive reach and impact celebrities and artists have over our culture, it pales in comparison to the weather’s, “Jay-Z has a large reach and huge impact on culture, but if you look at the effect Jay-Z has on most Americans’ daily lives versus weather’s, weather is way bigger. No matter who you are or what you do, you care about the weather.”
“We’re a thirty year-old cable company that’s morphed into a digital marketing and digital experience company."
Their customers really do care, and the Weather Company can boast of an advantage that few publishers share: “Our business is driven on 44,000 ZIP codes and—unlike nearly everyone else in the media space—our users proactively tell us where they are, because they know they are going to get a better result when they do.”
Delivering useful insight about the weather to customers has been central to CEO David Kenny’s complete overhaul over the last two years. “We’re a thirty year-old cable company that’s morphed into a digital marketing and digital experience company. We’re hiring more and more people with big data or customer insight backgrounds.”
Their process puts equal emphasis on data and insight, “It’s kind of two-fold: what do we know about our customers on the front end, and how does that impact the back end, where these big data guys take all that information and turn it into something actionable?”
But how does weather inform marketing? More than you might expect. “We found that when humidity is greater, people tend to have more headaches, which is very relevant to a pharmaceutical company that makes painkillers, for example. You have to figure out the insight upfront on how the weather impacts people’s lives.”
"We used to only attract people who worked at broadcasters like Turner, now it’s: I used to work at Twitter, I used to work at BlueKai, I used to work at McKinsey, I used to work at Bloomberg.”
Data and insight teams work together to reach joint conclusions. “We do interviews and studies on how the weather impacts people, and then we build a hypothesis and go back to the data side and say okay, does the data prove out this hypothesis? Or, we have this hypothesis, let’s run a campaign specifically with the intention of getting the data that will prove whether it’s right or wrong.”
Moving the company in this direction has also meant drawing in completely new types of talent: “People are coming from all over, quite frankly, and I think the shift in perception of the Weather Company since David Kenny took it over has attracted a different kind of person. It was a great company, but it was really a media company about the weather, and now David has set it up as a data company about enriching people’s lives. We used to only attract people who worked at broadcasters like Turner, now it’s: I used to work at Twitter, I used to work at BlueKai, I used to work at McKinsey, I used to work at Bloomberg.”
"As you get all this new data and insight, you get a better idea of what kind of content people want."
Content is also becoming ever more important. “We just hired Neil Katz, who came from the Huffington Post. As you get all this new data and insight, you get a better idea of what kind of content people want. We’ve built a whole new team on the Weather.com side, who are creating and finding content that meets those needs.”
Yet with so many new disciplines and types of employees, the Weather Company has to put a premium on keeping its employees aligned to their business goals. “The biggest thing is that everyone has this mutual goal of being a huge company with tons of users who we can deliver this weather data to, and to make great revenues so we can afford to invest in what the customers want.”
The Weather Company is changing as fast as the weather itself. From taking on a comprehensive data strategy, to putting the customer first and hiring from a diverse skill set, their initiatives are thoroughly modern. Now, all that’s left is to see whether the Weather Company can become as constant and integral to customer’s lives as its namesake: “The Weather Company is going to grow along the path that David Kenny put it on, by taking this weather strategy and putting it beyond our property into the overall media ecosystem. By getting the people and the partnerships who can build it out and evangelize it, and help our customers realize the value it adds to them.”