Weather Communications Has A Problem And Business Thinking Can Fix It

As a meteorologist, a weather communicator, and someone to aims to be humble, I’ve come to accept and respect that the weather community has a critical issue that needs to be addressed. As a businessperson, I see business problems being solved daily, but I also see a solution to the mounting weather communications problem.

This problem is better shown than explained. It’s worth noting that there is a lot of great weather communication out there, and I’m not going to target specific people or companies as much as the product itself. To show this example, I will use New York City, a place I have never worked and with weather communications companies for which I have never worked.

As I write this, Hurricane Florence is a major hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean. Here’s what the New York City NBC affiliate has to say recently:

When I read this, I think to myself:

“What is the ‘breakdown’ coming up? You just gave me the whole forecast. Why do I need a breakdown?”
“What’s on the app that I can’t get here? You just gave me the current conditions of the storm and earlier you tweaked out the track.”
“What are the latest updates? When are these updates coming? Didn’t you just tell me 95% of what I need to know about the approaching hurricane?”

Here’s some of what CBS in New York has to say:

The screaming message here is it will be a cloudy, wet, breezy day in New York. But I’m left with the following questions:

“I could get this on my smart phone now. Why do I need to see your communication that takes up more than a minute of my time?”
“You just told me what was going to happen today. Why do you need to tell me again?”
“There’s a lot of information about others, but I just want the information about me.”

Here’s some of what ABC in New York has to say:

Again, I’ve grabbed some tweets that showcase local warnings, a snapshot of current conditions, and a link to a website where Florence is likely heading…but I’m left with the following questions:

“When is the greatest risk here and south of here from Hurricane Florence?”
“How is Florence going to impact me?”
“You showed me it’s raining now. When is it going to stop?”
“I see the radar and the warning. Where can I go for more information?”

There are other weather communicators out there talking about New York, and here are some of those tweets:

This is just a sampling of tweets (from Twitter). People can follow and trust who they wish, people can get weather from other social media sources, they can get weather information from non-social media sources, or they can – to be honest – live their live without getting informed on the weather at all.

As someone who used to work as a meteorologist (and still is one per my degree) but now works in business, I see the communications problem more clearly now.

Among other things, successful businesses have:
– A product or service people want to buy or use
– New products and services over time to create growth
– Profitability, especially if it’s increasing
– Good leaders, ethics, goals, and boundaries
– Create unique value, especially compared to others
– Have competitive advantages, especially sustainable competitive advantages

I would argue that the last three are perhaps the most important in business. What good is a company without leadership, growth, a bright future, and a moral compass? What good is a business without giving something valuable to customers? And what good is a company that has a product or service that others can easily replicate and scale?

Corporations in this country spend BILLIONS of dollars each year to gather insights about their customers that create value and generate sustainable competitive advantages. I work at one of those companies; every day, I look to create a unique product or service – either externally or internally – that gives the company for which I work value and advantage.

I think Kroger (the grocer) is one of the smartest companies out there. They bring groceries you buy to the store, sure…but that’s not half of the value. They were among the first to give you an incentive to have a shopper’s card; they got your information and purchasing profile, and you get discounts and free items. They give you an incentive to download and use their app; they get your information and additional purchase profile data, and you get access to coupons that you don’t have to carry around the store. Kroger also sends you coupons in the mail to incentivize you to go to the store. They have ClickList that, for a fee, has someone shop for you…and you just pick up the groceries outside of the store; the value proposition here is to save time. Then there’s fuel points: you earn them when you spend money at the store. When you’ve collected enough points, you get a discount on fuel at one of their gas stations. Plus, you get extra fuel points when you buy certain items – like gift cards – in the store. They have a large selection of “store brands” in their stores to save you more over name brands.

Kroger isn’t the only one with good ideas, but they have a value stream. They know how to get you in the store, to the gas pump, using their app, and using their services. They make money not because they create value for you, but also because they have many ways to get your money and connect the value from one place they own to another.

Amazon Prime is similar. You pay for Prime and get free shipping, but they also give you free streaming services, too. Other business have big time value, but the goal here – if you’re a business – is to make money ethically and fairly in as many places as possible and have a value stream that others can’t (easily) replicate.

I tell you all of this to highlight the weather communication problem: there is very little sustainable competitive advantage in weather communication right now. ABC, NBC, and CBS in New York (above) didn’t just give the same or similar forecast; they also:

– Have the same look and color scheme
– Have no information I can’t get on a free/ad-free smartphone app, from Alexa, or on the Internet
– Largely lack a link to easily get additional valuable information
– Largely lack a call to action or impact
– Don’t cross-promote
– Don’t incentivize

The other weather tweets :

– Largely lack a link to easily get additional valuable information (or don’t motivate)
– Largely lack a call to action or impact
– Take a significant amount of time to read or process
– Lack the locality of weather
– Don’t incentivize
– Don’t cross-promote

Marketing a weather forecast has accurate or the most accurate will only take you so far when convenience and value are in play. When all horses in the race run the same, the results will be the same. All of the above groups lack differentiation or sustainable competitive advantages.

New York isn’t the only place where this is an issue, and Twitter isn’t the only place where the problem occurs. So how do we beat the lack of differentiation, sustainable competitive advantages, and incentivization? With differentiation, sustainable competitive advantages, and incentivization, of course!

Weather communicators need to create forecasts, products, and services that no one else can easily create and can cross-promote. The “face” or “person” of reliability and accuracy is dying at the successes of convenience, the discovery of a more “reliable” source (perceived or real), and the fact that seemingly “all forecasts look the same, so any weather update is fine for me.”

Whether it’s power outages, river impacts, business closings, school closings, or some other proprietary forecasts/information and a way to communicate that forecast and drive people to that forecast and drive people to other forecasts on other places within the same brand, what unique value is the weather communication community giving customers?

Meteorologists and weather forecasters need to start thinking like a businessperson. If billion dollar companies are investing billions in creating value and finding a sustainable competitive advantage…why isn’t the weather community working to figure out what their customers want and create the intellectual property to give customers something they can’t get anywhere else?

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One Response to Weather Communications Has A Problem And Business Thinking Can Fix It

  1. Lou Galluppi says:

    Wow. What can I say? You are brilliant Scott. I will reread your article a few times to really understand what you’ve written. Thank you for your insight. I do hope your new employer knows who they have in you. God bless Scott. Stay well and again, thank you!

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