StrategyBrand utilityBlue skies and brand utility: How IBM’s The Weather Channel became the US’ 8th most trusted brand

Blue skies and brand utility: How IBM's The Weather Channel became the US' 8th most trusted brand

"Our latest brand health metrics study showed a 7.4% lift in brand favourability and a 7.7% lift in people saying The Weather Channel helps them make an impact on their community, and the world around them"

IBM’S The Weather Company, through The Weather Channel App, is a hugely popular source of weather reports and forecasts. Morning Consult recognized The Weather Channel brand as the 8th most-trusted brand in the US. Moreover, over 425 million people use the app. The Weather Channel has prioritized brand utility to continue improving its reputation.

Its marketing team has forecasted brand relevance, influence, and humanity as the three prongs of brand utility. Campaigns over the past year have aimed to improve The Weather Channel App’s performance in each of these areas. With the help of Randi Stipes, VP of IBM Brand Marketing and CMO at The Weather Company, we look at how it has measured and improved performance in these three areas and built brand utility as a result.

1. Brand relevance

Goal: Show consumers that weather is relevant and connected to every part of their daily life, purchasing patterns, and future planning.

Outcome: Grace Wells’ TikTok advert showed how the weather defines each day, from a sunny day filled with outdoor activities to a rainy day in bed.

@gracewellsphoto Reply to @weatherchannel #sponsored ten points if you can find the weather easter egg in the final result 🤓 🌧#theweatherchannel #videographer #videography #filmtok ♬ original sound – Grace Wells

Brand relevance is vital to a brand such as The Weather Channel. However, the broadness of its audience represents a challenge. Reporting on the weather means targeting all generations, demographics, and other segments. It is reporting on something so universal that it must find a way to make its reports relevant to all. Stipes discusses why relevance is so important for weather reporting.

“We define brand relevance as helping people understand that weather is connected to almost every part of their day. People unconsciously recognize that fact. So use the weather to help people consciously inform their planning, purchase patterns, and behavior.”

“With over 425 million people coming to us every month for information, relevancy is a tall order, because it’s not a one size fits all. We constantly challenge ourselves to find new ways to reach new audience segments without forgetting the loyal customers that have been with us for years.”

An ongoing challenge for many brands is relevancy with Gen Z and a younger generation of audience. To improve relevance with this audience it engaged TikTok influencer Grace Wells who has earned 2.4 million followers and 52 million views by creating unique adverts for random objects.

To select the most relevant influencers, The Weather Channel studies different influencers’ content to make sure it is authentically on brand. It evaluates diversity, variety, and previous brand sponsorships the influencers have done while closely following brand guidelines and brand safety requirements.

Her unique video style was kept consistent. Indeed, The Weather Channel handed the creative reins to Wells. “We simply ensured she had the tools she needed to create the ad and organically reach her millions of followers,” explained Stipes.

“The video has 6.9 million views, 237,400 likes, and 1,100 comments on TikTok to date. But relevancy also requires looking at the quantitative feedback. The beautiful thing about social is being able to see comments in real-time. This showed us the impact of the ad and the relevance with our desired audience.”

Comments also recorded thousands of likes and showed the enthusiasm of the audience:

  • “This is amazing, the weather channel better make you rich bcs I didn’t even realize they were an independent app until this.”
  • “I … actually just downloaded the app. that was a stellar commercial!”

The Weather Channel measured the relevance by looking at engagement with the post. By seeing the younger generation viewing, commenting, and sharing the post, The Weather Channel knew it had achieved its goal.

2. Brand influence

Goal: Convey the role of The Weather Channel in our customers’ lives and how the brand can influence their decisions and habits.

Outcome: 7.4% lift in brand favourability, 7.7% lift in people saying The Weather Channel helps them impact their community and the world around them.

Brand utility: The Weather Channel ranks 8th for brand trust in the US, per Morning Consult
Top 10 most trusted brands in the US, per Morning Consult, including The Weather Channel

Influence goes one step further than relevance. Where relevance is helping people understand The Weather Channel is a resource, brand influence is ensuring customers understand how The Weather Channel can influence decisions and habits.

“Brand influence is the impact on day-to-day decisions. How do I get the kids dressed for school in the morning? How will the weather impact my health, for example, is now the time to start taking seasonal allergy medication, or is flu season on the rise?”

“We aren’t deciding for them but giving them the data and the expertise so that they can make those everyday decisions.”

This impact is a vital metric for The Weather Channel to measure, no more so than when extreme weather threatens its customers. In the case of hurricanes, for example, influencing customer decisions can be lifesaving.

The Weather Channel is a trusted source of information for customers throughout storms and hurricanes. It delivers billions of weather alerts a month. In December 2021, it sent out 308 million alters in less than a week during a storm sweeping through the central USA.

Measuring brand influence also involves a mix of qualitative and quantitative data. Stipes describes the holistic approach to measurement:

“We look at our data and the third-party data from a trusted industry expert like Morning Consult. It recognized The Weather Channel brand as the 8th most-trusted brand in the US. If we’re effectively influencing people, establishing trust is a vital form of measurement and recognition.”

“We also look at the number of alerts. People have to opt into those alerts. So for those that do, we know they want our influence. We send out around 2.5 billion alerts a month. When there’s a greater propensity for them to sign up and want more information, that’s a measurement of the influence.

“Thirdly, we are constantly looking at our brand health metrics. Our latest brand health metrics study showed a 7.4% lift in brand favourability and a 7.7% lift in people saying The Weather Channel helps them make an impact on their community, and the world around them. These are the types of metrics we hold sacred.”

The Weather Channel works with an outside marketing research firm to run a quarterly survey on brand health to help identify how the brand is perceived by users and non-users of our products, and how it stacks up against competitors.

It has a very healthy brand with loyal users. The survey measures metrics such as level of trust, awareness, favorability, overall net promotor score, and more. It monitors how the brand health is trending over time which guides where it needs to flex its marketing and product efforts to help deliver the desired results.

3. Brand humanity

Goal: Doing the right thing by other human beings.

Outcome: During Hurricane Ian, The Weather Channel saw a +32% lift in visits and sent 630 million alerts in less than a week. The brand saw its largest single app download day and passed 1 million followers on TikTok.

Brand humanity is corporate social responsibility in action. In short, it’s ‘doing the right thing’. This is of vital importance to The Weather Channel.

“It’s not enough to say what you believe in. You have to take action and demonstrate your values. Otherwise, we are shallow and inauthentic. This has long been a part of our DNA. We’re seeing increasing expectations from consumers who expect this of brands.”

Measuring brand humanity is a way for The Weather Channel to hold itself to account. When it deals with natural crises, it must deliver on its promises as a highly trusted brand.

Achieving this outcome means going beyond giving weather information and truly living out its brand values. The product and marketing teams work together on customer insight and the customer journey.

“Recently we were hit by Hurricane Ian. The storm might be over but we’re just starting to deal with the aftermath. We can’t just report on the weather but have an obligation to help.”

“We think through the story arc and answer the big questions first. The first filter is always safety.”

Image showing the effect of Hurricane Ian
Image showing the effect of Hurricane Ian

As Hurricane Ian threatened Western Cuba and the Southeast U.S. in September, The Weather Channel’s marketing team replaced a planned sponsorship with an ad to donate to the American Red Cross. It also worked with GoFundMe to surface ways to help those in Florida.

The Weather Channel app and created a “How to help” resource page within 24 hours of landfall to share key information and resources, reaching 60+ million consumers quickly and boosting donations to the affected area.

This consumer focus during Hurricane Ian helped meet business goals as well, resulting in the highest revenue day ever by 25% on and an +18% lift in premium subscription sales week-over-week, despite turning off marketing, a decision based on our focus on safety and serving the customer first. It also saw a +32% lift in visits and sent 630 million alerts in less than a week.

“We’ve moved past the 1 million follower mark on TikTok in this period. So, we know people are benefiting from our help, and we are acting on our intentions for humanity. But it’s ongoing. We’re an accurate weather forecaster but we cannot rest on our laurels.”

Holding itself to account continuously is how it ensures it is demonstrating humanity. It uses platforms, from the channel itself to TikTok, for the benefit of its audience. The engagement it receives is a testament to this.

Why relevance, influence, and humanity achieve brand utility

While weather forecasts are an essential service for many people, there’s no shortage of options. Achieving brand utility means being a brand that customers feel they need to have. The Weather Channel aims to do this by moving beyond forecasting.

“We want to provide experiences that help translate the weather into its meaning in everyday life. Relevance, influence, and humanity are all a part of this. They each play the role of forging a stronger connection with the customer and establishing a relationship, not a transaction.”

“We’ve seen during that time that because of the unpredictability of weather, and the climate crisis that we’re in, it’s our responsibility to offer an educational lens, and to make sure that people understand what these changes mean to them.”

The brand utility forecast

Looking to the future, brand utility will continue to be an important power play for The Weather Channel. Having built its brand trust to such a high level, it has become deeply embedded in people’s lives. This results in further attention from mainstream competition. Firstly, it validates the efforts The Weather Channel has made. Secondly, and even more importantly, it necessitates continuous improvement.

“We’ll be doing more work with influencers. Grace was a great test for us, but it was new territory. We’re very protective of the brand so we’ll be sure to associate with the right type of influencers. More activity here will help us build further social relevance.”

“On the other two components, we’re continuing our journey to be more influential so that we can bring more humanity to what we’re doing. Our goal is to go beyond the forecast.”

With more storytelling and more insights, IBM’s The Weather Channel will aim to help people connect the dots between the weather and their lives. In doing so it will achieve brand utility and be perceived as a need, not a want, for its millions of customers.

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