Weather, Wellness, and Sensor Data Combine To Reshape Personalized Health Marketing

Weather is inherently local, notes The Weather Company’s Paul Walsh — and the mix of IoT sensors and health products is already enhancing the way consumers receive pharma and drug store ads.

The “connected inhaler” may seem like a mundane product to highlight the way health and wellness advertising is becoming more personalized, but for The Weather Company’s Paul Walsh, it’s the kind of device that’s going to open-up one-to-one marketing programs.

“Weather — and the forecasting of weather — is one of the biggest unmeasured and unmanaged influencers of consumer behavior,” says Walsh, ‎a weather and climate strategist for the IBM-owned company.

“And the impact is getting larger due to the confluence of the ubiquitous use of smartphones and the way people want specific information on things that affect them personally,” he adds.

Changing Weather Conditions

There is a massive “re-thinking” about the way weather impacts shopping for everything from tires to yogurt, say Walsh and Jeremy Steinberg, TWC’s head of global sales. The meteorological data and analytics company was recently split from its multimedia cable and online programming operation, The Weather Channel, since being acquired by IBM to serve as foundation for the Watson IoT Cloud platform.

Over the past few years, it’s been deepening its focus on the health and wellness marketing category since weather has such a direct connection to allergies and a range of medical conditions, particularly breathing issues. At the same time, medical issues are more tightly regulated than other forms of advertising, but as an information source, TWC can help send marketers’ messages to targeted places, not people specifically, unless they’ve asked to receive personalized updates on meteorological changes.

“In terms of the health and wellness vertical, we’re right square in the middle of the kinds of applications that involve leveraging mobile phones, leveraging locations, leveraging data and analytics, and then leveraging forecasts that are increasingly enabling advertising, pharma companies, and technology companies to create tools that are going to be helpful for people who want to anticipate the ways changing weather conditions will affect them,” Walsh says.

Breathing Easier — And Smarter

Connected devices, whether in drugstores or in the case of actual products that attach to a user’s smartphone, can demonstrate how marketers can personalize health and wellness marketing without crossing any privacy lines. And where a lot of IoT-related marketing tends to focus on Millennials and early adopters, weather apps and weather data are viewed as opening up other age groups to connected device targeting.

In one example Walsh pointed to, about over two years ago, Propeller Health, a Madison, WI-based maker of “smart inhalers” began marketing its asthma treatment along with GPS mapping after rebranding from its original name, Asthmapolis. The company’s rebranding as Propeller Health will correspond with a broadening of its offerings to include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, a lung condition similar to asthma except more likely to afflict an older population.

“There’s a lot of talk about ‘connected inhalers’ for mobile phones and we’ve been watching the development closely,” Walsh says. “When you use the inhaler, it senses how well you’ve used the device and makes sure you’re getting enough air. But because it’s connected into your smartphone, the pharmaceutical company that is makes the inhaler can start to provide information on patient insights and tie it back to the kinds of weather and other conditions where its in greater use.”

As marketers are better able to understand the timing and weather that are driving the usage for such devices, they can then start to predict when and where patients are going to need them.

In terms of what the advances in connection between weather data and smart devices mean for the wellness category, Walsh points to an 2012 program that was done by Britain’s Met Office (aka the National Weather Service for the UK), and the UK Health Service. The collaboration was called “Healthy Outlook” and the effort revolved around keeping COPD sufferers informed about cold weather alerts.

“I remember the Healthy Outlook program well because I was very interested into seeing how it could be scaled,” Walsh says. “This was a bit before smartphones were so ubiquitous, back in the days when they would literally send a pre-recorded phone call to patients, saying, ‘In two days, conditions are going to be conducive in triggering a COPD event. Make sure you have enough medicine, make sure you keep the widows closed…’ They just gave advice in terms of what do to make sure they were ready for when the environmental conditions were set for that. They found they were able to reduce emergency room visits by doing that. It’s kind of a simple use case, but it worked well.”

Now, with people checking the weather forecast on their smartphones at least three times per day, according to Walsh, these apps provide a constant personal guide to what a person is doing and experiencing every day.

“The affect of being constantly connected to weather information has large implications when it comes to knowing what people are doing, how they’re spending their money, and how their health is likely to be impacted,” Walsh says. “To the extent that we can know what’s likely to happen in a hyperlocal area for businesses and consumers, we can see the impact on how spending on healthcare shifts in a unique way. That’s a tremendous change in just a few years, and it will likely influence other marketing categories, such consumer packaged goods, just as significantly.”

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.