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Mother Nature’s Helper

6/16/2006 8:00 PM Eastern

The Weather Channel. It doesn’t take much head-scratching to figure out what that brand stands for. Or does it?

Wonya Y. Lucas, executive VP/general manager of The Weather Channel Networks, wasn’t comfortable with that simple view when she came aboard four years ago. So she studied what people think about weather and how they connect to the product, even if it is Mother Nature who manufactures it.

Three years ago, she retained a research firm to study how people regard weather, in what marketers call a psychographic segmentation study. Fifteen hundred cable- and satellite-TV viewers got their brains picked, “and they gave The Weather Channel the okay to be broader than what it was,’’ Lucas says.

Viewers said the channel should look at everything from the change weather brings to everyday lives—from massive events like hurricanes to commonplace rain—to how it affects travel and weekend pursuits.

As a result, she says, “our mantra is to own the weather in all the dimensions: preparation, inspiration and awe.”

The notion led to a rebranding, captured in the slogan “Bringing Weather to Life.’’ The study guided program strategy, too.

The channel produced It Could Happen Tomorrow, a series of what-if programs dramatizing natural disasters, such as a hurricane’s hitting New York City. With Lowe’s stores and Cox Cable, it has hosted hurricane-preparedness fairs, offering activities for kids, teaching homeowners how to protect their homes from storms, and letting viewers meet its meteorologists.

The brand is even merchandised, from Weather Channel-branded Stormtracker battery-powered backup radios and TVs to L.L. Bean’s “storm chaser” jackets. “We found it was a great brand fit,’’ Lucas says.

Even the musical notes that signal the arrival of the channel’s “Local on the 8s” and “Storm Alert” features are available as downloadable ringtones.

The channel now offers vignettes called “Commando Weather,’’ on which an expert explains how to act in extreme situations, such as an avalanche. Slated to debut later is Epic Conditions, which will follow outdoor athletes pitting themselves against their sport in “perfect” weather conditions, whether sailboarding in Oregon, surfboarding in Hawaii or mountain-biking in Utah.

Lucas insists on maintaining the visual consistency of the brand, so that a weather map on a tiny mobile screen is as recognizable as one from a full-screen TV and the same meteorologists appear on TV, computer and phone screens.

Whether it’s reporting about a hurricane or something as inconsequential as a ringtone, Lucas wants the brand to tap into viewers’ interest in weather. “It’s so emotional, it’s so important in their lives,’’ she says. “It’s more than the forecasts or current conditions.’’

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