Partner Spotlight is a series on our blog where we hear directly from advertisers, agencies, DSPs, publishers, and partners about industry hot topics, challenges, predictions, and more. In this edition we interview Randi Stipes, Head, Consumer & Ad Sales Marketing at Watson Media and Weather, makers of The Weather Channel app.
MoPub: The Weather Channel recently released a major app redesign for iOS (Android coming soon). How long was that in the works, and what was behind the decision to have a new design?
Randi Stipes: We have 45 million users monthly who value our brand, but that doesn't mean we ever want to stop improving. Our teams spent a great deal of time with this redesign and took a very thoughtful approach that balances the needs of consumers and advertisers alike.
We started with user testing, going straight to our users to understand exactly what was important to them. We then conducted more than 100 in-depth interviews and spent countless hours on performance to ensure the highest quality experience every time they open the app. Once the app was developed, we also did final user testing, and we will continue to actively listen to feedback in this post-launch phase. Through this testing, we found three key user problems:
- A need for greater understanding of the weather that is impacting them
- A desire for greater confidence and assurance that they have the best information available to make the best decision
- The need for a way to help them take quicker action to manage their day with ease.
We also met with our most valued clients to understand what metrics were important to them, such as viewability, brand safety, and visual breakthrough. All of this was part of a year-long process that involved cross functional collaboration throughout the organization.
MoPub: At what point in the redesign process did your team focus on ad placement and your monetization goals? How did you decide where ads best fit into the experience?
RS: Our teams worked together from the very beginning to design ad experiences that were meaningful to advertisers and consumers alike. For example, Your Daily Weather Snapshot was designed with a keen eye towards how we know today’s user wants to consume content: visually. At the same time, we designed an ad experience within this feature that could adapt to a user’s location, weather, and more, bringing a fullscreen ad experience to brands that is also highly personalized to the user.
MoPub: Traditionally, what ad formats have performed best for you? Are you exploring any new formats for the redesigned app?
RS: Our home screen placement has always been a top performer for brands. We have reimagined this premium ad unit with the new design and introduced the Integrated Marquee. This new unit can support many different functionalities such as full screen overlays, virtual reality, video, animation, and can adapt to a user's weather and location. It’s a truly unique ad experience that can be customized for any brand’s KPIs.
The new app also provides more video ad opportunities. We designed the app experience to be more intuitive to the user, and our new bottom nav bar is the way to do that, with the video channel easily accessible via the bottom navigation. Users can can also swipe down from the home screen to see The Weather Channel’s compelling video content. This gives brands the opportunity to align themselves with our award-winning content in a trusted environment.
MoPub: Was viewability taken into consideration? If so, how and why?
RS: Absolutely. We recognize that viewability is such a critical KPI for brands -- one that our dedicated ad squad continues to work tirelessly to address. Early returns are favorable; for example, our new Integrated Marquee is seeing a 20% improvement on viewability.
MoPub: How does machine learning playing a role in the new experience? Does this impact ads as well?
RS: Artificial intelligence (AI) is infused in just about everything we do here at IBM. AI/machine learning plays a role in The Weather Channel app in four ways.
- First, foundationally in the generation of our forecasts. Our team has built, and continues to expand, complex algorithms to generate our forecasts.
- Second, in serving of insights to our users. An algorithm determines the best information to show to the user based on behavior, location, weather and time.
- Third, we use machine learning to create insights for users. We use it to determine if a change in weather (e.g., a temperature drop) is significant based on that person’s location. A five degree change in one city may be the norm but feel very significant in another locale. This shows up in the chart on the home screen as well as via proactive weather notifications.
- Fourth, AI plays a role in just about every ad opportunity we offer. While these are not specifically related to the redesign, we have a wealth of AI-driven solutions that marketers can take advantage of both on The Weather Company properties and throughout the ad ecosystem. A few examples:
- Watson Ads: leverages AI to build a truly unique 1:1 dialogue with consumers. It’s truly a partnership between Watson and the brand that not only yields an engaging experience for the user but also helps the brand gather meaningful user insights -- insights that influence future marketing strategies as well as merchandising, staffing and product decisions. The data generated via Watson Ads belongs to the brand.
- IBM Bidding Optimization: is a deep learning neural network platform that optimizes bids for impressions based on a brand’s desired outcomes. It leverages Deep Learning algorithms to ingest behaviors and events (from a tracking pixel that a client places in the digital realm, i.e. on the advertiser’s webpage) that are indicative of the KPI that a client wants; then that data, in combination with real-time bid stream data, is used to train a unique algorithm for each client’s KPI.
- WEATHERfx Footfall with Watson: uses machine learning and advanced cognitive computing to verify the exact weather conditions that drive foot traffic specific to each brand based on hyper-local data. These machine-learning models were built to continuously learn what factors increase foot traffic by brand, so both the weather trigger thresholds as well as the demographics adjust to best target and optimize accordingly.
MoPub: Are there any initial results you can share?
RS: Daily new-user retention rates are up, and there’s been healthy adoption of new features like the home screen data viz and insights. 40% of users clicked into insights so far in our new app experience, compared to 34% during the same time last year. We also increased Lifestyle (i.e. outdoor, allergy) usage tenfold in our apps from the home screen due to our advanced AI surfacing relevant, more personalized insights to users in what we call our "Heads up" feature.
MoPub: What best practices can you share for other publishers who may be looking to improve or even redesign their apps?
RS: The weather category is a very competitive one for apps, and according to App Annie, The Weather Channel was the #1 weather app by combined iOS App Store and Google Play worldwide downloads from 2014 through 2017. So, it was a bold decision to reimagine the app experience.
That said, there are several tips we’d offer to other publishers:
- Make a conscious decision to be generous to your users by giving them more of what they want early and upfront in the experience. At the same time, focus on delivering personalized, unique advertising that your users would value and that your brand partners would appreciate. Because we did this, our advertisers have the unique opportunity to deliver their message in a brand safe environment and leverage state-of-the-art AI-driven ad products.
- Next, listen to your users. We knew we wanted to launch a new app experience that kept what users love but gave them more of what they need. And now that we’ve launched, we’re continuing to listen; our users are very vocal.
- Finally, bring your fans along for the journey. Change is hard, but the more you can involve your fans and onboard them to new experiences smoothly, the better things will go for you.
From The Weather Company, an IBM Business: The Weather Company helps people make informed decisions and take action in the face of weather. The company offers the most accurate forecasts globally with personalized and actionable weather data and insights to millions of consumers, as well as thousands of marketers and businesses via Weather’s API, its business solutions division (business.weather.com), and its own digital products from The Weather Channel (weather.com) and Weather Underground (wunderground.com).
The company delivers around 25 billion forecasts daily. Its products include the world’s most downloaded weather app, a top-20 U.S. website, a leading personal weather station network and IoT data platform, and industry-leading business solutions. Weather Means Business. The world’s biggest brands in aviation, energy, insurance, media and government rely on The Weather Company for data, technology platforms and services to help improve decision-making and respond to weather’s impact on business. For more, visit https://newsroom.ibm.com/the-weather-company.
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