I was enjoying my Saturday morning cup of coffee when an OpEd piece by Matt Ridley in the WSJ grabbed my attention: “Human technological advancement depends not on individual intelligence, but on the collective idea sharing and it has done so for tens of thousands of years.”
The article points to the fact that the concept of a crowd-sourced, wikinomic cloud is really age-old. While we can all agree that this paradigm has played out in our spheres of influence, the ever-shrinking timeframe for a platform or screen to reach critical mass underscores the need to collaborate across corporate boundaries. Only then can we develop collective solutions.
A retrace of “The Weather Channel’s” path in deploying an associated measurement and insights engine to our tablet app is a case study in the new paradigm of cross-industry collaboration. To set the context, our branded app gained an immediate foothold and quickly built to more than five million downloads. As industry leaders, we rode the typical initial wave of advertiser interest in the “experimental platform.” However, the onus was quickly on us to help establish the steady-state value of the investment to our stakeholders.
Share Internally, Share Externally
The long-term path to proving ROI started with the setting up of informal watering holes with advertisers, agencies and marketers. The forums served as general idea sharing and, more importantly for us, to validate our learnings. We quickly learned never to underestimate the value of micro-insights.
One of the early “aha” moments included a simple look at day/time usage of the new platform vis-à-vis TV, online and mobile apps. The difference in usage patterns across platforms served as building blocks to providing day-part solutions to advertisers. The simpler we kept the insights at this early phase, the more traction we received. From the water-cooler information tidbits to the more profound learnings, every node along this spectrum has value in moving the industry forward.
Build a Cross-Functional Team, Corporate Walls no Longer Boundaries
In contrast to the TV and online industries which, over time, have refined their off-the-shelf advertising solutions, we had to cobble together our own eco-system to arrive at an acceptable ad-effectiveness solution. It included our internal IT department, third-party research vendors and OEM support teams. Challenges associated with operating systems, technologies, data management, storage constraints, siloed ad environments, surveys, and the application were all jointly tackled.
What resulted in the summer of 2010 was a series of maiden ad effectiveness studies evaluating the impact of different ad placements within “The Weather Channel” app on tablet devices. I can’t emphasize enough how vital the collaboration with firms like “Dynamic Logic” and “Insight Express” was at that point—and still is today. Bringing together their technology brains with our own development team enabled the first ad effectiveness study on the iPad. As the operating systems on these devices continue to evolve, it makes it that much more important for our collaborations to continue.
Keep it Simple Initially
The success of our initial foray lay in the simplicity of the test and the associated messaging. But don’t get me wrong—the challenges in designing and deploying these studies were herculean. In the absence of any tablet ad effectiveness norms, the only benchmarks of comparison of these tablet lifts in brand metrics were against existing mobile industry norms. Not exactly apples-to-apples, but we had to put a stake in the ground and begin somewhere.
The focused storytelling brought it home. Yet, here again, we see the communication ties between publisher and research community evolve. As the research suppliers continue to successfully conduct ad effectiveness studies on these emerging platforms, their norms data base will begin to grow. As publishers, these norms databases become increasingly important; they allow us to have an industry benchmark with which to gauge the success of our client’s campaigns.
Along the way, CTAM’s recent co-op study “Roadmap to Video Apps (What Makes Viewers APPY?”uncovered valuable insights into how people are using video apps, how apps complement their TV viewing and what’s most important to them. The results were encouraging, including the finding that consumers are open to advertisements on apps in exchange for a free or lower-cost service and are receptive to ads on tablet apps. Plus, the study validated the weight of “The Weather Channel” app, which ranked among the Top 5.
Complexity of Research Initiatives Matures With Platform
Most recently, we have partnered with “Vivaki” to look at advertising models in the rapidly growing tablet space. The research is part of Vivaki’s initiative, “The Pool,” which seeks industry alignment for engagement platforms of the future. By participating with industry thought leaders from leading digital marketing and global media agencies, our ability to gain consumer insights to collectively develop the best ad models is the most effective way to accelerate the pace of change.
While no research is perfect, sound research should be vetted in the community in which it serves. Beyond communicating results with the client on whose behalf the research was conducted, and beyond the walls of the third-party research supplier that conducts the study, it is becoming increasingly incumbent on researchers every day to communicate with the change agents themselves. Examples are the community forums of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Open Mobile Alliance, Mobile Marketing Association, CTAM and others. There are no silos anymore—at least none that provide any real benefits. Does it take a village to get cross-platform measurement where we need it to be?
Only together can we decide.
(Indira Venkat is Senior Vice President of Strategic Research & Consumer Insights at The Weather Channel Companies.)