Platform play: 3 lessons publishers can learn from Weather.com’s skillful use of Rubicon Project Self-Serve (video)

The weather.com website sits on top of a gold mine of valuable marketing assets.

Three decades old, The Weather Channel brand has been a leader in weather forecasting and weather-related content on both television and on digital, giving it enviable brand recognition. And weather.com possesses highly reliable location data: visitors must report accurate zip codes in order for the brand’s site and apps to be useful to them, and the site has access to real-time weather data as part of its core content offering.

Tapping into a multi-billion dollar local ad market

Weather’s brand equity and data capabilities made it especially primed to become an attractive advertising partner for local small and medium businesses (SMBs). In aggregate, according to BIA/Kelsey, SMBs will spend $12.4 billion on digital local media in 2015.

Weather’s sales force was almost entirely on a national footing when the company decided to make a play for the lucrative small business market. Meeting this opportunity by building a local footprint from coast to coast was beyond Weather’s short-term scope, so instead Ryan Davis, The Weather Company’s VP of Local Platform, and his team decided to merge business ingenuity with powerful technology to scale their business significantly beyond their headcount.

Davis partnered with local television station sales teams that already had credibility and relationships with local businesses, and trained them to become resellers of weather.com’s website inventory. His team armed those sales reps with weather.com’s digital advertising offering via their installation of Rubicon Project Self-Service. Those reps were then able to sell and activate that offering alongside their own suite of advertising products. To date, Weather has made significant headway into local markets using this strategy.

Keys to making a successful platform play

Not every publisher would use a self-serve advertising platform the same way weather.com did, and that’s precisely the point. A platform should be both powerful enough to deliver the breadth of digital advertising capabilities, and flexible enough to adapt to the business objectives of a particular publisher.

Here are three lessons other publishers can learn from The Weather Company’s deft use of Rubicon Project’s self-serve platform.

1. Have a strong unique selling proposition. A technology platform enables its users to execute and amplify a strong endemic unique selling proposition. This means that in order for a platform to deliver differentiated value, a publisher must already offer strong, viable, and differentiated marketing assets on its own.

For The Weather Channel brand, those differentiators are the ability to target based on first-party location data, which users happily share to get local forecast information, and weather targeting, by which advertisers can change their message or run more ads during the right weather conditions. These are two qualities that would have appealed to local businesses no matter how the advertising capability was ultimately delivered.

Other publishers might offer great first-party targeting options via registration data, high-quality content that attracts high-quality audiences, cutting edge and high-impact ad units, and/or some other USP. What’s important is that publishers come to the table with assets that have standalone value that a self-serve platform can then boost many times over.

2. Create a smart business plan. If a publisher’s USP are the ingredients and a powerful platform the oven, the business plan is the recipe that will ensure the desired outcome. Bake the USP haphazardly, and what will emerge instead is a hot, smoking mess.

The Weather Company’s business plan was a classic reseller arrangement. Instead of expending a considerable amount of money, time, and energy to find, hire, train, deploy, and manage a national sales force that would beat the street in every corner of the county, weather.com instead leveraged a series of partnerships that, taken together, created a turnkey local sales force across a significant national footprint. Using Weather’s example, work with partners – advertising sellers for local broadcast stations – who:

  • Are already geographically positioned where you want to make inroads,
  • Are already connected to the types of businesses you want to sell into, and
  • Have a natural incentive to sell your products alongside their own solutions.

Just as The Weather Company carefully executed a well-considered business strategy that enabled the self-serve platform on weather.com to make the most of their USP, so should other publishers think carefully about their execution when using the platform.

3. Use a powerful and flexible platform. Of course, the platform itself should contain within it all the tools needed to execute a given business strategy against a publisher’s USP from end to end.

One reliable way to check for this is to make sure that the platform can actually handle and surface publisher assets where appropriate. For example, “weather parting” – or targeting ads to users based on weather conditions – is a highly unique offering from Weather. The self-service platform enables users to select targeting by temperature range and weather condition. In other words, the platform is able to handle and surface targeting options based on Weather’s USP.

While a strong platform is clearly key to publishers’ success with digital advertising, they must also bring strong products, solutions, and business planning fundamentals to the mix in order to maximize the opportunities a powerful platform affords.

Learn even more about how Rubicon Project Self-Service can help you make the most of your properties’ unique selling proposition here, and fill out our contact form to talk to us about it.

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