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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Inside AccuWeather’s hyper-local, global weather outlook

February 24, 2016 | By Michelle Manafy, Editorial Director – DCN @michellemanafy
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Weather: The universal conversation starter. Weather may well top the list of daily content go-to’s worldwide. Perhaps because it has global and local implications. In fact, what could be more hyper-local? Deciding whether to plant the tulips or to send the kids to the park this weekend? Figuring out if your Monday work outfit requires you to rock the rain boots or the Manolos? Yet as any content provider knows, the demands of local content are complex.

Steve Smith, president of digital media for AccuWeather knows the challenges presented by the company’s continued global expansion: AccuWeather has a global audience of 1.5 billion and two thirds of them are outside the U.S.  “While a lot of people talk about ‘going global’, we’ve been living it,” says Smith.

Weather information and its related news, editorial and video has to be localized. And to do so, AccuWeather often partners with local media companies to incorporate their content into its product and also to understand the needs and expectations of customers in a given area.

But localization goes well beyond content according to Smith. Delivery, UI and UX all need to be customized for specific audiences as well. For example, in much of Europe, weather content is map-based and employs what would be a dizzying array of icons and symbols to audiences elsewhere. Whereas in Japan, weather animations are extremely popular.

While the company does market research and user surveys to understand specific markets, Smith says that AccuWeather’s longstanding partnerships with global companies like Samsung, LG and Sony have been extremely helpful in enhancing their learning.  Samsung, for example, has many country-specific offices that Smith and his team visit to show them products and concepts and solicit their feedback. “Use the partnerships you have,” Smith advises. Though he also feels that “the digital toolkit available today makes it much easier to test products across audiences.”

The company’s global strategy is not entirely focused on meeting the needs of its diverse audience while they are at home, of course. Smith says that consumers also have an expectation for a personalized experience wherever they are. “In many ways, language and location are big indicators of intent,” says Smith. And AccuWeather looks at these factors to determine whether, for example, your phone is German so that your information is presented in the metric system no matter where you are traveling. There are also subtle language distinctions that contribute to this experience. If you are American, the day might be “partly sunny,” but if you are British that same day will have “cloudy spells” instead.

“We’re living in an age where we all have supercomputers in our pockets equipped with high-powered GPS,” says Smith. As a result, customer expectations are growing more intense. Typing a location, he says, will soon be a thing of the past. Even the notion of location being city-based is also fading. AccuWeather already offers weather on a neighborhood basis in many cities. In New York City, for example, Manhattan isn’t nearly specific enough; the app knows if you are in Chelsea or the Upper West Side. The company is rolling out this level of specificity worldwide on a city-by-city basis and in 100 languages. The investment is a sound one, says Smith. “We have found that if we don’t get the location right, consumers don’t trust anything we tell them.”

Given how personal weather is—no matter where you live—Smith sees a time in the near future when your trusted weather ally has access to your calendar and sends you useful information before you ask. And then, you won’t even need to consider whether or not to pack that umbrella.

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