Poncho the Weathercat doesn’t care if you don’t “get” his new iOS app

Poncho the Weathercat doesn’t care if you don’t “get” his new iOS app. He’s into what he is into. As opposed to answering, “What problem does your app solve,” he wonders, “Will my roommate ever stop stealing my yogurt?”

Of course, Poncho is a fictional character created by our team at Poncho, Inc. He lives in Brooklyn, loves pizza, and works, when absolutely necessary, at “Poncho HQ.” His mission is to give you the weather and make you smile. But as our new app is released in the app store the rest of us here have to think about the tech landscape and our place in it (although some of our team think about Poncho’s question too).

Fundamental to everything we do is the rise of messaging. It’s becoming the basis of most of what happens on mobile. Regardless of whether or not you think messaging ultimately eats everything in America the way it has in China, it is undeniably becoming the basic media activity for people under 30. Publishers and brands who cannot figure out how to deliver content to messaging users will decline and eventually disappear.

So the first question is, how does one get content into the messaging flow? Part of the answer is provided by Snapchat and its use of stories and other content integrations. This is significant, as illustrated by how quickly it has grown and been copied by others (Facebook, Instagram, Skype, etc.). But it’s still more like having content adjacent to messaging rather than in messaging. It is also important to remember that Snapchat is based on owning the camera. That works for some types of content (and changes the notion of content to an extent), but it does not work as well for information and most brand content.

Another approach is to make content ambient, effectively always there, often on another screen. Our friends at Cheddar are doing this in a thoughtful way, and some conventional TV networks are doing it more unwittingly.

Poncho’s answer is to create (i) a character/virtual influencer you can interact with as though he were a friend and (ii) native content that is integrated in the messages themselves (we call this “thin content”). Our goal is to seamlessly push content into messaging. We did this last year with our Webby-winning chatbot (on Facebook Messenger, Kik and Viber), taking a chance on AI and conversations — even this was discouraged by conventional wisdom as being “too much too soon.” The result was the best engagement numbers ever seen in a bot (for example, 60% 7 day retention).

We believe very strongly in messaging networks and the future of bots, but the bot ecosystem is still at an early stage. We have always thought of Poncho as a product that should be appealing and available to everyone in the world. That meant taking what we learned from bots and turning our attention back to apps.

Our goal was to use the iOS toolset to create native messaging layer content. We had to rethink our approach in a number of ways:

  • Although we believe conversational exchanges are important in bots, we decided to make our content conversational in tone but not to complicate the app experience with two way communication (or simulated chats as some apps have done);
  • We wanted to base the experience around notifications, and make Poncho weather and humor part of our users’ morning routine, something they see when catching up on texts from last night (we call this “owning the bed”);
  • Our editors had to rethink our content to make it live in notifications, making it even shorter and more relatable/shareable for our millennial audience;
  • We decided to bet on emerging aspects of the iOS experience even before they become mainstream, particularly expanded notifications, iMessage integration and stickers;
  • In particular, we think stickers are on the verge of mass adoption, and the bridge between iOS and iMessage use.

Our approach meant exploring around the outskirts of iOS documentation, particularly with respect to notifications. And we chose to double down on rich notifications and stickers, even though our focus groups showed many iPhone users have yet to try these features. We know Apple will bring stickers and notifications to the foreground, and we have created funny videos and other in-app tips and retention strategies to help bring Poncho users up the curve with our unique humor and visual design.

Testing has been very positive, and we expect great success with users, who have loved Poncho on every platform. In addition, we think we have created an app that points the way to the future of apps — as engines for delivering services and content in the messaging layer.