A recent study by Bing and iProspect showed 50% of all search will be done by voice and we are on track to pass $10bn in ad spend through digital assistants by 2020.

Mascha Driessen, Microsoft
Mascha Driessen – Microsoft

So we decided to connect with Mascha Driessen, Sr. Director Strategic Search at Microsoft and a powerful influencer in the world of tech on what we should expect in 2018.

S: How will AI improve the way content is served to audiences?

MD: Think about the way we search today for a moment. To be honest, it’s actually pretty inefficient, don’t you think? You open your web browser, type in the domain of a search engine or type in your search query in the browser’s address bar and a screen displays a list of possible answers. But you have typically only given half of the details, with search queries being  just a collection of words rather than a full sentence. This leaves out some important human intentions – the how’s, the why’s, the where’s. How do we as users move away from saying more to becoming more productive?

Consider for instance someone who wants to research the history of the Heimlich Maneuver versus someone who needs to save a person choking. Both may search for the same thing using the same keywords, but these two people need completely different search results as their intent is radically different. How would the search engine know? Perhaps the person is at a restaurant and not at home, perhaps they have just called 911, perhaps the tone of their voice can infer the context.

Artificial intelligence will help us move away from a keyword centric approach to an almost human intelligence approach.

S: What role does Microsoft’s AI tech play in interacting with content and media?

MD: Digital assistants and bots will play a big role in people’s lives. Digital assistants are the gatekeepers or intermediaries between users and bots. They are meta agents that, thanks to natural language understanding, can provide a seamless, almost human, flow of communication. By 2020, 1.6 million digital assistants will be used worldwide. Just 1 year later, that will be 1.8 million. Microsoft will target this market with Cortana, a digital assistant which also uses the Bing search technology and algorithm.

Bots are specialists in typical transaction models that a business operates in and will facilitate engagement with the business services seamlessly. They communicate with these digital assistants, or directly with you, and can perform simple tasks like ordering a product, booking a room, or finding the right answer on the web or a specific web page. Skyscanner, for instance, launched a bot to help customers find their favorite destinations and made it available on two communication platforms, Microsoft’s Skype  and Facebook Messenger. The bot can help users to complete key travel-related tasks, such as searching for flights to specific destinations or telling them where they can fly to from a departure point of their choice. Skype Bot can also be added to a group conversation to facilitate bookings for multiple people. It can suggest weekend breaks, or compare the price with other destinations in the same period and even give advice on which day is cheapest.

S: How will the rise of AI assistants (Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri) affect SEM? Keeping in mind, currently links, tags and keywords are given more importance over images and videos

MD: According to our research in collaboration with our partner iProspect, we will pass $10bn in ad spend through digital assistants by 2020. The reason is that users will move away from the classic search box and will speak to their digital assistants. Especially millennials are turning to their digital assistants. 66% of 18-26 year old’s, use voice and digital assistants on their phone today.

What SEM will look like exactly in the years to come, I simply cannot share since we don’t know. With ‘we’ I mean not just Microsoft, but this is a valid question across the market. But we do expect advertisers to give added value that may not be available through organic results.

S: What are some of the most awaited feature updates we can we expect from BING Search in 2018?

MD: One of the major trends we continue to see is the growth in conversation between brands and people communicating together through their devices. With more than 3 billion people using messaging apps every day, consumers are spending five times longer on average using messaging apps than they do on all other mobile apps. We see the potential this holds for advertisers to appropriately reach their customers wherever they are.

We know people are interacting with their devices and searching for information in more conversational ways through voice search and conversational queries via bots. The pain point is bot discoverability. To help make it easier, we’re announcing an open beta pilot program for Chat Bot Extensions on Bing, with broader availability later this year.  Chat Bot Extensions provide you with the ability to drive more engagement through real-time interaction with customers. For example, if you are advertising for a cell phone carrier and you know that people often ask questions about upgrading their phone, Bing can answer questions with Chat Bot Extensions right within our main search results page. This service allows advertisers to prompt consumers with questions to help guide them to commonly asked questions and move them toward a purchase.

We are also announcing an expansion to our In-Market Audiences, an audience targeting feature giving you access to curated lists of users that are in market for a purchase category and are ready to buy. This expansion increases to more than 70 In-Market Audiences in pilot, with general availability soon. In-Market Audiences is another example where we leverage AI and machine learning to build audience categories. Customers are seeing terrific results so far, with up to 28 percent greater CTR and up to 48 percent greater conversion rates. Through the in-Market Audiences feature, Bing Ads does all the work for you – there is no need to build or import lists. The In-Market Audiences feature increases conversions and saves you time.

As you probably know, Microsoft acquired LinkedIn to combine their audience and intent data based on signals such as search history and product and domain preferences with the audience attribute of LinkedIn’s almost 500 million users. In September 2017, we announced that we are integrating the LinkedIn Graph with our Audience Intelligence Graph. Why is this important? Well, just make the sum of data from both graphs..

S: Azure AI, Edge, MS Office 2010 are some of the best products Microsoft has produced over the last 2 years and from our latest research BING seems to be picking up in search advertising. Kudos to you and the team on that! What are some of the steps you will implement to ensure BING becomes an even stronger contender to Google, Yahoo, Baidu, etc.

MD: Visibility in the market is very important to us, which is why we are the premium sponsor of important industry events like the Dutch Search Awards and the UK Search Awards, and are actively engaged with industry bodies like IAB in many countries across the globe. By doing this, we can also be better partners to our clients and focus on building personal relationships. This personal relationship has opened many doors and is crucial for our success in the market. At Bing we believe in working together to service the search market, and that’s exactly why we partner with companies like Yahoo and Oath, instead of being their competitors. But also partnerships with TripAdvisor, iOs and Gumtree, allows us to have many data feeds on consumer behavior, which makes our algorithm smarter every day through machine learning. These consumer insights are every marketers’ and many a company’s candy shop.

AI in ecommerce, brand and content development, chatbots, immersive content and innovative advertising are some of the topics Savage Marketing 2018 will uncover on 13-14 June in Amsterdam, through 60 of the most innovative brands and thought leaders who are shaping the way we engage with our audience.

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