Q+A with Microsoft’s head of advertising Carolyn Everson


Microsoft’s global head of advertising Carolyn Everson joined the company as its corporate VP for global ad sales and strategy in June, having previously been COO and executive VP of US ad sales at MTV Networks. Her role oversees ad sales and brand and agency relationships for Microsoft products including MSN, Xbox, Windows Phone 7, Bing and its new search alliance with Yahoo.

How do you see Microsoft’s position within the current online ad market?

On one side you have a lot of brands that have been very comfortable for a number of years in print, TV and so on, because they usually come to life in those formats. On the other side is digital, which has been data driven. I’m trying to position Microsoft in the centre, making sure campaigns are led by the idea and brand, but also using data from search and targeting to make sure they’re smarter and better than they’ve been in the past.

That’s the space in which we’re trying to carve out a role. I think we can because we have a pretty unique asset proposition.

Why haven’t there been many big brand case studies on the benefits of online as more than a results-driven medium?

I don’t think it’s because it doesn’t work. I think it’s because the more progressive brands aren’t comfortable sharing, as they think they have a secret sauce they don’t want their competitors to have. I see that as a competitive space as no one has really figured it out, so they’re not touting their research.

The second problem is that but pure brand advertising is comfortable in video but there has been a lack of quality supply of online video inventory. I don’t think there has been as much good activity because of that. So as video inventory increases and people take budgets more into the middle, you’ll start seeing more activity.

So what’s Microsoft doing with video?

Video is part and parcel of what we do on MSN, and we don’t have enough of it right now. It’s something we’re conscious of – every marketer is saying to me that they’re ready to spend more and that we need to have more content. We’re trying to select third-party publisher sites that we think fit into our audience so we can start to acquire that inventory.

We’re also trying to connect the dots between different assets. In the US we have our TV product, which is connected to MSN, and then we have Xbox, which is a very rich video environment. It’s about connecting those assets to show marketers the video offerings.

But we have a lot of work to do in figuring out the right way to acquire quality video content, not just user-generated stuff, which these brands are just not comfortable with. MSN can be a really interesting home for quality content, even if it’s by category. A lot of brands are looking for that megaphone, that big distribution platform, and I want them to think of us.

How do measurement and metrics fit in?

Video measurement is still nascent and a lot of questions need to be answered before a standard metric can be devised. We need to be mindful of the engagement metrics of online video versus TV – there are different commercial loads in each environment, there’s context, and so on.

But there’s this digital versus TV conversation that I think we need to stop having and ask how these mediums can work collaboratively. It’s not like TV’s going away. Yes, viewing time is going down, but the truth is when you have something on both mediums it’s more effective. I’d like to take a more holistic approach.

You’re in the middle of moving North American advertisers onto the combined Yahoo/Bing search platform. How’s that going and how can US experience be applied to the UK?

Integration’s going surprisingly well. I say surprisingly because of the amount of technical effort that has to go on behind the scenes to integrate our search engine into Yahoo’s system, before you then go literally advertiser by advertiser.

There are premium advertisers that have certain levels of service, but think of the thousands of SMEs that we need to explain to that it’s now a joint marketplace. We have a saying “no account left behind”, which we’ll transfer into the UK as we begin transition over here.

But you can imagine there are still a lot of people who only use Google. Therefore there’s education needed about what this search alliance means. Does the average SME even know it’s happening? There’s a lot of work being done about what this means and how it’s beneficial to SMEs.

How will it allow you to innovate?

Google has done a great job, but when we were developing Bing our research said there was still a tremendous dissatisfaction with search. The innovation around Bing will continue within categories in which we think there’s a need for it, such as travel. All innovation is around taking a consumer-centric point of view, thinking about what they’re doing at the moment they’re searching.

When you take that to mobile, you have location elements to add in So on Windows Phone 7, Bing will know you’re searching for a restaurant in a certain neighbourhood and give you information for where you are. Our aim isn’t to make you keep on clicking to get more information, but to get you as much information as you need on that main screen.

When Steve Ballmer talks about priorities for the company, Bing is top of that list. We’re beyond committed from an engineering and sales standpoint to continue to innovate.

So Google’s 90% UK market share isn’t daunting?

Taking all of it back will take a considerable amount of effort and time. But then look at the share of the smartphone market the iPhone has gained. Android has come in and now outsells Apple in many markets, so of course we’re very hopeful our phone product can do the same.

Customer loyalty around brands and products isn’t the way it used to be. They’re looking to what makes life easier. If we take a very consumer-centric view, which we’re doing with Bing and Windows Phone 7, and which you’ll see with Kinect [the Xbox controller-free hardware launching next month], you’ll see consumers will respond.

What’s the expectation for Windows Phone 7?

We’ve messed up in mobile in the past, we recognise that, but we’ve learned a lot watching what consumers want to do and how they want it to work. It has helped us create a terrific product that combines the best of your professional and personal lives.

So the People menu [contacts] will automatically take in updates from all your friends’ social networks. On that screen I’ll see photos of people in my social network and who’s been updating their information, rather than having to go to lots of apps. What we’re trying to do is make it simpler by funnelling all the key information from the cloud into one screen.

Also, all your emails will be consolidated into one screen, as will Xbox Live. So when you’re playing a game at home but you have to leave, you can pause it and start playing on your phone.

How are mobile ad sales going to work?

We’re structured to be a solutions-oriented team. So it’s not like individual teams sell just Xbox or mobile or MSN. Previously Microsoft was more product focused, but now we’re more solutions-led, with mobile being part of that.

Having said that, there are specialists within our team who can join a sales call or roll up their sleeves to work with a brand on what it means to be on mobile. The hope is that over time all that knowledge gets infused within a larger sales organisation, and I can put any account manager in front of a marketing person and have a dialogue about all of our platforms.

Brands also want integrated campaigns. We’re working with a few brands on what their mobile app opportunities are. In the US, General Motors’ Chevrolet will have a presence that’s connected to its Kinect and PC campaigns. There’s a GM Xbox game where you drive a car, but if you want info about a deal on the real car you can pause the game and send an update to your mobile phone directing you to a Chevrolet-branded environment.

So it’s about seamless integration?

Before I left MTV Networks for Microsoft, Forrester Research came in to discuss the changes in TV consumption. It said the biggest change was gaming. What Xbox has done with Netflix in the US and content streaming elsewhere [Sky and Last.fm in the UK] is to transform how people are consuming content. So while we call it gaming, it’s more about consuming entertainment in the living room.

You’re outsourcing premium ad sales for the search alliance to Yahoo. Will there come a time when you’re outsourcing all ad sales?

If we were going to do that I don’t think I’d have been hired. Although we outsource the Bing premium advertising to Yahoo, a significant percentage of our business is around the rest of our platforms. We’re investing in those and we have a significant commitment to our sales organisation.

I can’t say we won’t have a very different model at some point in the future, but it could even go in the other direction. The truth is, investing in sales relations is expensive and not easy. There are a lot of people who are looking at Microsoft in this space, particularly due to the momentum we have right now and the team we’re building, and saying maybe Microsoft should represent their inventory. I think it could go in a more extreme direction where we do even more than we do right now.

A key theme for new media age recently has been the emergence of services such as demand-side platforms, retargeting specialists and real-time bidding. Bearing in mind Microsoft’s $50m investment in real-time bidding company AppNexus last week, what’s the company’s view on this space?

If you had met me just three months ago I would have had a very different answer regarding our exchange strategy, because we were building our own. But we found the market was moving very quickly. More clients are wanting to transact and buy inventory in a real-time bidding environment. We weren’t pleased with how fast we were moving so decided to make a significant investment in AppNexus to help us accelerate our efforts. It shows our commitment to the space, our commitment to scale display and how we’re listening to clients. I’ve been on the road for the past three months listening to people saying they want Microsoft to have a robust offering, and AppNexus is a result of that.

If you think of inventory in a pyramid structure, at the top is the high-touch, brand-led customised advertising, and you work your way down the chain. The way a brand marketer should be thinking about it is that at the moment there are human resources working on all elements. But if they want to do certain types of advertising better or reach different people, then perhaps part of the inventory they’re buying could be done through an exchange. It will free up people who can do more of the brand-led work.

What is Microsoft these days?

We’re three things. First, we’re a technology company – that’s in our DNA. We’re also a marketer: we promote our own products and work out what to do. But we’re also an ad services company. So we take the knowledge from the technology and marketing sides, listen to the marketplace and factor that into our ad services.

What do you think the biggest changes over the next year will be?

First, the really large brand advertisers are at a tipping point where digital can no longer be siloed. It can no longer be a conversation at the side, where they might have a Facebook fan page, where they’ve done a bit of display and search. It must be part of the core.

So when you get brands making declarations that they’re going to double their spend and put consumers at the centre, these are pretty significant shifts – especially in the UK market where a lot of online work has been direct response and there hasn’t been as much brand activity. If they’re not thinking about that then they’re doing something wrong.

You’re also seeing different skillsets coming into marketing organisations and different types of people being hired. Every meeting I go to we’re asked to educate them. You have to be a digital evangelist. That’s not just Microsoft doing that, our competition is as well.

You’ve seen the shifts in consumption of media, but the marketing hasn’t quite followed that. I think this is the year when that changes.

This story first appeared on newmediaage.co.uk

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