Why search is transforming the power of marketing

A lot of people view search as "just a search engine". In reality, it is much more, argues Microsoft's general manager for Bing Ads Marketing.

The world of marketing has unavoidably collided with artificial intelligence. They have greeted one another like long lost friends, acknowledged their best traits and subsequently built a mutually beneficial friendship. While some have doubted the outcome of this relationship, evidence points to its success.  

To unravel this relationship, we must first understand the foundations of AI. At its heart, AI is built on data, a significant part of which is delivered by search intelligence, which collects and interprets intent signals, such as requests, needs, emotions and importantly context.

Search is inherent to the technology within connected entities, allowing it to help us be more productive while collecting information to continually improve the experience. In short, it’s a powerful and impressive tool.  

A lot of people view search as "just a search engine". In reality, it is much more.

Not only is paid search a valued marketing tool today harnessing a significant portion of global adspend, but search data is also at the core of computing’s evolution.  

Let’s take Bing as an example. Bing is the intelligence embedded into more than 500 million devices using Windows 10, has enabled 18 billion answers for Cortana, powers the web results we ask of Alexa and Siri, is integrated with Microsoft Azure, BI and CRM and as a result has a knowledge graph of over one billion people, places and things including over 21 billion associated facts and understands over 5 billion relationships between entities. The knowledge gathered about audiences from this is huge. Search data, when combined with the abilities of AI to reason over large volumes of data, enables deep user understanding for marketers.

The intelligence and insight provided by search is gold dust for marketers today. They want a complete view of their customers across all channels, to be able to draw actionable insights and ultimately, deliver personalisation at scale.

AI platforms underpinned by search create the potential for marketers to both glean this insight, but also act on it. For example, a digital assistant may receive a voice query from its user asking, "help me find a black suit for next week’s party". This provides product information but also contextual information – the user wants "help", suggesting urgency, and the user has six days to find the right suit for a festive occasion.

From this, marketers can strategically time and craft their advertising to this person’s exact needs. If, by Wednesday next week, the user has still not purchased, they know to continue delivering relevant black suit ads, based on this original intent information. In delivering more personalised, timely targeting, the user is more likely to engage with the ad – and consequently, purchase.

In this emerging area of conversational commerce, emotional intelligence and AI is hailing the onset of a brand engagement arena where value is the currency. Voice search, cognitive services such as emotion detection, visual recognition and gesture and, of course, the services provided by bots in conversation are being made possible with AI. As a consequence, people are interacting more naturally, and therefore proactively, with technology and the depth of exchange between users and brands improve. AI has a huge amount of potential and the ability to positively impact brand engagement on a level we have never seen before.

Our ability to rationalise over vast amounts of data has elevated the strategic significance of marketing beyond previous expectations and an exciting era of digital transformation is taking place for brands incorporating AI capabilities into the customer engagement scenarios.

Digital transformation is no longer just an industry buzz phrase but an essential element and opportunity that can determine business life expectancy. From helping tackle familiar challenges such as customer experience, employee motivation and product transformation, it is far reaching.

Today, 68% of chief marketing officers view driving growth and revenue as a top priority. In a highly interconnected and information rich age, AI can help businesses to transform their engagement levels and internal productivity for the better.  

AI powered marketing and the important role of search is steering the industry to a truly exciting place.

Search capabilities form the basis for many AI capabilities, and in turn, search gets better with AI, and even more central as a digital marketing channel. The increasing amount of data and increasingly sophisticated AI and machine learning capabilities will provide an ever deeper understanding of the consumer.  As a result, search is shifting from a marketing tactic to an increasingly important component of consumer connection.

By harnessing the power of machine learning and understanding the role of search marketers can both benefit and futureproof themselves. As a marketer, your possibilities, now, but also in the future, are endless.

Steve Sirich is general manager for Bing Ads Marketing at Microsoft. He will be speaking at this week's Dmexco conference on 14 September as part of a panel discussing AI, bots and cognitive services.



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