eCommerce Café: Purna Virji

- Luke Metcalfe

This post is part of the series eCommerce Café

Other posts in this series:

  1. Crealytics eCommerce Café: Elizabeth Marsten
  2. Crealytics eCommerce Café: David Szetela
  3. eCommerce Café: Purna Virji (Current)

At the SMX West 2017 Conference in San Jose, we had the pleasure to chat with Purna Virji, Senior Training Manager at Microsoft Bing, about the current and upcoming trends in all things SEM. Check out the full interview below.

Direct Youtube link.

To stay tuned with Purna, follow her on Twitter, @PurnaVirji.

We will be at SMX London, May 23-24…more chats to come!

Full Transcript

Andreas: Purna you’re a senior training manager at Bing ads Microsoft. What is your role exactly?

Purna: I have a wonderful role where I get to live and breathe and eat search all day. In my job, I get to come to wonderful events around the world as well as go visit some of our clients 1:1 and talk about how they can use search to grow their businesses.


Andreas: I see you at so many conferences. How do you manage this? If you’re present at so many conferences, how do you have time to train your clients?

Purna: Oh I don’t sleep laughs. No in all seriousness I try to balance it out so I try to do about 4 industry events a quarter. In the mean time, I go the rest of the time and visit all our clients. SO it’s easier if I combine it. So when I went to SMX Munich, I also visited some of our key clients there to have 1:1 with them. So I combine it to be where I am, that’s where I’ll go visit clients.


Andreas: We developed software around paid search, and I’m of course seeing how Microsoft follows Google, and Google brings out new features and it takes just a couple of weeks and we see the same features in Bing. I’m truly impressed with the pace Microsoft is replicating these features. How is Microsoft actually doing this?

Purna: The entire credit goes down to our fantastic engineering teams. We have tireless, brilliant, super smart people all over the world. I, for example, was just in India and met with our engineering team there. They’re not just engineers. They have two degrees! They have MBAs and engineers. They understand the business side, and they can build out all these amazing features.  So we’ve been really luckily as Bing has grown even more and is an integral part of Microsoft to receive additional resources and engineering teams to work on our products. So it’s full credit to brilliant engineering and prioritization to go out and build these features as quickly as possible.


Andreas: Can you say anything about the size of the development team?

Purna: Oh I don’t know the exact size of the teams, but I know we have them placed all over the world. They’re some of the smartest people I’ve been lucky enough to chat with.


Andreas: I remember times when we had to convert the google format into the Microsoft format. Then someone from Microsoft loaded our campaigns into the Bing platform, that point of time it was still called Microsoft Ad Center. Today it’s almost the same functionality, it’s very similar, the format is quite similar…Microsoft clearly aims for parity with the Google system. What’s the rationale of the strategy behind this?

Purna: I get this question a lot. The reason is really to make our users’ lives easier. If you have to come and advertise on multiple different platforms and have to recreate the same work over and over, it’s not efficient. It’s not a good use of your time. So if we want to encourage you to come and spend time with us on Bing, we want to make it as easy as possible for you. So if the barrier to entry is really low, so it’s easier. Just load over your campaign, and you can discover all the wonderful world of bing and see how profitable we can be for business of any Size or industry.


Andreas: Makes a lot of sense. In Germany, it’s probably a 90% google share or something like this. Microsoft is quite small so many advertisers wouldn’t go the extra mile and implement something entirely different for Microsoft, but if it’s so easy right now, you can just hit the button and run the same campaigns

Purna: We are 14% share in Germany now. We’ve grown in the last 2 years, nearly doubled in size, which is exciting to see.


Andreas: We are quite active in the retail space, ecommerce retail. We’ve seen Google Shopping as one of the main drivers in this market. Text ads remain somewhat stable but shopping is really driving the growth of spend. What role does Bing shopping play for Microsoft?

Purna: First, kudos to crealytics for really great software…a lot of our clients use it and are very happy with it. Shopping is very important. It’s just what our users want to engage with. Images are very, very powerful conversion and engagement tools. So much research has been done. Humans are 80% more likely to engage with content with imagery to it. So it makes sense that we are visual creatures and we want to engage with shopping ads because it shows you exactly what you want to be. So if I want to sort through what I want instead of reading multiple blue links, it’s going to be a much more engaging format for the user to want to use. So in that sense, we are answering that question by making sure we are building and scaling our shopping ads. We have gotten such great feedback from our advertisers. They say “We love it, we want more more more!” We are working on it, we are getting all these additional features and enhancements to our ads. So I think they are doing really well with shopping.


Andreas: We see today Microsoft is somewhat lagging behind Google in terms of share of spend between text ads and Shopping ads. Google is currently roughly in the Non-Brand area at 70%, Microsoft is much lower. Do you see the format going in the same direction?

Purna: We are working always to grow our products, especially with Shopping. We are still working to penetrate the different markets. It hasn’t been fully released in every country like Google, which explains the market share. We just came out in Canada in late 2016. However, we are putting a lot of energy and effort into building the product. We have been very encouraged by the success our advertisers are seeing, so it is full speed ahead with shopping.


Andreas: How does Microsoft see the future of search?

Purna: Microsoft has a really strong idea about the future of search. To give them credit, we’ve been thinking about search quite differently in the past two years. We realize that our behavior as consumers and searchers is changing. Andi, how often to you go to your computer, open up your browser and type in your search? We don’t do that as much anymore. We search from where we are, we search from our phone, our smart speaker, or whatever device. Microsoft realizes that to make it easier for the consumer, we have to bring Search to them and not expect the searcher to come to us all the time. We’ve been very forward thinking in that way. We’ve embedded Bing across all the different businesses that Microsoft has to offer. From Xbox to Skype, to Office, these already products that have billions and billions of users across the world. And now they have become more user-friendly with the addition of Bing Search to them. So we see the future of Search characterized by two adjectives: personalized and pervasive. You talk to technology as you would talk to a human. “Hey, Computer, what’s the best flight for me to take to NY.” Or it’s pervasive, it’s everywhere you’d expect search to be. Search engines are devices have so much more input about us and our preferences. We can use that to be more effective marketers.


Andreas: You just mentioned it in-between the lines…voice search. Do you believe that voice search will change the market fundamentally? Or it’s just another type of input on the back-end system that works the very same system as before?

Purna: A little bit of both. I think we are poised for a big shift. I don’t think voice will cannibalize anything that exists. For example, mobile didn’t kill desktop, and apps didn’t kill the browser. We just spend a lot of time in this new input. So I think voice has been growing at such an exponential rate, that adoption rates have skyrocketed all across age groups. Because we are going to start using voice more and more on different devices, there will be different considerations. There is only so much information you can present through voice, so speaking…Choices become fewer. So in that sense, we are going to think about what is the best way to reach the user? As of now, I don’t know if advertising needs to change, but it’s certain that voice search is going to get monetize in the next years from all the companies racing to do that: Facebook, Google, IBM. Everyone is looking to monetize voice.


Andreas: Are there any efforts in predicting what people will want to do next? Instead of waiting until a search happens, and intelligent AI system could predict what people will want next and suggest results before you even ask?

Purna: Oh absolutely, 90% of the world’s data was created in just the last 2 years, so you can imagine how many data points there are. AI capabilities are so robust now that they can take this data and use it. So for example, the job is to get to know us very well and serve us in the best way possible. So to do that they have to get to know us and know what we like and what we don’t like. So for example, I am vegetarian. I don’t eat meat or fish. When I ask Cortana, Siri or Alexa for a restaurant recommendation, they will not recommend a steakhouse or a seafood restaurant because they know I will not eat it. So in that sense, it’s going to curate what we as consumers are going to see.


Andreas: As a meat lover, I shouldn’t use your device. Thanks, Purna!

Continue reading this series:


Luke is a Content Marketer at Crealytics

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