Tag Archives: Microsoft

Advertisers need a competitive market : The return of Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo

For those of you who have been living through the digital advertising era from the start can not help but notice a little resurgence of what used to be the only names that counted in digital media. In those early and exciting years AOL, Yahoo, Microsoft, Excite ruled the landscape until they started to come under fire from the upstarts, not least a start up called Google. The pursuing years saw these companies lose their place in life as more and more competition entered the marketplace. It is not to say of course that they have not always been major players, but without doubt lost their way in the face of Facebook, Youtube and others.

In the last couple of years we have seen a come back, it started with AOL. Launching Project Devil to stamp some brand credentials on what was mostly a DR product through Ad.com, the purchase of GoViral started their video offering and then more recently Huff Post, all adding up to create some powerful content. The final act though has been to embrace the programmatic era and to beef up video with the purchase of Adapt.tv, rounding off what is now a far more interesting offer for agencies and seemingly leading them to a return to the top.

Yahoo have seen a similar track, they had a head start with Right Media in programmatic but did not know what to do with it and in my opinion lost a few valuable years vs Google when they should have been ahead of the game. RM was neglected and allowed to become a down market solution, when it should have been the forerunner of private marketplaces. The much hyped arrival of Marissa has had many words written about it so I wont focus on that but it appears that a series of purchases in mobile is starting to bear fruit. Marissa has in fact bought 35+ companies since joining, the largest of course being Tumblr. The good news is that mobile traffic for Yahoo is on the up, in fact it is up 47% year on year. The approach towards native ads such as ‘Stream Ads’ and away from banner should also increase yields and encourage brand advertisers onto mobile. If you believe the press releases Yahoo plan to phase out all banner ads by the end of the year.

So that leaves Microsoft. Working with Microsoft over the years has been like watching a wildebeest bog down in sinking mud, struggling harder and harder but just getting into a worse and worse situation. Microsoft have always had the ingredients to make an incredible meal, but somehow the planning and then the execution always fell short. I have for many years looked to Microsoft to turn that corner, they have the four screens, an incredible offer in the Xbox and Kinect, turned a corner in mobile and yet stiching these things together always seemed elusive.

I remember for instance sitting in a presentation in Cannes where Microsoft was presenting the new Windows8. It looked great, but telling to me was little or no information about how advertising would work within it. The potential tiles as Ads in W8 was clearly an early example of a Native Ad – although luckily the term had not been coined yet! However these tile Ads would be perfect for programmatic – unique to Microsoft but definitively able to be automated. However no one had planned that far ahead, the company worked in silos. What a shame for them and us.

Programmatic as a whole also demonstrated a lack of future planning. When Google was buying companies and integrating them, Microsoft was desperately trying to protect its direct ad network business. Even today they are behind the curve, they started fast and then went backwards a little with limited targeting capabilities and a seemingly disconnected leadership who were not willing to move faster and embrace programmatic. The recent launch of Microsoft Video Network is both a step forward and a step sidewards versus competition. Microsoft are taking their valuable data and applying it across the video exchanges, where AOL are buying the tech outright rather than licensing. Where Google are buying Invite and Doubleclick, Microsoft bought 5% of Appnexus. Even the Crown Jewels of Xbox and Kinect have been under utilised, I am still yet to see an Ad pushing Xbox as anything more than a games console when in reality it is so much more, I think we will see that change over coming months as Google TV, Apple TV and others ramp up their efforts.

But is not lost because the big picture for Microsoft is changing. The new leadership for a start. Microsoft ended up choosing from within, disappointing for some but as Satya Nadella says himself ‘he is now looking at the business through fresh eyes.’ He is also super bright, passionate and has accelerated change in just a few short days. Recently there have been a couple of large events, the launch of Office 365 and most notably onto Apple devices and the Build 2014 conference. Both these events have revealed that Nadella has big plans and wants to shake things up. Microsoft had already started changing with One Microsoft where they tore down siloes and made sure that cross divisional work and idea sharing started to happen, so someone creating software for the phone was thinking about advertisers as well. The example I sight above about the tiles would probably not have happened today.

More importantly Nadella has pushed through changes inconceivable a few years back. What has changed. As Nadella describes it, we are now in an era of ubiquitous computing. Connected users, devices all relying on the cloud for delivery of ever more complex solutions. Not for today but importantly for Microsoft they see their customers as consumers and IT professionals, the corporate world and only Microsoft really has the range to answer to both of those – this should rediscover for them differentiation.On average the consumer is carrying/using four devices and Windows and Microsoft want to span all those devices seamlessly, they want the canvas for software, Apps and their developers and users to be as wide as possible. So what are they doing?

1. Windows is being introduced across all devices including Kinect for Windows. A huge step forward for users and developers a like. Design once for all devices is crucial in this connected world. Still Apple and Android want people to design for mobile and desktop/laptop. As a user the more seamless the App the better the experience across devices.

2. Use the power of Office – making it available cross all devices is huge, anyone who uses iPads know the big issues is with opening Powerpoint in particular, but to make it free is a massive step for Microsoft, putting it all in the cloud also makes it entirely portable and for developers they can use Office 365 log ins as an identifier

3. Welcome to the new world of Kinect. App developers can now design Apps once that include Kinect technology to make incredible user experiences, this will make that box in your room, even more interesting and put Microsoft right back in the game as far as Apps. Likely end result being even your PC being able to work through motion.

4. Smaller signs of change have been to provide solutions that allow people what they want on their desktop like the start button. Some describe it as retreating, I call it sensible. Microsoft is listening and that is the main thing that we all want and need.

There have been other innovations with Cortana the voice assistant, great that it has been introduced but not sure it stands out vs Siri and of course has arrived considerably later, but again an extra ingredient to create experiences for users.

Microsoft really wants to get into the Internet of Everything and with their very close partner Intel they can start to revolutionise the home and out of home with Windows being the glue to make it all happen.

Microsoft have realised that the world has changed and you need to pull users in with what is still a great set of products used by over a billion people. Microsoft have the opportunity to be a partner to your life in a way that no one else can, I say an opportunity. It is what they do with it that counts. Microsoft have a leading position in the home with Xbox, software and cloud computing has always been their strength, it is just application they must work on, phones and tablets need more work but by making life easier for developers and IT professionals they can solidify their position spanning consumers and corporate.

Overall Microsoft, more than anyone has the plumbing, the hardware and most importantly the software, and they are focused on a mobile world. They need to make room for the marketeer in all of this and bringing them to the table, we as advertisers are desperate to make sure that Microsoft is central in plans but they need to make this easier for us. As with AOL, Yahoo I hope that we see a strong resurgence from Microsoft and it seems that Satya Nadella has the right ideas and guts to push them through. Just don’t forget that the advertiser would like to be involved.

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Business photography

A few photos from the last few weeks on the road! Instead of my usual stuff I thought I would let the pictures tell the story!

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Damian Burns doing his usual top class client service, another Damian in the background being less professional.

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Mark Ronson at the Microsoft Party in Cannes – a very cool session

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Neal Mohan of Google setting the scene at the start of the Client Advisory Board Meeting in LA

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An amazing view of the beach at Dana Point, a beautiful jog first thing

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Tracey Scheppach of SMGx and VNC fame on the water in Chicago with HQ just behind

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Beatriz and Sara from Spain and Italy talking RTB (Not)

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AOL may have had it right all along!

Does anyone remember the sitcom from the US called ‘Soap’? It was about a mad bunch of individuals who were pretty dysfunctional. At the start of each episode there would be an introduction recapping the previous episodes. That summation was invariably confusing and left you having no idea what was going on. The image below may jog your memories for those of you over 37 I am guessing.

The Soap cast

Confusion reigned.

Why am I writing about that? Well recently through a combination of my own experiences and reading the press I have been thinking that in the world of tech, social and mobile we are experiencing something similar. To recap;

- Google and Apple were good friends, admirers even until Google started to like phones..and music..and books, now Apple does not like Google so much and is not keen on using their search tool on their phones.
– Twitter and Google liked playing together as Big brother Google helped the new boy get a bit of traffic, now the new boy has grown up he has decided he does not need Big brother anymore so cut the rope.
– Facebook and Google were colleagues and admired each other until Google started to like this social media thing and Facebook got the hump with that, they too have decided they want to keep their people to themselves.
– Twitter and Facebook enjoyed each others company for a while until Facebook liked the look of the Twitter approach and changed their updates accordingly, this has meant of course that they will not share anymore and never the twain shall meet
– Lets not forget some other long distant cousins! Yahoo and Facebook have not crossed swords too much in the playground until Yahoo decided Facebook had copied a lot of their IP and are now contemplating suing so that will be the end of that friendship
– Samsung and Apple have just had an all out fight all over the globe and frankly not seen eye to eye for some time!
– Even the lovely and friendly Amazon has had to get dragged into the cat fight with its entry into the tablet market which annoyed Apple who promptly stopped their Kindle App from being e-commerce enabled – surely no one falls out with cuddly Amazon?

All of this squabbling leads me to see a future where we have one of the most siloed ecosystems we have ever known. Years after we criticised AOL for its wall garden approach to media we find ourselves with more walled gardens than we know what to do with and as consumers that is the honest truth.

We are edging towards a world where Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Google, Twitter and beyond will all be managing their own ecosystems and not allowing us as advertisers or consumers to mix and match and join up all of the platforms. It is a frustrating development as a consumer as it would be nice if Facebook and Twitter could find a way of working together. It would also be a better Google search experience if we could find results from not just G+ but also the other social media players.

As I have written about before it gets worse when you move to looking at the tech marketplace with our homes being divided into either an Android home, Apple home, Microsoft home or Samsung home, we have to make a decision and stick too it as we can’t get all our toys to play nicely together.

I am not sure how this will play out, but it is messy and not particular user / consumer friendly in my view and probably going to get worse as these Big 5 getter bigger and stronger.

Inspired by the Big 5 in Palo Alto

Inspired by the big 5 – A week in San Francisco.

There is something genuinely special about San Francisco and Palo Alto. A place that if you are into digital you can’t help but feel excited about when you go there. First time you go it’s about going to the offices – Google HQ, Facebook, Apple etc and the famous locations attached like Mountain View or Cupertino. I have talked in previous blogs about the offices, they are a little disappointing, they are often deathly quiet and in the case of a Google a little battered and worn out, no it’s not what they are like inside.

The thing that strikes you is the scale, huge complexes, small towns in the case of Google, the meccas of those now famous names that come with such financial status and dominance and yet still have their young founders somewhere in those buildings. You can’t help marvel at that scale after so few years of history. In that mix though you feel a sense of tension between hanging onto that founder spirit and the relentless burden of financial success and expectation, something Facebook will start feeling acutely post IPO.

Palo Alto itself comes with this air of amazing entrepreneurship. Much was mentioned of Sandhill Road, where all the VCs are based, I had not considered that even VCs like to cluster, I guess I thought they would be isolated, each one trying to find the golden nugget but I suppose they are like everyone else and like to chew the fat on whether x company or y company is of interest. Fascinating I thought that at every one of the meetings we had this week, Pinterest was mentioned, it is crazy how that company has come from nowhere to being on the end of every sentence and judging by my Twitter feed, tweet, I would imagine that those investors are all eyeing that company up with much interest.

Dreams are made in this place and you can’t help admire it and be mesmerised at the immense foot print of these companies. As we walked into Apple you remind yourself you are walking into the most valuable company in the world, staggering what has happened there, or Facebook with its 100b price tag on its head and yet Facebook is still very lean, 3000 employees in US vs a Microsoft of 70,000, that paints a picture and it’s one of Facebook needing to recruit fast to cop with the demand for its products and insights.

The reason for the trip was to bring the VivaKi Nerve Center to the wider Publicis group and let them come together and meet with these amazing digital beacons. A fascinating few days as the Saatchi’s and Leo Burnetts came together to discuss and learn how we can all work together more effectively with these leading digital companies of the world. This new world of social by design has revolutionised the media and creative approach from a ‘bowling ball’ approach where a carefully aimed ball was fired at the consumers and hope to hit a few of them to the ‘pinball effect’ where you send the content into the mix and watch it get fired around.

There were some revealing debates about social and where it fits creatively and who is driving those conversations, we have as clients some very sophisticated marketeers and those who are more tentative but all of them are becoming more global, more scaled and more digital and it is the role of The Nerve Center to help our group capitalise on our amazing partnerships to be able to respond to those trends in a material way.

So as a marketeer who do you care about? Google, Facebook, what about Amazon? Apple and Microsoft will all lay claim to be the companies you need to work with, there are others of course but after a week here you start to consider exactly who are you missing if you work with these companies? The issue comes with knitting these companies together, in the last few years the rivalry has been intense with various fissures opening up between the companies and that’s where organisations like Publicis and The Nerve Center come in. When you sit opposite a Google or an Apple, they often hold many of the cards and yet all of them want to see the whole picture and the agencies hold those cards and they want to learn from us, so it’s a hugely valuable position to be in and one we must exploit on behalf of our clients if we are to get the most from an Apple or Facebook.

Based on this trip and my time at CES I can’t help feel this sense of a more and more closed world vs Open. Facebook’s mission statement is all about connectivity and openness which felt strangely at odds with their restrictions on how we as companies can track anything or the fact that their content can’t be found on Google search. Apple seemed very happy to sit and not want any sort of cross fertilisation, they felt that their billion devices is a big enough footprint for anyone. Everywhere you turn we are organising into silos, TV platforms with Samsung, Apple etc, social platforms controlling their data tightly, not an issue for consumers, harder for advertisers.

That said, when you see the power of YouTube, Facebook’s scale and social by design capabilities, Google from search to display to G+ combined with Microsoft and Xbox/Kinect or Apple’s incredible footprint through hardware it’s hard sometimes to imagine that a global client needs to go much further a field to reach and engage with their audiences. These companies are uniquely global, consistent and so as a global brand you can work on the same platform across multiple markets which will be an important offering of the future.

The days of media schedules with 40 sites on them have to be dwindling or dead, the specialism of tech press or context led site lists can not be totally recreated but you can go a long way towards that same effect through audience buying, targeted Facebook work, Search and so on. These companies and platforms could be the media plan, if only the advertisers themselves could organise in the same global fashion. They don’t right now, but they will and they will want agencies who understand and have very grown up deep relations with these companies and that is the aim of our Partnerships team at VivaKi and VivaKi Ventures which aims to keep us wired to the new start ups as well.

This week was about that, it was about saying lets work out how we can work together and not on the premise of spend and price but intellectually and strategically work to create the media and technical solutions of the future. My last meeting was at Mountain View with Google and what they are working on is mind boggling and makes you realise that although there are many companies out there with great marketing decks and some very bright people, they are dwarfed by what’s going on in this company.

And above all as I sat delayed by 4 hours I thought what an incredible part of the world this is and how inspirational these companies are both person ally and professionally. I also thought that I am working for the most forward thinking organisation in the advertising and media industry and one which is full of very smart people all looking at this business through different eyes and that is fantastic. VivaKi Nerve Center.