Just two month ago Microsoft Corp. announced the worldwide beta availability of its new Web browser Windows Internet Explorer 9 that takes full advantage of Windows 7.

Around that time I got a chance to meet Mr. Richard Dunmall, Vice President, Microsoft Advertising Greater Asia Pacific and Americas, during SPIKES Asia 2010 Advertising festival in Singapore, who has been indeed an interesting and knowledgeable interviewee. Richard’s role is to work with advertisers and publishers to build stronger consumer engagement in the digital space across the region in Asia Pacific, Canada and Latin America. Before relocating to Asia in October 2008, Richard was the Senior Vice President and Managing Director, EMEA for Microsoft Advertiser and Publisher Solutions Group, incorporating Atlas, DRIVEpm, Massive and ScreenTonic. Prior to its acquisition by Microsoft, he joined the then aQuantive owned technology and media network business in April 2006 and was responsible for expanding operations across Europe, Middle East and Africa, as well as continuing to grow its already-present businesses in the UK. He has also worked on the agency side, as CEO for MindShare Interaction UK, for WPP’s Global Digital Media Investment Management Leadership team, as well as CEO of mOne UK, a digital and direct marketing offering set up by MindShare and Ogilvy. Prior to his work in the digital industry, Richard worked in traditional publishing, predominately at VNU Business Publications, thus learned his job from scratch and is extremely experienced. Of course, I didn’t want to waste time on the then hot topic - IE9 - when I met him, but tried to get some insights into Microsoft’s plans and activities in Asia Pacific, the planet's leading region in Internet traffic growth.

What are Microsoft Advertising’s big business opportunities and challenges in Asia Pacific?

Richard Dunmall“Starting with the opportunities here in Asia, first of all there are a number of mobile first markets that can lead the way on monetization via the mobile device. Mobile has been the new thing for years but it has not reached the tipping point to seize the opportunity to create an accessible market to lead the way. There are many markets in the region which are mobile first markets where a whole generation of consumers has no other Internet experience than through mobile devices, which have provided this level of technology for just a few years now. Our strategy is to penetrate the market space with the Windows 7 Phone, as we feel that we are back on track as far as the mobile space is concerned, both from a consumer product perspective, as well as the advertising perspective.

Through our broad range of contacts in all areas of the business we are able to connect technology and media. That’s crucial, as the office of the CMO is increasingly at the crossroads between traditional and digital marketing, struggling to interconnect with the CFO, the CEO and the CIO. We are, therefore, looking for platforms and tools we can build, that help create CMO dashboards or analytics that expose data which allow making better decisions in real time. Our clients increasingly ask us to provide the context to what is learnt about social, about search, about content, and about product development.

Lastly, on the opportunity side, we see a shift in the way that media is procured. A Website used to be bought the same way you buy a magazine. However, you can see now increasingly, that monetization has to be made by more personalized content, which is especially exciting as it is still all fairly new in Asia.

The flip side, going into the challenges, we face is finding talent and uplifting our sales teams that understand and has the ability to convey what’s needed and knows how to do it.
Next is the agency community and overcoming the obstacle of how to shift their perception to go from traditional, which has worked well for years, to digital whose success is not yet proven.
Lastly we have to simplify how we as a company talk about ourselves. Our structures and areas of operation are so complex, that it is sometimes overwhelming to our customers when we try to convey it.

What kind of digital advertising offers can clients expect from you?

Most clients still think about us as MSN, which is fine. Our ad business has been built around MSN for the past 10-12 years. But in the meantime, through acquisitions, our media portfolio has expanded. Just think about X-Box, mobile, Windows Live, search, or addressable TV.

Three things have been getting customers excited recently:

  1. Search Bing, which by now we believe offers better functionality than some of the competitors
  2. Windows 7 Phone, which comes with a Bing button, can link with all MS Office products, which no other mobile can, and
  3. Kinect for Xbox 360, which now has a natural user interface, by moving without touching, as well as voice recognition. This takes it from the teenage customer base to the whole age range and can also be used for advertising. You can watch your movies with the X-Box, without a remote, just by using your voice.

Do you think mobile is the way to go, the small screen will replace the big one, or will the PC survive?

I think that mobile interaction is the most exciting, but we have to think about it agnostically: What do you do when you are on the phone? And what do you use the mobile PC for, or even the gaming consoles and TVs? Marketers now have to span their advertising stories across all these devices to be most effective, and not just say, this is a mobile campaign, this is an online campaign. Mobile devices have had a tough time, as the expectations were high. The smart phones started the triumph of success and brought the development - size of the screen, the ability to touch - to a new level.

What kind of trends do you see in the online advertising arena - here in Asia?

At a high level we would see less advertising and more experiences. Next comes multi-screen, where all different media work together, TV, online, mobile, gaming console, etc.

A lot of digital advertising in APAC has been quite simplistic in the way that it is performance-based, which actually applies globally. But the question is how to get the brands interested in understanding what the Internet can do? Microsoft is the largest player in this arena, also in APAC, and is able to cover all these different technologies. That is the success factor as customers nowadays want to do more with one big player, they want to partner more and deal with fewer people in this area.

What do you personally think of social media as a marketing platform? What’s the real value of user generated content? Please share your perspective on that.

For me, social media is less of a destination, but more of a connection between different media. We have been in this arena for quite some time - Instant Messenger, Hotmail are all in the social space. Right now, Facebook is leading in this field, but it can look different in five years time. We feel like we are in this space and part of it. If you look at the Windows 7 Phone, it has all the Facebook feeds on the home page and likewise in Windows Live you can pull your photos, blogs, your instant messaging conversations, etc. all into one space.

What we are being asked to look at is to think more and more about paid media, owned media, and earned media. In that space, social media still has to develop a lot.

Measuring the effectiveness of social media is a hot topic, where influence and engagement are seen in general as the core metrics. How does Microsoft advertising evaluate social media?

I think performance measurement is a much bigger industry than just social. I think we are one of many big players trying to figure out how we make it more accessible, how we judge success, and not just across social, but across mobile, across display, across search, across TV. Frankly, if you think about traditional media, the conventional measurement is to use 1,000 people panels. It is not that it is in doubt, it has been accepted for over 50 years and many companies make huge advertising decisions based on this. However, that doesn’t mean they are right! So how can we learn from that? How can we translate that into the digital media? How can we get to a point that we can really articulate how we can interact with our audience in a way that is familiar for the people that have been working in this field for a long time? We do all sorts for branding studies with partners like Comscore and Nielsen, but it is actually a bigger challenge than just having been left to Microsoft. It is an agency challenge, a media owner challenge, it is a client challenge to have a unified view on the subject.

I think that Richard has indeed hits the bull’s-eye. Marketers still seem to feel uncomfortable with digital media and have to get convinced of the enormous benefits, advantages and ROI it can deliver, which is, I guess, in the interest of all of us. So let’s consistently point out to them that it is important to embrace the openness and transparency of the Internet, which is not only the future of advertising and marketing but also the most cost effective use of advertising and marketing spend.

By Daniela La Marca