[Podcast] PPC Chatbots and Digital Assistants

Posted by on Sep 12, 2017 in Advertising, The PPC Show [Podcast]
[Podcast] PPC Chatbots and Digital Assistants

This week on The PPC Show, Purna Virji, Senior Training Manager at Microsoft, shares how advertisers can capture conversions in a landing page-less world.

We spend so much of our time sending traffic to landing pages that the thought that they may not be the be-all and end-all is interesting to ponder. But then think about it. We have new places where we can engage with the brands that we like: through chatbots or personal assistants such as Amazon Alexa or Microsoft’s Cortana. This episode will explore different these different methods and how to leverage them for success.

Fun Fact: Purna goes into grandma mode on weekends, where she likes to garden, knit, and make jams. If she wasn’t working at Microsoft then she would probably open up her own gourmet jam store. You can connect with her on Twitter.

Purna's Gourmet Jam

Purna’s Gourmet Jam Store

Three big highlights from this week’s show. Tune in to hear how:

  1. Chatbots are becoming the new app and how we can use them on our websites. Gartner is predicting that by 2020, 85% of our relationships with a company will be managed without human communication.
  2. Digital personal assistants are becoming the new browser and what does that mean for advertisers?
  3. AI is really the brains behind it all and how we can better use it to understand our audiences. AI is so good at being human, so of course it makes sense that it can help with these landing page-less conversions, right? From anywhere, like interactive ads, or like personal shopping.

 

More About Purna

Keynote Speaker. Ranked by PPC Hero in 2016 as the #1 Most Influential PPC expert in the world. Senior Training Manager at Microsoft. Columnist for Search Engine Land, Moz and The Drum. International speaker at conferences such as The Next Web and INBOUND.

Specialist in Voice Search, Future of Search, digital marketing and AI. An award-winning former journalist, Purna is an avid traveler, aspiring top chef and amateur knitter in her spare time.  Member of Vistage International- Key Executive Group – from November 2012- May 2015.

In my role as a thought leader and brand ambassador for Microsoft Advertising, I proudly represent Bing at events and conferences across the globe, while developing content and trainings on SEM/SEA, Artificial Intelligence and Conversation as a Platform for our premium partners and clients worldwide.

– The Next Web Conference 2017, Amsterdam
– SEJ Summit 2017, Chicago
– Big Digital 2017, Australia
– Retail Summit 2017 Australia
– HeroConf Los Angeles 2017
– PubCon SFIMA 2017
– SMXL Milan 2016
– State of Search 2016

Show Notes

Tacobot: https://www.tacobell.com/feed/tacobot

The Transform Blog: https://blogs.microsoft.com/transform/

Bot Framework: https://dev.botframework.com/

Microsoft AI APIs: https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/services/cognitive-services/

Washington Post Heliograf: https://aitopics.org/tag/Heliograf

Transcript

PURNA VIRJI:                         What they did was they took these people and they analyzed their history of search, searches that they had been doing and what they found, the computer was able to find these connections in data that were like, “Hey, these types of searches tend to be done and they tend to be an early indicator of cancer.” So, who knows if your first diagnosis of cancer can come, maybe not from your doctor, but from your search engine.

JD PRATER:                             Hey everyone, welcome to episode number 58 of the PPC Show, where we interview the best and brightest in paid search and paid social advertising. I’m your host, JD Prater.

My guest this week is Purna Virji, Senior Training Manager at Microsoft. She’s gonna walk us through conversions in a landing page-less world. Now this is one of the most thought provoking topics in digital marketing right now. And Purna says, “We should be paying attention and leveraging these three important trends.”

  1. Chatbots are becoming the new app and how we can use them on our websites. As Gartner is already predicting that by 2020, 85% of our relationships with a company will be managed without human communication.
  2. Digital personal assistants are becoming the new browser and what does that mean for advertisers?
  3. Last, AI. Which is really the brains behind it all and how we can better use it to understand our audiences.

Now grab a pen and paper and take some notes, as we discuss these three trends and how they’re intersecting with PPC. Enjoy the show.

PURNA VIRJI:                         Hi JD, thank you so much for having me.

JD PRATER:                             Aw man, of course. I mean, whenever Purna is going to be on the show, I put down everything. Really pretty pumped about this topic that we’re going to be talking about. Conversions in a landing page-less world.

You just got done presenting this at Digital Summit Philly, so this is pretty fresh, still in your mind. Let’s talk about it.

PURNA VIRJI:                         Let’s do that. I’m so honored to be here and share this with you.

JD PRATER:                             If we’re gonna have conversion, but it’s not going to be on landing pages. This only begs the question of, where are they gonna happen?

PURNA VIRJI:                         I know right, ’cause I think every time I bring up this topic of landing pages aren’t always going to be necessary for a conversion, I get this horrified look from everyone. It’s as if I told them that, “Hey, planes don’t need runways to land.” It’s true, it’s a fair point, we spend so much of our time sending traffic to landing pages, that it’s thought that they may not be the be-all and end-all. It’s sort of a bit interesting I guess to ponder, but then think about it now. We have new places where we can engage with the brands that we like, for example, with a chatbot, or with a personal assistant, like Cortana, or Amazon Alexa. It’s so easy for me to order something without even going to Amazon’s website, just by asking my Echo to order something for me, but that can always happen. I would say, we all need to be paying attention to chatbots, which are almost like the new app. Digital personal assistants, which are almost like the new browser and then AI that is like the brains behind it all.

JD PRATER:                             I love that breakdown. These are some of the most fascinating topics right now. Super hot, super trendy. That’s why I love this intersection of where these three in PPC meet.

You’re on the PPC Show, you know you got a bunch of PPC account managers listening, let’s start off with chatbot and PPC. Talk to me about how I can use these chatbots to get these conversions.

PURNA VIRJI:                         Well, I think the first thing that I should remind the PPC is to just why has chatbot become so popular and why are all the companies like Microsoft, Facebook and things like chat, all trying to push text messaging and chat back. It’s because of how popular they are and how accessible they are, like, JD, don’t you have somebody in your family who may not have a social media app, like they might not have a Facebook or Instagram, but they have a messaging app?

JD PRATER:                             Yeah, my dad. My dad is not on Facebook, but he will every now and then text with me.

PURNA VIRJI:                         Exactly. We all have people like that in our family, so it just makes sense that messaging is becoming so popular is because the number of users that it has. The reach is actually far more than that of a social media network. It’s also easy and a fast medium. Like if I get an email, I may, or may not open it. But if I get a text message then I usually check it within like ten minutes or so of receiving it. Usually right away. So just in those two cases, it’s got a huge lead. Then, a big example that’s actually, so many articles have been written that Facebook Messenger’s business model is modeled after what WeChat has done in China and what WeChat has done is really, really interesting and that’s where PPC experts need to pay attention. WeChat now has over 960 million monthly users and almost half of them have texted their bank, or their credit card information to the app, so that means within that same app, they can chat with their friends, they can book an appointment with their dentist, or they can buy their next Happy Meal, or pair of shoes, or whatever they want to buy.

Now, that’s got to be worth a lot of money, right? And if you think about it, according to numerous estimates, the average revenue per user, per year, is $7 in WeChat. That’s a lot of money, I mean 960 million, multiplied by $7. I’d be really happy with that.

JD PRATER:                             So would I.

PURNA VIRJI:                         I know. And people like engaging with these chat apps. Even in the west, here, where it’s in its infancy. Ovum did a study of people across the US and in Germany. They asked them how do you prefer chatting with businesses? They all preferred chat apps. 53% said that, or were talking with them via the phone. At first, I was like, “Oh my gosh, how is that possible?” But then I pose this question, JD to you, let me ask you. You have a choice of booking a restaurant for dinner tonight in San Fran, which has all the amazing restaurants and you’re trying to choose between two restaurants. One has these amazing five star reviews, but you have to book a table by calling them. The second one, has four star reviews, so good, but not as good. But you can just book your table online, through like OpenTable, or something like that. Which would you choose?

JD PRATER:                             Oh man. That’s an easy. No brainer for me, OpenTable. I absolutely hate calling businesses. I can’t even order pizza.

PURNA VIRJI:                         I know, I’m the same way. It’s like we all tend to do that, so it’s really not surprising that Gartner’s stat predicted that by 2020, 85% of our relationships with a company will be managed without human interaction. So all this unnecessary, fluffy, human interaction that we don’t like, can happen via computers and not via phone, ’cause who wants to be on hold, or listen to those awful multiple choice computer things. That’s not fun.

JD PRATER:                             85% customer relationships will be managed without humans. Where does that human, kind of talk to me about maybe where the humans will be and then talk to me about what you guys are working on over at Microsoft?

PURNA VIRJI:                         Yeah, so what the humans will be doing is their time will be freed up to do better things, so if you think about a business, let’s say a bank, or financial institution, or any company, like your cell phone provider, where people call your customer service, often are quite redundant, often they might ask the same questions that could easily be answered in an FAQ page, but again, who wants to navigate to that? But if you had a bot, like if I call my bank and I had to say, “Oh you know, what is my balance in my checking account? A. I’d have to be on hold for like three or four minutes. Then I’ll have to go through all the security answers and like give them my first born and then they’ll give me my balance. It takes a lot of time and it costs these banks a lot of money to service these calls. So it’s one thing like a chatbot that helps people answer those questions and get help that they want, much faster. It’s a win for everyone.

At Microsoft, first we were wondering like, “Are people want to engage with this technology, right? What is a way we can do that?” So in China, a few years ago, in 2014, our amazing, brilliant team in China created Xiaoice who is an AI bot that is designed to be your friend. She’s really high in IQ, but also really, really high on EQ. So JD if you told her, “Hey, I broke up with my girlfriend” she’d put you on a 32 day, breakup recovery plan.

JD PRATER:                             No way.

PURNA VIRJI:                         She’ll check in with you, she’ll empathize with you. You can vent to her, you can talk celebrity gossip with her, you can discuss Game of Thrones, like whatever you want with her, she’ll do that. ‘Cause she’s really smart and she’s designed to also have empathy, but in fact, we find that she’s been so popular, she’s got 40 million-plus active users, that one out of four, so 10 million out of those 40 million have told her that they love her-

JD PRATER:                             Oh wow!

PURNA VIRJI:                         … I know, it’s like, when was the last time you told your AI you love her right?

JD PRATER:                             That’s like the movie, Her. Yeah.

PURNA VIRJI:                         Exactly. But this is something that people are really enjoying. The conversations with her are like 26 turns. So I talk to you, you talk back to me, that’s two turns, right? With 26 turns, is the average conversation length with Xiaoice, that is just brilliant.

And it just goes to show that we’re really willing to engage with technology if it can make us forget that it’s not human. I think that’s fine, like if there was chatbot can comment and have sort of empathy and build a rapport and learn from the conversation and understand you, then it’s going to be something we wouldn’t mind engaging with and you wouldn’t miss the human touch. They think that chatbot’s brain really is convenient. Now, you live in a big city JD, do you use a tool like Lyft or Uber?

JD PRATER:                             Yeah, I do.

PURNA VIRJI:                         Why do you use that?

JD PRATER:                             Mostly like a utility, so I need to get from point A to point B and maybe I need to get there quickly, or maybe, San Francisco public transportation isn’t always the greatest, so maybe I don’t want to rely on that.

PURNA VIRJI:                         That makes sense. But why would you choose it over a taxi?

JD PRATER:                             It’s an app on my phone-

PURNA VIRJI:                         Right!

JD PRATER:                             … so it’s really easy. Yeah.

PURNA VIRJI:                         Exactly. A lot of people will try to give the reasons that it’s cheaper, it’s cleaner than a taxi, the drivers are more friendly. But you hit it on the head, it’s like A. it’s super convenient, ’cause it’s an app on my phone, I can control it, as opposed to trying to flag down a taxi, or B. and the biggest reason, is that you get in the car, you reach your destination, you get out, you’re done. You don’t have to take out your wallet and pay.

JD PRATER:                             Mm-hmm (affirmative). Correct.

PURNA VIRJI:                         That little frictional step is gone. So there’s no friction, it’s absolutely seamless and we like to do that, which is exactly what a chatbot can bring. I’ll give you an example. Say I’m looking up a website and I’m looking up some kind of software tour, do I need that software, do I need that software and it gives me just some options, but there’s not much explanation. My next step at that point would be either calling the helpline of the company, which let’s be honest, like we don’t always want to call, or B. I’ll just go to the search engine, which I’ll go to Bing and I’ll go and do a search for more information about what I want.

That’s been the way that we handle things when we want to do more research, now or if we can’t find the information that we’re looking for, we just naturally go to a search engine. The problem in a business scenario like that is that A. it’s an interruptive experience. I’ve got to stop what I’m doing in one place and then go somewhere else to try to find what I need.

But imagine now, if I just had a chatbot. I’m already in place that I am. I’m familiar with how it works and then if I’m looking for more information, let’s say I’m looking for furniture for my house and I’m saying, “Yeah, let me see sofas or loveseats.” The company will ask you, “Okay, what are you looking for?” “Looking for sofas.” So it will ask you, “Okay, what kind of sofa do you want? Do you want a tufted sofa, do you want a loveseat?” Like a normal person, I have no idea what a tufted sofa is, but rather than stopping what I’m doing, I can just ask the chatbot directly, “Hey, what is a tufted sofa?” And it will look for the answer for me and give it to me right then and say, “Hey a tufted sofa is also known as a Chesterfield, here are some photographs of it. Now, did I answer your question? What would you like to do next? Do you want more information, or do you want me to connect you with one of our experts?”

It’s very smooth. It’s all in one place. I don’t have to risk going through a search engine and doing a search then, this can use the power of search, but just embed it in a platform that’s easy for us to use.

The other advantage that chatbot can bring is that they can learn from the conversation. Say for example, if I used a chatbot in the past, the main goal for it to build a rapport and be more helpful with me, is if it learns my behavior. It’s the same way that search that are getting more personalized in a way, right? ‘Cause it knows what you look for, it knows what you’re gonna find, but here, if I ask it, if you and I were talking JD, “Well like Purna go to dinner in Philly.” I’d be like, “Hey chatbot, restaurant chatbot, where should I go?” It will recommend like, “Hey, about this Contessa restaurant? You went there three weeks ago and you posted a positive review in Yelp.” It already knew what I do and where I’ve gone. So again, it’s really helpful.

JD PRATER:                             Yeah. It’s like scary helpful. I love seeing it play out and it’s something that we’re actually experimenting with ourselves here at AdStage is a chatbot on our own website. Just trying to understand how that works and so, it’s actually kind of cool whenever you’re bringing in your traffic, right? You’re bringing in, maybe I’m on my Bing ads, driving traffic to AdStage and then having a chatbot that’s ready to help answer those questions that you may have. I’ve actually been on it for maybe like a month and we’ve seen really great results from it. Anecdotally 100% agree with everything that you’re saying. I love the idea of it learning. I love the idea of the right types of questions at the right time. This is all just like extremely fascinating, especially when you think about people coming to your website and looking for answers and finding those answers in a way, like a needed experience for them.

PURNA VIRJI:                         1-800FLOWERS, they said that two months after launching their new chatbot on Facebook, 70% of their orders came from brand new customers. It was able actually reach a younger demographic that they couldn’t have otherwise. Or before I boast that once they launched their chatbot, once they had more interaction with it, they went on to average like ten interactions a day. That’s phenomenal engagement and chatbots can make that happen.

So as PPC, let’s think about how can we use this, because if, A. If it’s a nice medium people, as you’ve seen JD, from your chatbot, you can engage people like on a one-on-one basis, but add scale right? To scale the one-on-one. You can run ads. If I’m running Facebook ads for example, why should I always send people back to my landing page? I can also have closer action, be like, “Hey, message us for 20% off” and send people to our Facebook messenger bot, or to any of the messenger bots that you may have. It’s a good way of A. promoting your bot and B. getting people to engage with it so that they can have the higher quality interaction once we’ve proven it to work.

It’s the same way with your PPC that you can have your destination euro go to your bot, or something that we are looking to pilot in coming months, the pilots aren’t open yet at Bing, but I’ll give you the sneak preview-

JD PRATER:                             Oh, oh. Here it is.

PURNA VIRJI:                         It’s a chatbot annotation that we’re looking at coming out with, I think in the early stages right now, it will work if you go to your chatbot through Microsoft Bot Framework, but it will just be an annotation as part of the ad and if you click on it to engage with the bot, there will be no charge for that click initially at least. This is the early things that I’m hearing about now. We’ll wait and see how it goes.

Bots, I think are only proving themselves to be so helpful to so many different companies. Hey, do you guys use Slack?

JD PRATER:                             We use Slack, we do.

PURNA VIRJI:                         Have you played with the Taco Bell bot?

JD PRATER:                             No, I haven’t.

PURNA VIRJI:                         So they have Tacobot and I read, I think on the Drum that Tacobot on Slack has taken in 10 million dollars worth of orders for tacos. I’m like, that is amazing. And just how successful and how people are hungry for good, well for fast Mexican food.

JD PRATER:                             That’s something that we built up, so just last month, we built out our Slackbot, so within AdStage, if you’re a customer, you can type into Slack, “What was my ads since the last 30 days” and it will pull it out your spent by channel. It’s actually really kind of cool. You can say, “Ads” you can say, “Show me this” all the way down and it even has some access of enable and pause, so you can say, “Show me ads that had PPA above $100.” You could actually pause it within Slack, it’s something that we were betting on in the future as well.

PURNA VIRJI:                         Oh my God, that’s amazing. That sounds super helpful. You’re way ahead of the curve at AdStage. I am applauding you from here.

JD PRATER:                             That’s lovely. We’re slowly getting there.

PURNA VIRJI:                         Wow, I have to check it out. So at Microsoft, we really found that if you want to make your chatbot a success, it should follow like three easy steps. A. it should be able to solve the user’s problem in minimum steps, which for example, your AdStage chatbot, people can just ask it questions and find information. So already that’s minimum steps. Is it easier than the alternative? Which, the alternative could be like looking it up yourself on the website, that sounds as it is. Is it intuitive? Do people automatically know what to do when they’re interacting with the chatbot and if you do these three things and then that’s already helping you get more share of voice and have a reasonable investor score people who want to play with your chatbot, interact with it, versus the other options. So, good going.

JD PRATER:                             Aw man. This is so shiny, I love, I just love the chatbot, I love this entire conversation. Let’s keep it going. You knocked out the chatbots, we got a really great checklist, so again, minimum steps, is it an easier for me alternative and is it intuitive? So now, I’m really excited about digital personal assistants as well.

I was just watching this new Netflix show, Ozark and there’s this one scene where the guy comes in, Jason Bateman is kind of the main character. He’s like, “You shouldn’t be messing with this money.” I’m not trying to give any spoilers, but he’s like, “You need to make sure you give me that money back, because it’s not my money. It’s actually like this kingpin drug lord guy’s money, so if you steal it, he’s just gonna come for you and kill you.” Everyone was there and there was this one 13 year old kid and he’s like, “Well, who is it?” He tells him the name of the drug lord and the kid does a voice search and I just thought it was like, oh man, perfect, this is how we’re moving. Everyone else was just like, “I’ve never heard of him” and he just does the voice search and it pulls up the search result and the kid was the one who tells these guys who this person is and they all freak out. But anyway, digital personal assistants.

PURNA VIRJI:                         Oh my God, that is awesome.

JD PRATER:                             Yeah, yeah. It’s kind of cool.

PURNA VIRJI:                         I know. That’s really cool, I have to check out that show. I have not watched it. I’m always looking for recommendations. The sad thing, every time I talk about any of the futuristic stuff that I’m obsessed with, everyone is like, “Oh my gosh Purna, this sounds just like Black Mirror.” I’m like, “No!” I haven’t watched that either. Maybe I just should so I can reference it.

Personal assistants are making such a land-grab in our lives and it just makes sense, like who wouldn’t want to be able to, do your Christmas shopping, while doing the dishes and get multitask to the best ability. Even things like voice, have to be proactive at times where mentally you can be active, but you can’t physically. So for example, when you’re driving, you shouldn’t be typing, but you can actively plan and do things like that, so you would want to use voice while driving, or in the shower, where you can’t be typing. So it’s actually opening up this whole other time in your life to start solving way more searches.

In terms of personal assistants, we should pay attention in terms of skill. Chatbots are the ones that you can type on, the skill is like the vocal interaction that you can train. A skill is literally what it sounds like; you train a personal assistant, like Cortana or Siri, or Alexa to be able to interact with your brand via the skills that you teach it.

We should be paying attention to this, like businesses definitely need a bot and also maybe a skill because of how many digital personal assistants there will be in use.

According to Juniper Research, their research is very good; there will be five billion digital personal assistants in use by 2021. That’s not very far away at all.

JD PRATER:                             No. Not at all.

PURNA VIRJI:                         Again, out of these four billion, of that five billion are going to be mobile-based and that makes sense ’cause the mobile phones will be with us everywhere we go. A lot of people are like, “Well you know, voice search, we use it now, but how do we get to the point of like using the personal assistant to be normally part of our lives?” It’s one, language accuracy reaches 99% or higher, because again, it’s all down to removing the friction in your life, it’s now, I don’t understand you. There’s less frustration with the back and forth is gone. It gotten so much better over the years. Have you noticed that JD?

JD PRATER:                             Yeah, I would definitely agree with, it’s so much better. I don’t use it as much as other people do, but I definitely love the personal assistants for some activities like you were talking about, texting. Like I love, “Text Meg.” And I can say, “Dat, dat, dat, dat dah, meet me here at this time” like if I’m driving or I don’t want to take time to actually type something out, so that’s where I use it a lot, or I’ll use it a lot for restaurants, or like, “Where am I?” Just moving to San Francisco, “I don’t know where I am.”

PURNA VIRJI:                         I would be so lost there. No, no, no, I get that and it’s gotten so much easier because they understand us more. Microsoft just a few days ago announced that we’ve reached our lowest error rate ever, at 5.1%, so we’ve exceeded human comprehension and Google is around the same as us. If we could be, we’re not that far off, so we’re at what, 94.9% accuracy. We’re not that far from 99%. The more information we give it, the more we use it, the better it will get.

We’ll talk to it, we’ll talk to it, but why do they not use landing pages? To give us something as simple as, repeat that. I have some of the really, really funny commercials where it shows the kid trying to be a magician and take the table cloth from underneath the big Thanksgiving dinner that’s laid out and then in trying to do the trick where you slip out the table cloth from under the food, he destroys the entire table of food and it all falls on the ground. The people are like, harass mother, is like, “Alexa Dominos, easy order” and what’s less than five seconds, she was able to still have dinner for her family ordered, but not the feast that she was hoping for, but it’s so simple.

JD PRATER:                             Great example.

PURNA VIRJI:                         Even booking travel, we see amazing things like skyscanner, or Kayak where you can ask it things, like, “Hey skyscanner, where can I go for $300?” Or, “What do you recommend me some hotels in Barcelona” and you can have a back and forth conversation with it. It’s amazing.

But for PPC people, I think what we should, why we need to be paying attention to these personal assistants is because of what they know. Now if you advertise on Facebook, or we do things like similar audiences, or customer audiences, we really like that because it gives us preferences and likes and dislikes and behavioral things, but some things that a personal assistant knows that none of these other ones can know is contact. So they know that A. not only do I really like Chinese food and I always order from this one restaurant, but I’m working usually days and chances are, I’m hungry, because we always eat dinner at 7:30 p.m. so maybe it’s a good time to ask me if I want to eat Chinese food and maybe the Chinese restaurant wants to send me a coupon for free egg rolls. That could be so fantastic, or because it knows where we are and even in situational awareness, it knows where I am location-wise due to the phone.

Say I’m driving to work and I’m like, “Hey Cortana, what’s my day like?” It would be like, “Well, you’ve got a really busy day today. You’ve got a meeting with your boss at 1:00 p.m. but hey, it’s JD’s birthday today.” I’m like, “Oh, gee, that’s awesome!” I know you love donuts; I can ask it, “Hey is there a donut store on my way to work?” Cortana can check around me. She knows where work is, she knows where I’m driving. She’ll say, “Sure, Krispy Kreme is on your way to work.” Then I can say, “Great, order me a dozen donuts.” She can talk to the Krispy Kreme bot and be like, “Krispy Kreme, have a dozen donuts ready for Purna in eight minutes. She’ll get there in eight minutes.”

JD PRATER:                             Wow.

PURNA VIRJI:                         It’s so cool. I mean, okay, some of this is still being worked on, but this is something that could be a reality. It’s so convenient.

JD PRATER:                             Wow. Yeah. How far do you think we are away from that? With that situation right there, you’re driving, some of that’s there now, right?

PURNA VIRJI:                         Yeah.

JD PRATER:                             How feasible and how far away do you think?

PURNA VIRJI:                         I would never guess timeframes, ’cause you never know in technology.

JD PRATER:                             Yeah, that’s true.

PURNA VIRJI:                         But it seems, to your question of what do we have? Well, hey, at CES at the start of this year, Microsoft already announced that we’re partnering with Nissan and BMW to put in Cortana technology in there, so Cortana in the car, yes. She’s on your phone app, which also knows where you are. We have all of these amazing projects that are in development in Azure. One of them literally is knowing where you are and knowing what’s all along the way. So again, I would say that we’re close. Like how close in terms of timeline, I think that’s something we can never, never be correct with.

JD PRATER:                             Yeah, I know. That’s always tough, especially here, Silicon Valley, up in Seattle, where Microsoft is based too, it’s like, things move so fast, I could say, “Yeah, we’ll have this ready” and it’s like, “Nope, it’s already ahead of the game.” It’s always a guessing game, so yes, fair, fair, fair response. I set you up there, but-

PURNA VIRJI:                         Oh no. Good ask.

JD PRATER:                             … I’ll let you get back into it.

PURNA VIRJI:                         It doesn’t stop us from asking that to engineering as well and they’re always like, “Soon” and I come to realize that soon, the search engine could be like next week, or like six months, or one year from now. Soon is very relative to speak too soon.

JD PRATER:                             Very true, very true. Cool. Let’s keep going. Let’s talk about personal assistants; again you’ve talked a lot about voice over the last couple of years. I’ve seen you present a couple of times and I’m always just like blown away whenever you talk about voice search and everything, but let’s kind of jump into personal assistants and voice becoming something for like simple informational types of tasks.

PURNA VIRJI:                         So they really are and at Microsoft, our data sciences team did a survey of about 2002 customers, people all over America and they tried to asked them just for their habits in using voice and all of that. Very unsurprisingly, what they found was most people tend to use voice for like very quick one-sided paths, like, “Hey give me this stock” “Start the music” “Tell me the weather” “Do this.” It’s very quick one-sided things. What we are seeing is that as these accuracy rates are getting better and people are adopting it more and getting comfortable with it, we have seen that complex starts, tasks that involve back and forth like ordering food, or making personal appointments, or finding like things to do in an area, like “Hey, I’m in Seattle today, what should I be doing?” You can have back and forth discussions. That’s on the rise and it’s getting increasingly more and more adopted.

Kayak was actually one of the big pioneers in it. I remember Greg Sterling had reported this on Marketing Land where he talks about the Kayak skill on Alexa, where you could literally ask it questions like, “Hey, where can I go for $300 Kayak?” Or, “How much are these flights?” It was so fascinating and again the skills that are being brought for Cortana today are so amazing and you can have these conversations, like “Hey, XYZ travel company, I need to book a hotel” and it can be, “Well last time, when you were in this city, you stayed at this hotel. Do you want me to book the same one?” “Sure, let’s do that.” “Shall I use XYZ credit card on file?” “Yes, please.” So things like booking a hotel, or accomplishing tasks, with some of Cortana’s skills from the different companies, are mind-blowing.

JD PRATER:                             That’s so fascinating. I get it. It’s something that I would actually type, right? So I guess, man, I’m just blown away by all this. I’m kind of speechless. I am without speech. It’s so fascinating to me. It’s so good man.

What can we do to start prepping for all these assistants?

PURNA VIRJI:                         Well, I always say that if you created a bot in the Microsoft Bot Framework, it’s really simple to turn that bot into a skill, so that way you can talk to it via Cortana. All it is, is just adding on the said language understanding to it and there’s a whole amazing guide to doing that on the Microsoft Bot Framework website. I was looking and I’m like, “No it can’t be that easy, like, no way.” And then I read it again and I’m like, “No, Purna, you’re re-reading it. You have to re-read it, it’s not true.” I’m like, “Oh, I guess this is so easy to take an existing bot.” I love that they’re making it so simple to engage your audiences in all these different ways.

But a big thing we think about, if I had to give you a checklist for a skill, for conversions, would be try to be as much like a human assistant. If you’re building a skill for Cortana, for example, try to anticipate what questions people ask. So with AdStage, maybe some days of the research phase be like, “What’s the difference between AdStage versus your competitor?” Or, “How much do you charge?” A what sort of questions people ask and have different kinds of info available so you can try to make the conversation as seamless as possible and that way, try to compare different pricing plans, for what AdStage has to offer like, “Why do I need this, versus that?” All of it can be easily done in a discussion and so it’s super easy for people.

The other thing, actually it’s a big thing that I always want to encourage people, because I’ve had chats with so many different PPC people and everyone is like, “Oh my gosh, what if there’s going to be no screens. What do we do? How do we serve ads?” I’m like, “Hang on a second, that’s not completely true.” According to research by Gartner, only 20% of web browsing by 2020 is going to be screen-less. So that means 70% of the bulk of it will still have a screen element to it. Even Amazon Echo has a show. Cortana on the desktop, or on the phone will have a screen. Your Google Assistant, same thing, they all have screens. So if you had to think about something like that, if I was talking to AdStage, I’d be like, “Hey, AdStage skill, I want to learn a little bit more about some of the reports you can help us pull.” Cortana can be like, “Sure, I’ve run it up on the screen, or why don’t I email you this information?”

So you should think about these hybrid interactions too. Whatever is best for the user, is what you can do with your skill. It’s super easy.

Now, none of this will be possible without of course, artificial intelligence. All of this intelligence technology has been helping us be so much more productive and helps cut out all of those little mundane things in our lives.

Now JD, I know both of us have this in common, we’re both ex-agency.

JD PRATER:                             That’s right.

PURNA VIRJI:                         But remember the end of the month, when it was like, reporting time? I would want to tear my hair out. I’m like, “No, not again. How did it come along so quickly?” But now, think about it, some of these reporting tools are made much easier. For example, with Microsoft Power BI, I can literally talk to it and be like, “Can you pull this report?” Or, “Can you pull this graph?” And it can make it happen. I know Google has something similar as well. It’s so much easier now and all of that is thanks to this kind of artificial intelligence and machine learning that is making us more and more productive. That’s where it shines and PPC people are always asking, “Well, what does it mean for us?” And where I think AI is going to shine for us, most practically is going to be in helping us reach our audiences better. We’re going to be able to much better understand our audiences and target and segments, and sort that out at the right time because of the intelligence that can be put together, and the different connections that AI can find that we can’t.

Here, for example. There was an amazing article that came out last year about how our artificial intelligence could find connections in data that humans couldn’t find. When they took a group of people who were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the UK and pancreatic cancer is really, really hard to diagnose and once you get a diagnosis, you’re a little bit further along, it’s a further stage than you can be. So what they tried to do was see if there were any clues that they could find before. What they did was they took these people and they analyzed their history of search, searches that they had been doing and what they found, the computer was able to find these connections in data that were like, “Hey, these types of searches tend to be done and they tend to be an early indicator of cancer.” So, who knows if your first diagnosis of cancer can come, maybe not from your doctor, but from your search engine.

JD PRATER:                             Oh wow.

PURNA VIRJI:                         That is phenomenal and that’s the power. So if you think about taking that kind of brain power and putting it towards finding your audience and understanding their behavior and the right time and right place to serve them, that’s where I see us growing.

I mean, already things like custom audiences and similar audiences, all of that, is relying on, lots of machine learning to help serve us better.

So that’s the first way. We can also help in all of these automated bidding platforms. Once again, another perfect example of machine learning in action, right? We’ve had AI probably before any of the other disciplines did and we’ve embraced it. I think that’s always a good thing.

These AI skills help put in more power behind your chatbot, or more power behind your skill in terms of searching for things of the different capabilities that can be added.

JD PRATER:                             I liked what you were saying there about, kind of picking up on these fact-based types of searches in being a diagnosis. Do you think it will be able to write my reports for me?

PURNA VIRJI:                         I wish. That would be fantastic; I’m like, “Please write my report.” “Please can you do my homework for me? That would be really good.” Oh I hope it writes my next blog for me. That would be so nice.

JD PRATER:                             Aw man, that would be really great.

PURNA VIRJI:                         I was reading in the news the other day, AI wrote this song. One of these artists, I think it was in all the different news shows. You could listen to the song and she had AI compose it for her, which it was like a really catchy, interesting song to listen to. I’m quite impressed.

One of my favorite examples, actually there’s a couple of ones, the Washington Post starting using an article writing bot called Heliograf, for fact-based articles. So think of last year’s election results, that’s pretty fact-based, right? This many votes, this person won in this region. So it used Heliograf to write some of these articles about that. So that’s kind of crazy to think about it. Like the Washington Post, a pretty well known publication.

JD PRATER:                             That’s great! It’s like perfect. It’s exactly what I need for my PPC report. I have a lot of facts in there. If it can write 80% of that, I’ll be psyched.

PURNA VIRJI:                         Exactly, I’m sure it will be such a nice wish-list item. It could do it, or something else that AI did at Microsoft, is one of my favorite stories. It’s especially interesting if you are an arts fan, or you like Rembrandt for example. This is called, the Next Rembrandt. Microsoft Research Teams, they had the AI study all the different works of Rembrandt, including his use of lighting and subject, the clothes that the subject wore and after studying all of his work, it was tasked with creating its own brand new paintings. It did. The AI came up with its own painting that if you looked at it, you would not believe that it wasn’t done by Rembrandt. The coolest part to me about that was, now if you look at the painting in real life, you see that there’s a 3-D effect of paint on canvas. This AI, they printed it out in such a way that they layered on the ink in such a way to replicate that 3-D effect of paint on canvas. Mind blown absolutely by that. So fascinating.

JD PRATER:                             Yeah, I’ll definitely make sure to include that in the show notes. I’m looking at this photo right now and it’s astonishing. Wow. I can’t believe AI painted that. That’s really impressive.

PURNA VIRJI:                         I know, it’s so brilliant. AI is so good at being human, so of course it makes sense that it can help with these landing page-less conversions, right? From anywhere, like interactive ads, or like personal shopping. Like you’ve seen Northface, they have it with IBM’s Watson where you can go in and say, “Hey, this is the place I’m going. It’s going to be this temperature, recommend me some clothes” and it will, so it’s super, super smart. Or things like predictive analytics that can sort of predict the best time that you could serve a remarketing ad for example. You could be like, “Hey, people who buy this face cream will tend to use it up on average within the next four months, so your best remarketing ads can start like four months later.” There are lots of fascinating things you can do with it.

So if I had to give any business any advice, I’m like, “Hey, if you’re a business, try to plan to build a bot for yourself, or try to build a skill and leverage it across different channels and then as you’re PPC marketers, try to include that in your commercial strategy.” Really, whether you’re using the Bing chatbot, annotations is gonna come out in future, or if you’re using it as a destination, year round, send it to your bot, don’t send it to your landing page. See how you can make it work. And then look at how you can leverage all the different data from those one-to-one conversations you have and get it to work out and the best thing is, you can get everyone onboard at the company, so you get a lot more buy-in. You’ll have to get some IT involved, you’ll have to get marketing PR, all of it can come together and you can be the glue that is holding everything together and show people, we are more powerful than one thinks we are.

JD PRATER:                             Wow. Good stuff. Good stuff. Well, I can’t let you go without answering some rapid-fire questions. I’ve got a couple here for ya. You’ve got about 60 seconds to answer each one. You ready to go?

PURNA VIRJI:                         Oh, oh. No, but yes.

JD PRATER:                             You can do it. I know that you’re quick on your feet, so I have all faith in you. So first one. First one is, blogs. So you are finally, you’re not traveling, you’re not speaking at one of the hundreds of conferences that you present at, it seems like every day, but you actually have no meetings planned for the afternoon, you’ve got some time off. What are some blogs that you turn to, to keep up with the industry to stay on top of the PPC, skills and market and what’s happening?

PURNA VIRJI:                         I’m so nerdy. I read a lot. I think that’s the only way to keep up, ’cause there’s so much information, my favorite blogs are of course, I look at PPC Hero, I look at the Search Engine Land, I get a write-up email at the end of the day from Barry Schwartz, that makes it easier. I also look at Mauve quite often and I also try to read a publication like Digiday, or TechCrunch, because they have some really good stuff about the future, or The Drum, of course is one of my favorites. I also love our Microsoft, our Bing blog, or also the overall Microsoft blog called Transform, that is one of my favorite things to read, ’cause I’m always so inspired.

For example, there’s something on there about how they used visual recognition to help a father find his lost son who was lost for so many years. He was a special needs child and he was lost in a crowd. The father spent years and years looking for him and then using this kind of visual recognition software and also, the AI was smart enough to know how the boy would look as he aged, so all these years later, they predicted accurately what he looked like as he aged. They helped find him and reunited them. I was like bawling. I read this story that was so beautiful.

JD PRATER:                             Oh my gosh. Yeah. You got to send me that link so I can include that in the show notes as well. That’s awesome.

All right, next question. You’re gonna be hiring someone for, let’s say, to join you on your team and you’re looking for some PPC skills specifically. What are some skills that you look for in like a PPC person?

PURNA VIRJI:                         I think the most important one is his desire to learn. If people come up and want to rest on the path floor or anything, that’s not gonna cut it, ’cause even if they were like, “Oh, I’ve been doing this for XYZ, a dozen million years.” Yes, that’s a great thing, but you also know that it changes so much, so what you may have done five years ago, may not always count. So a desire for somebody to be like, “I read this, I’ve read this book, this is what I follow, here’s how I’m testing. So curiosity and willingness to learn is one of my number one metrics, ’cause then, you can teach them anything. So maybe they don’t know, XYZ, but they know just one part of that, they’ll learn. The other one is creativity as well. Can you think of different solutions? Do you have that grit and don’t give up, because so often we face so many setbacks in what we do, so I would say, if you’ve got these three, then I think that I can teach you anything under the sun and you will be fantastic, but curiosity, creativity and grit, you’ll do really, really well.

JD PRATER:                             I like that. Way to go. That’s a good answer. All right, next question is always one of my favorites, tomorrow, Microsoft shuts its doors. We know that’s not going to happen, but let’s just pretend that it might happen. What would be a fallback job for you?

PURNA VIRJI:                         Well, I could do one of two things. If I wanted to go down the nefarious path, I could be an illegal fake art dealer with all these fake Rembrandts that we can create JD. No, I’m only kidding, I’m only kidding.

My husband jokes that I have a grandma mode that I go into on weekends, where I like to garden and knit, I make jams, I would probably open up my own gourmet jam store. Weird right? But I love it.

JD PRATER:                             Follow-up question. Favorite jam that you like to, actually, I’m gonna say, favorite jam you like to eat?

PURNA VIRJI:                         Oh, strawberry rhubarb, or raspberry. It’s a tie. No, apricot. Oh, too many. They’re all delicious.

JD PRATER:                             I’m a blueberry, or like a blackberry fan.

PURNA VIRJI:                         Oh, I have not tried blueberry jam. I should give that a shot. Maybe I’ll make you some for Christmas JD.

JD PRATER:                             Let’s do it. Let’s do it. You will be out here in December, so I’m still holding you to it.

PURNA VIRJI:                         Exactly. For the holidays, that will be my gift.

JD PRATER:                             All right. Last question for you. Coming from agency, now you’re in-house. Give me some pros and cons of agency versus in-house life?

PURNA VIRJI:                         Oh my gosh, so I’ve been both before, that was even before Microsoft, now in Publisher, so it’s kind of just distant as well, ’cause now I’m on a different site. But I would say, pros and cons, in-house you get so much depth. You get to look deep inside. You can see how PPC is impacted all different other channels. Learn how the business works. You get all that fantastic business understanding. With agency, you get to win. I guess from learning across multiple different clients. But I may have less control of whether those recommendations are carried out or not, but the trends that you can spot, the type of learning that you get across different clients, that’s just so invaluable from an agency side and you learn like, people skills, a lot. You get to talk to different clients and keep everyone happy.

JD PRATER:                             Love it. And that is it. Purna, you made it through an entire episode of the PPC Show. It was so delightful to have you on and to discuss the future of PPC and what that looks like for chatbot digital assistants, and AI. It’s a lot different than our other shows, but you were definitely the person to come on and talk about it.

PURNA VIRJI:                         Aw, thank you. This was so much fun. I’m sad that our time is up. Thank you so much JD, chatting with you is always such a pleasure.

JD PRATER:                             Same to you. Well until I see you next time, which will be in December, I hope and wish you the best of luck.

PURNA VIRJI:                         Thank you so much.

JD Prater

JD Prater

JD is the Head of Acquisition at AdStage. He’s a savvy marketer, digital strategist, and avid cyclist. A stereotypical coffee snob and recovering Coloradan, he’s a creative thinker who sees the big picture but loves getting lost in the details.

Twitter LinkedIn