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Discovery Day Dublin: The highlights

Microsoft Advertising planted 10,000 trees as part of the sustainability mission to plant 250,000 trees in 2020.

It was such a pleasure to see all our customers and guest speakers gather under one roof at Discovery Day in Dublin last Thursday. This exclusive event gave us the chance to enjoy a day of inspiration and fun aligned with our values and our emphasis on trust. As a thank you to our guests for joining us, we planted 10,000 trees. This is part of our Microsoft Advertising sustainability mission to plant 250,000 trees in 2020 while reducing swag for events and contests, as well as via employee activities.

Now in its second year, Discovery Day continues to provide a platform for senior leaders to discuss the future of digital advertising, as well as act as a networking opportunity for those looking to deepen their relationships with their peers. I sincerely hope that everybody enjoyed last week’s event as much as I did and, while there were so many insightful and memorable moments throughout the day, here are just some of my personal highlights.

Consumer trust is everyone’s responsibility

Microsoft’s EMEA Regional Director, Tor Thompson, truly resonated with the audience as she spoke about the current paradigm shift taking place within the advertising industry. We know that with every data break and fake news report, consumer trust continues to erode. Customers are increasingly becoming concerned about their privacy and data each day. So, where does that leave us now? Tor explained that our industry has the power to build trust by protecting and respecting customer data. At Microsoft, for example, we take this responsibility very seriously and invest heavily in ethical AI technology to ensure privacy, security, transparency and accountability. The truth is that all relationships are built on trust–whether it’s our friends, family or co-workers–and it’s equally devastating for all when that trust is broken. Microsoft is paving the path of innovation with principles that guide us.

Tor Thompson at Discovery Day

The future of the customer decision journey

Microsoft Advertising’s Marketing Director, Sean O’Connor, shared a fascinating study from Microsoft which showed how agencies and marketers use AI technology to improve customer engagement. The research found that 80% of the respondents struggle to use AI technology to better understand their customers’ decision journey and increase marketing performance. Meanwhile, only 20% excel at both and are actually creating a growing gap between themselves and those not taking advantage of this technology. To me, the findings were clear–high performers aren’t sitting on the side-lines waiting to see what happens with AI, they’re jumping in feet-first and seeing incredible impact by leveraging chatbots, digital assistants and AI cognitive services.

Sean O'Connor at Discovery Day

AI is set to flip the paradigm on its head

Microsoft Advertising’s Product Director, Nitin Hegde, talked about how advertisers can reach audiences by using a wide variety of audience targeting options. This included unique capabilities, such as LinkedIn targeting, as well as utilisation of new rich ad formats (images and videos), as well as scale via automatic technology. Nitin also explored AI object recognition, which he said has opened the way for what we call ‘Visual Search’. As a feature that’s currently live in Bing, visual search represents the evolution of search from the text box into the image in a much more interactive way which gives us more insight about what’s happening inside the pictures. It’s incredible! And that’s not all. By using AI and other sources, Microsoft is leading the way in visual search, intelligent answers, multi-perspectives and prediction–in fact, we can now predict things very accurately. This is certainly a game-changer in terms of guessing the next winner of Eurovision, or the winning team of a major football game.

Nitin Hegde at Discovery Day

‘Hard’ skills vs ‘soft’ skills? Creativity is the winner

Microsoft Advertising’s Head of Brand Marketing, Jason Miller, asked us to guess the one human cognitive skill that is guaranteed to increase in value as AI advances. And creativity was the answer! Jason spoke about how the last two years saw AI replicate more of the high-level ‘creative’ skills that we once regarded as distinctly human–from creating new paintings in the style of Rembrandt that are virtually indistinguishable from the artist himself, to even writing scripts for TV ads. However, while there’s been a rise in importance of AI skills, Jason explained this has been matched by an equal rise in the importance of old-fashioned, human creativity. Listed as one of the most in-demand ‘soft’ skills on the planet, creativity is the essence of a competitive edge in an era when technology advances more rapidly than ever. So, where does that leave us today? Simply put, we need a combination of human creativity with machine intelligence for AI to truly meet its full potential.

Jason Miller at Discovery Day

Leading with trust and inclusion

A brilliant conversation with Ash Beckham, our guest speaker and Adrian Wenzl, Webrepublic’s Director of Performance Marketing, capped off Discovery Day in the afternoon. The theme of ‘trust’ came full circle as Adrian talked about Webrepublic’s manifesto of building success by putting trust at the forefront of digital strategy. As a company with a culture that is deeply rooted in team spirit, Adrian talked about how Webrepublic’s additional pillars of innovation, quality and collaboration have enabled clients to accelerate growth and develop further in the digital environment. Meanwhile, Ash Beckham discussed the art of inclusive leadership, saying that the job of a leader is to create an environment where people feel safe and experience trust. If people are holding themselves back at work, that’s energy that is not going into the end product. Therefore, it is vital for leaders to give people the power, confidence, safety and trust to be able to bring their whole self to work. Ash’s presentation taught us that being a leader is not just a position or a job title, it’s a disposition and it comes down to whether we make everyone on the team feel valued.

Ash Beckham at Discovery Day

We’d like to thank all those who attended this year’s Discovery Day–we’re already looking forward to what’s in store in 2021.