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CMO50 2020 #26-50: Pip Arthur

  • Name Pip Arthur
  • Title Chief marketing officer and communications director
  • Company Microsoft
  • Commenced role August 2016
  • Reporting Line COO and MD
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 21 staff, 5 direct reports
  • Industry Sector Information technology
  • 2019 ranking 13
  • Related

    Brand Post

    While the software industry’s products may be virtual, physical activities still play an important role in forging connections with customers.

    So when the COVID-19 crisis hit Australia, Microsoft Australia’s CMO and communications director Pip Arthur and her team found themselves quickly readjusting to the new reality.

    “It required us to re-think the platforms we used, how to keep our audience’s attention and make every second count,” Arthur says.

    That impact went all the way to the top of the organisation, including the orchestration of a full day virtual visit to Australia for global CEO Satya Nadella.

    “It tested us like never before,” Arthur says, “but created a benchmark for compelling digital events.”


    As team leader, Arthur says the COVID-19 crisis has led her to reconsider how to ensure her team remains connected, engaged, and productive. Somewhat handily, she also happens to work at an organisation that had created some of the ideal tools for the task.

    “COVID has impacted every individual differently,” she says. “We have relied heavily on Microsoft Teams to keep us connected, and we have run virtual mindfulness sessions to support people's mental health, participated in the 10,000 STEPtember challenge  as a team to keep people moving and motivated, and enjoyed virtual cocktail hours and coffee catchups.

    “What's been so heartening is the support and care that the team has shown for one another during this time - another reminder of the importance of building a positive and inclusive workplace culture.”

    Arthur describes diversity and inclusion as fundamental to who Microsoft is as a company, as well as being a foundational imperative for how she operates the marketing function. Over the past year she has focused on building a more diverse and inclusive technology ecosystem and embraced inclusive marketing practices to appeal to the broadest possible audience.

    “The economic downturn delivered by COVID-19 has touched us all, but the biggest impact has been felt by younger workers, women, indigenous communities and those with lower levels of formal education,” Arthur says. “In response to this, my team has used our technical skilling program to reach and support these diverse and often underrepresented audiences. And we’ve already seen female representation on this program grow from 18 per cent to 21 per cent during the last quarter.”

    Data-driven marketing

    While Microsoft offers a plethora of tools for harvesting, analysing and actioning data, it is perhaps reassuring to hear Arthur too has faced the challenge of building analytical capability within her team.

    “We have so much data now at our fingertips to understand how audiences are reacting, interacting and engaging and the types of activities having the biggest impact,” Arthur says. “We are better equipped than ever before to go shoulder to shoulder with sales, partnering to drive business growth. That requires all our marketers to have capability and confidence around data, and it’s a priority for us all.”

    But unlike most marketers, Arthur has also had to take on the challenge of building confidence in the use of this technology within her customer base, and specifically in building interest and comfort with artificial intelligence (AI) software that Microsoft markets.

    “While it (AI) has incredible potential to do so much good for business and society, there are also negative perceptions related to the possible misuse of facial recognition technology and the negative impact of job losses,” Arthur says. “We have acknowledged these fears while educating audiences about the ethical and responsible uses of AI to support the digital transformation of Australian business.”

    Business smarts

    Arthur has personally taken on this responsibility through heading up Microsoft’s AI Country Plan for the past two years, which has seen her working on programs ranging from  thought leadership to influencing policy outcomes and working with non-profits on ‘AI for Good’ initiatives.

    She says there are two particular initiatives that stand out. The first of these is an AI Business School, through which Microsoft has been building the AI knowledge of business leaders across industry sectors.

    “We’ve had more than 800 leaders through the AI Business School and engaged with more than 260 people at in-person events, which were delivered through partnerships with the Australian National University, Kellogg and INSEAD,” Arthur says. “We also extended the reach of the AI Business School through a hugely successful collaboration with the Australian Institute of Company Directors. In the past financial year, Microsoft has engaged all 41,000 of its members through a series of podcasts, newsletters, blog posts and LinkedIn content.”

    The second element of the work has been focused on tackling the significant AI skills gap here in Australia.

    “This lack of AI skills is one of the biggest barriers to broad adoption,” Arthur says. “To address this, we established a 12-month AI Business School curriculum at leading supermarket Coles. This curriculum, delivered in partnership with the Coles CIO’s office and business development managers, led to expansive thinking that identified specific use cases including a solve for a $40 million instore theft problem.”

    This commitment to skills also reflects the impact of COVID-19 in leaving more than 1 million Australians unemployed or underemployed. Arthur believes the way forward for many of these workers will be via building their digital skills, and hence Microsoft has made this the core of its marketing focus for the past year.

    Arthur says Microsoft has now committed to upskilling and reskilling 500,000 Australians in the 2021 financial year and is promoting ‘train the trainer’ events in partnership with the Department of Education, Skills and Training.

    “We are collaborating with global recruitment provider Adecco Group, to reach 300,000 Australians who are looking for work,” Arthur says. “And we’re working with non-profit MEGT to get our skills training out to 100,000 apprentices.

    “We’re also talking with other government departments, the Australian Libraries Association, the Australian Retail Association and large customers including Westpac to help more unemployed and underemployed Australians access our skills resources.”

    Arthur says Microsoft has also had great success in generating demand for its technical skills programs, with more than 12,000 Australians trained on Microsoft’s collaboration platform, Teams, with a surge in demand for remote skilling.

    “This translated into a 500 per cent year-on-year increase in Teams use for those accounts interacting with the initiative,” Arthur says. “More than two-thirds of Azure customer acquisitions have been directly influenced by it.”

    Commercial acumen

    The rapid maturing of Arthur’s team’s analytics capability is reflected in its development of a Marketing Engagement Index (MEI) to measure marketing engagement levels for large and medium customer accounts.

    “It aggregates all marketing interactions within each account to assess them on quantity, frequency, recency and quality,” Arthur says.

    MEI is closely correlated to business outcome, with highly engaged accounts converting up to seven times more than others.

    Arthur says her team has been progressively transitioning MEI from being a backwards-looking measure to become a diagnostic tool that targets and focuses efforts on customer accounts based on their engagement level.

    “Combining product use metrics with MEI means that we can better predict customer acquisition and churn,” Arthur says. “For example, when marketing engagement for a specific product declines despite stable use, this indicates a risk of churn. Similarly, increased engagement indicates purchase intent.”

    These data-led predictions enable Arthur’s team of marketers and analysts to better define which customer accounts should be reached on a specific campaign.

    Improved targeting and MEI insights has now led to a 52 per cent year-on-year increase in skilling-influenced Azure customers, and those acquisitions now represent 72 per cent of all Azure acquisitions.

    Furthermore, she has driven a 38 per cent in the number of Australians who have interacted with some form of Microsoft gated content during the past financial year.

    Innovative marketing

    Arthur has a clear prescription for fostering innovation in marketing, starting with understand what makes the audience tick. This is followed by the need to get clear on the business outcomes, to get curious on what others are doing, and then to give her people the space to think and create. Finally, she says marketers need to be prepared to take risks and not be afraid to fail. 

    That formula has been deployed many times through 2020, including in creating the first digital iteration of Microsoft’s annual Build event. The digital format had an immediate impact on local attendees, with Australian attendance growing from 200 people to more than 7,600.

    “An essential part of reimagining Microsoft Build for life in lockdown, was crafting digital experiences that opened at registration and ramped up engagement opportunities throughout the 48-hour event,” Arthur says. “We delivered several hours of Australian content and local community connections. We had several hundred people delivering their presentations from home, which introduced new levels of risk to providing live content that required close collaboration between marketing and engineering.”

    Microsoft has also been driving discussions around the short and long term impact of COVID-19, including through the multiparty Reimagine partnership delivered in conjunction with the Australian Financial Review, which will be followed be a series called Resilience Reframed which will shine a light on the perspectives of those who enabled change through technology.

    This has delivered insights in terms of the clear need for technologists to solve many of the challenges this series highlighted, and for Arthur to continue working in close collaboration with Microsoft’s developer advocates to drive this outcome.

    “My team’s ability to bring the right people and resources together from across Microsoft to rethink and reengage with the developer community has been instrumental in creating lifelong fans of our platforms,” Arthur says. “Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, our teams would meet developers face-to-face with at global conferences and meetups across the country. Now we had to think and do things differently.”

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