It’s been a year of change for the digital marketing industry. From the implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation and Twitter’s efforts to clear out fake accounts, to YouTube’s new ad targeting capabilities and the launch of Instagram’s IGTV, the marketing landscape has evolved before our eyes.
The question now, of course, is what comes next? How will these developments and others impact digital marketing in the coming year, and where should brands focus their energies? These top marketing trends for 2019 offer some insight into the exciting year that lies ahead.
The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) reported earlier this year that 75 percent of U.S. marketers now use influencer marketing, and more than 40 percent are planning to up their spending within the next year. As noted in the study, the type of social media influencers brands work with can vary; they may partner with influencers with as few as 1,000 followers, or those who boast well over 100,000.
Most people think of influencers as celebrities with millions of followers on platforms like YouTube and Instagram, but it doesn’t take a massive audience to wield influence on social sites. The Kardashians, Zach King, or The Rock may be able to sell products with a mere mention of a brand, but the cost of such celebrity endorsements makes them unattainable for most brands. Instead, small businesses are now looking to “everyman” social media users with smaller niche audiences, known as micro-influencers. Those with a reputation for being open and genuine with their followers tend to generate excellent engagement rates, and fewer followers means influencers are better able to build relationships by interacting with their fans through comments. Couple this with the lower partnership cost, and marketers are certain to experience a high return on investment.
Micro-influencers aren’t difficult to find. In addition to subject matter expertise, look for quality content, high levels of engagement in the form of many comments and likes, and a few hundred to a few thousand followers. Make sure their personal brand aligns with your brand’s image, values, and goals. They may be small fish in a big pond, but these influencers have the power to make waves.
2. Return to Madison Avenue
One of the first trends you’re likely to encounter – if you haven’t already – is a return to illustration in ads. Back in the 50s and 60s illustration was the visual format of choice, and brands are once again favoring this vintage approach. At Airbnb, the company’s team of illustrators has been busy developing visuals that better reflect the diversity of the brand’s partners and customers. Similarly, Mailchimp recently starting incorporating more illustration as part of its brand redesign.
Vector graphics, or digital illustrations that use anchor points to represent various lines and curves, are increasingly popular, often featuring a mid-century motif. Think of this trend as a return to Madison Avenue and a time when colorful illustrated mascots were commonplace in ads. As they consider both the user experience (UX) and user interface (UI), designers are creating ad materials that reflect our digital age and the nature of digital mediums. Because illustrations, and vector images in particular, translate well to mobile devices due to their clean, flat design, they’ll definitely be cropping up more often.
3. Politically Aware Brands
At a time when political issues are more prevalent and polarizing than usual, it’s no wonder brands are choosing to take a stance in their ads. Nike’s campaign featuring San Francisco 49ers quarterback and racial injustice activist Colin Kaepernick is just the beginning: Companies like Airbnb and Heineken have also publicized their opinions on hot button issues in recent months.
Sixty-six percent of consumers believe it’s “important for brands to take public stands on social and political issues,” and more than half are willing to see it happen on social media, according to one recent report. This suggests consumers are making an effort to choose and align themselves with brands that reflect their own political views. When it comes to visualizing these progressive ideals diversity is key, and more agencies are brands are conscious of how they represent this in their creative. Learn just how the advertising and marketing industries are responding in our report on visualizing diversity.
It isn’t just the ad creative that’s evolving; the industry in general is increasingly addressing issues like the underrepresentation of racial and ethnic groups through projects like The Commercial Directors Diversity Program. Created by the Directors Guild of America and the Association of Independent Creative Producers, the CDDP is devoted to increasing opportunities in the advertising field for women and other underrepresented groups, and is now offering training and mentoring opportunities that have produced ad campaigns for brands like Adidas, Amazon, and AT&T. We’re sure to see more of a focus on diversity, gender equality, and immigration in 2019.
4. Data Privacy and Blockchain
Data privacy was on everyone’s mind in 2018 as companies rushed to ready themselves for General Data Protection Regulation compliance. Now that the deadline has come and gone, marketers face the new reality of operating in a post-GDPR world, where consumer privacy and brand trust are paramount.
At the same time, data-driven marketers are taking a close look at blockchain technology as a potential solution to issues like ad fraud. As the Harvard Business Review explains, “Blockchain can make data-driven marketing more transparent by validating and analyzing every consumer’s journey through verified ad delivery, confirming that a real person saw the ad as per the specifics of a media contract.” What’s more, “Marketers will able to control how their assets are delivered by monitoring exactly where their ads are being placed, alleviating ad fraud from automated bots by ensuring that real followers and consumers are engaging with their ads, and ensuring proper ad engagement tracking that will lead to more precise digital attribution.”
The key word here is transparency. Marketers will have to provide it to their customers, but at the same time they stand to get more of it during the media buying process. So even as they struggle to rethink their approach to data collection with new privacy laws in mind, they’ll be able to market more accurately. Will the advantage offset the challenge? Only time will tell.
5. Social Segmentation and Personalization
Research shows that 75 percent of consumers now expect companies to deliver personalized offers. Why? According to Greg Sobiech, CEO of marketing agency DELVE Partners, they’re accustomed to being assisted by digital technology and want that same kind of value from ads. “Customers no longer find it so creepy when they’re typing an email and Gmail predicts the text, or if they type ‘Home’ into Google Maps and Google knows where that is. They actually appreciate this level of assistance,” he says. “Where that manifests (in marketing) is in audience targeting.”
Audience segmentation, in which potential customers are divided into distinct groups based on their interests, behavior, and other criteria, allows brands to customize ad content based on their customers’ wants and needs, Sobiech says. The same is true of social media. “Facebook is such an audience-based platform – this is a place where you have to consider intent and what the customer is thinking in order to market effectively.” He also notes that automation is proving increasingly useful to marketers, particularly when it comes to display ads, for which data-based personalization is harder to scale than, say, paid search.
“Several years ago, marketers were excited about data management platforms (DMPs), but those haven’t always delivered on the promise of segmenting customers across audience lines. Now we’re looking to customer data platforms as a way to unify audiences across channels,” Sobiech says. In the following months, marketers will continue to “embrace data” and understand “how audiences and creative work together to drive the desired action in different systems.” Only then will they be able to really understand their customers.
The trend toward storytelling “micro-moments,” a term coined by Google, is going strong. Consumers’ connection to their mobile devices is now so deep that whether they need information, want to be entertained, are looking for a local business, or are interested in making a purchase, they turn to their smartphones first.
From a marketing perspective, this behavior creates countless opportunities for brands to insert themselves into the customer journey. They key to success lies in mobile content. BuzzFeed’s Tasty videos – recipe demos offered via mobile app – are a great example of how to deliver informative and entertaining mobile content in a snackable format. User-generated content (UGC) is useful too, particularly when it comes to engaging customers. Google reports that 86 percent of the top 200 beauty videos on YouTube were developed by “creators” rather than by brands, and given that 81 percent of video-viewing occasions manage to attract “all or most” of consumers’ attention, UGC mobile video is a valuable addition to 2019 marketing strategies.
7. A New Era of SEO
In the world of search engine optimization, voice search is the talk of the town. As revealed by Comscore research, half of all smartphone users already employ voice technology through Siri, Cortana, Google Voice Search, and the like, and more than 40 percent of them started engaging with it within the last year. That has brands revisiting their search engine optimization strategies. To optimize for voice search, experts recommend tactics like assessing what customers are searching for via their voice, using conversational keywords, and anticipating an uptick in direct question in future searches.
We can also expect more mobile-first indexing efforts to play out in the search space. As Google continues to prioritize mobile websites, brands will work harder to keep their mobile sites stocked with quality content; ensure related text, video, and images can be crawled and indexed; and keep metadata consistent across desktop and mobile sites. This approach will help ready you to navigate the ever-changing search frontier.
8. Marketers Embrace UX
User experience (UX) is another area that’s starting to shift – at least in the minds of marketers. While there’s some question as to who owns the UX within a company (Your product manager? UX/UI designers? Your software engineering team?), it clearly intersects with marketing. It’s your marketers who have the corner on your brand identity and voice, not to mention audience behavior and preferences. And while marketers are focused on selling, whereas UX is focused on serving users’ needs, these seemingly opposing goals work well as a team. One executive puts it like this: “UX helps you in delivering the flawless experience for the user and marketing is about making them remember your brand. The connect comes when you create memorable experiences that influence the user’s overall feeling towards a brand.”
The trend we’re likely to see, then, is seeking that balance between selling and serving as marketing encircles UX. By acknowledging the value of user experience and focusing on making it as seamless and effective as possible, marketers can improve their brand image, boost customer loyalty, and increase recurring sales – all very good reasons to give it a try.
9. Content and Marketing Converge At Last
The Content Marketing Institute reports that 86 percent of B2C marketers and 91 percent of B2B marketers use content marketing. Brands have come to recognize its importance as a means of engaging discerning audiences, delivering value in the form of entertainment and information, and building brand affinity.
Over the past few years content marketing has largely been seen as a small, independent department under the marketing umbrella, but that’s starting to change. Marketers are paying more attention to the user experience and overall customer journey, and as content factors into everything from company blogs to social media, sales materials, and employee engagement platforms, this requires a more holistic point of view. Content and marketing departments are therefore converging as brands embrace this practice as a primary part of their overall marketing strategy.
There are many benefits to merging these teams; doing so makes it easier for brands to measure Key Performance Indicators (KPI) as well as maintain a consistent brand voice across channels. Considering that content marketing serves not just the marketing department but sales, product management, PR, talent acquisition, and others, we’re bound to see less of a divide between groups and more collaboration for the benefit of brands.
10. The B2B and B2C Marketing Merge
Just as content marketing and marketing are converging, so too are B2B and B2C marketing tactics. Trever Ackerman, CMO of wellness and beauty company WellBiz Brands, believes this trend is “being driven by the dominance of digital marketing channels.” For example, enterprises are embracing consumer marketing strategies because the platforms their customers use, like Facebook and Google, “provide an excellent opportunity to target viewers with B2B content, even when they’re ‘off the clock.'” Marketers can use retargeting to remind a potential customer about a business purchase they’ve been eyeing, he says, as it’s “no less relevant simply because you’re sitting on your couch at home rather than in your office.”
On the flip side you have B2C marketers, for whom “the idea of lead nurturing is very important,” says Ackerman. Tending to those leads is something enterprises happen to do very well with audience segmentation and personalized messaging designed to move customers down the purchase funnel. Since B2C campaigns are now more about interactivity and less about one-way messaging, he explains, consumer brands have to focus more on the conversation, and are well served by the tips and tricks enterprise clients have learned over their years of doing the same, from capitalizing on a customer relationship management (CRM) platform to identifying and targeting customers at different stages of the buying cycle.
Ackerman’s best practices for making the most of both strategies center on being agile. “Continuously test new messages, tactics, and platforms. Fail fast and redirect resources toward higher performing tactics, and always adapt and evolve,” he says. “What worked yesterday may not work tomorrow.”
In fact, that advice applies to this list of trends as a whole. As we embark on a new year, remember that consumers, behaviors, and technologies change. Be prepared to change right along with them.
Get even more insight with our State of Content Marketing report. Discover valuable industry trends, including volume and engagement data from top brands. Download your copy of the report today.
Artwork created using images from Shutterstock contributor Dmi T