Year-End Review, 2018
The Year In Marketing
As advertising and marketing leaders headed into their offices the first week of 2018, a cautious optimism for the year ahead prevailed. For most, 2017 had been tumultuous year – a slowed retail market in Q1 set many businesses and agencies behind their projections.The industry, however, was able to right itself by the end of the year and things were looking up for 2018.
Close to home, the Twin Cities were abuzz with Super Bowl preparations. Many of Minnesota’s major companies sought opportunities to engage visitors, influencers, and fans in the week leading up to the big game. For only the second time ever, the barrier to being part of the conversation during the year’s biggest sporting event was significantly lower for local brands, allowing them to engage both visitors and residents with unique experiences.
The Winter Olympics in South Korea then brought the world together to celebrate the spirit of competition, including the display of unity between North and South Korea. In addition to its cultural significance, the Olympics also kicked off a year of blended ad spend correlating with major events and online behavior. Major shifts from traditional to digital and greater diversity of brands allocating budget to the Games delivered $900 million in total cross-channel spend, according to NBC.
Facebook had perhaps the worst start to the year. The Cambridge Analytica data scandal, which came to a head in March, revealed the power of social media data and the care with which it should be handled. Facebook’s response to the situation then revealed that industry leaders are not infallible when it comes to making decisions or handling pressure.
With data collection and privacy now top of mind, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation suddenly loomed for many marketers. Although data managers had over two years to prepare for the legislation’s enforcement deadline in May, the entire industry became acutely aware of data management, privacy, and the promise of fines that could be levied by the EU.
As summer turned into fall, political advertising began a historic crescendo. According to Kantar, the 2018 mid-term elections were record-breaking for political ad spend. In total, candidates and interest groups spent $5.25 billion on local broadcast, cable, and digital advertising, representing a 78% increase in spend compared to the 2014 mid-terms and a 17% increase in spend compared to the 2016 presidential election.
As 2018 nears its end, retailers are already encouraged by strong holiday shopping results. Black Friday and Cyber Monday set new records for sales, surpassing forecasts set earlier in the year. Ecommerce and mobile both made up a significant portion of sales and revenue, encouraging marketers.
2018 Trends That Came To Life
Looking back at our 2018 digital marketing trend predictions, many were right on target. Transparency from ad networks increased significantly, especially following the Cambridge Analytica debacle. Fortunately for advertisers, however, ad networks heard the cries for greater transparency and thus organizations like the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) were born.
As predicted, the retail landscape also changed drastically in 2018, with Amazon tightening its grip and legacy brands fighting to remain relevant. Toys”R”Us, for example, was forced to close all its retail stores this year. The brand is still holding on, however, with promises of a comeback and its line of Toys“R”Us Pets products still being sold in PetSmart stores and on Amazon.
As expected, consumers continued to welcome voice technology into their homes. Smart speakers have grown in popularity and an entirely new line of products called “smart displays” have made this year’s holiday wish lists. Amazon, Google, and even Facebook have released their own versions of the voice-powered smart display. This indicates increasing comfort with voice-first technology and the opportunity to expand beyond screenless devices.
Additionally, traditional media continued to shift toward digital in 2018, with programmatic, addressable, and over-the-top television stealing headlines in major marketing publications. Another major series of traditional-to-digital milestones was the bankruptcy of iHeartMedia in March and its quick comeback to purchase the Stuff Media podcasting network in September.
Other trends, however, were close to realization but failed to meet expectations. Personalization driven by artificial intelligence, for example, was certainly a focal point for marketers throughout 2018 but it has not yet been fully realized. The move to ROAS measurement has also been slow for many. While most realize the value in tying their marketing efforts to true business outcomes, many are not yet equipped to do so.
Trends In Digital, 2019
But that’s enough with last year. Here are the digital marketing trends to watch in 2019:
- Technology will affect shopping behavior more than ever before
- Everyone will need to balance personalization with privacy
- The death of the keyword is imminent
- Traditional media will finally enter its next advertising life stage
1. Technology Will Affect Shopping Behavior More Than Ever Before
Hearing that retail and shopping behaviors will change in the next year may seem like nothing new. Indeed, there tail world has been shifting constantly over the last two decades, chasing trends in consumer shopping behavior and changing technology. 2019, however, promises to be an especially interesting year for retailers and marketers alike.
To start, Nina Hale expects to see more brands adapt to life in Amazon’s world. With consumer expectations for online experiences and fulfillment of products higher than ever before, some brand managers are finding it easier to work with Amazon, rather than against it. But working with Bezos’ behemoth does not necessarily mean forfeiting the in-store and online experiences that have set some brands apart. Many will find value in following the footsteps of retailers like J. Crew, creating or offering Amazon-specific lines of products.
In addition to the radical shift in consumer expectations around buying and fulfillment, brand discovery and shopping outside of Amazon is also on course for major change in 2019. Over the last few years, consumer behavior has enabled social networks like Instagram and Pinterest to expand their shopping capabilities. Alongside Gartner’s prediction that that 20% of brands will abandon their mobile apps in 2019, those eyes and shopping carts are bound to move somewhere. Very likely, the move will be to social networks.
2. Everyone Will Need To Balance Personalization With Privacy
It will not all be sunny skies for social networks in 2019, however. Major players, such as Facebook and Twitter, will continue to face scrutiny around how user data is handled. If 2018 is a precursor for what’s to come – with heads of major social networks being brought before Congress – 2019 may see one or more of these companies’ founders being ousted by boards responsible for the satisfaction of shareholders.
Social networks are not the only companies that will be scrutinized over data collection and privacy. The EU will continue to monitor major corporations for breaches in GDPR compliance. With a full year of enforcement ahead, GDPR will likely claim its first victim from the US tech sector in 2019. The larger and more abounding the reach across markets, the more likely a company could be singled out.
Another roadblock that marketers will need to overcome next year is the growing pain that will come with hyper-personalization. Unrestricted data collection could cause marketers to inadvertently build echo chambers around consumers as their online and offline behaviors create a feedback loop in the messages they’re exposed to and the products they purchase. Search, however, will continue to avoid over-personalization in 2019. Beyond location, Google and Bing will restrict the types of personalized results shown to searchers. For search marketers, this is a major boon. Hyper-personalization of results could end up limiting the visibility of newer or smaller websites, hinder the impact of SEO and content strategies, or even raise the bidding price of highly competitive keywords.
Beyond the data collected through purchase and browsing behavior is the data volunteered by consumers. Although studies have shown that consumers are willing to exchange some information for personalized offers, that same willingness may not extend to data as private as a person’s DNA. The potential of DNA-driven personalization was realized several years ago, but only now has technology and business caught up with those predictions – which read more like a sci-fi novel than an SXSW session abstract. With companies like Ancestry and 23andMe making headlines for selling their consumers’ DNA data, expect a backlash in 2019.
3. The Death Of The Keyword Is Imminent
Admittedly, this sub-headline is meant to grab attention. Keywords themselves, of course, are not going anywhere. They are a primary component and technical requirement for a search engine to serve web results. Search, however, is leaning further into intent than ever before and will soon be able to distinguish a searcher’s true goal regardless of the nuances between specific words used in a query.
Soon, searches for a top-level keyword such as “time” could yield different results for different users within different contexts. While one searcher may be looking to calculate the current time in another time zone, another might be looking to read Time Magazine. The evolution of search engines will be in knowing the difference without other inputs and serving the result desired by the searcher.
Additionally, growing familiarity with voice and visual search will affect online behavior and the way digital experiences are built. Marketers will need to prepare their search strategy for voice queries, which can have wildly different inputs, and visual queries, where “keywords” are rendered as pixels that compose an image.
Google has even acknowledged its intent to “kill” keywords, primarily within the realm of paid search. The removal of exact match keyword targeting and the rebrand of Google AdWords to Google Ads in 2018 – literally stripping “words” from the name – is evidence of this. Instead, Google is pushing advertisers to think more about the people and behaviors behind searches in 2019 to deliver better results.
4. Traditional Media Will Finally Enter Its Next Advertising Life Stage
Most exciting for traditional media planners are advances in tracking and attribution that will be coming in 2019. Across media types, technology and innovative thinking will help to close the gap between these media types and highly measurable digital equivalents.
Automatic content recognition (ACR), for example, will finally bring traditional TV advertising into the 21st century. Thanks to technologies now incorporated into smart TVs, tracking software will process all advertising content displayed on a connected TV, whether through linear programming (broadcast or cable) or an over-the-top (OTT) TV service. ACR technologies take a snapshot of advertising served and the IP address associated with the connected TV, enabling advertisers to attribute TV impressions to physical addresses and anonymized viewer data. This data can then be matched against website visits and app usage from the same IP to better understand and measure the impact of TV advertising.
Beyond television, other traditional advertising spaces are promising better connectivity and attribution in 2019. In Washington DC, the worlds of out-of-home advertising and radio are blending, with the DC Metrobus system now playing audio spots for riders. Assuming the connectivity of busses and technologies that could count the number of riders at any given time, advertisers working with public transit systems should soon be able to report on offline impressions heard by bus commuters. With many transit systems also offering Wi-Fi to riders, marketers may also be able to measure online activity triggered by the transit ads.
What 2019 Will Look Like For Marketers
While marketers were cautiously optimistic when looking ahead to 2018, a year of innovation and growth has transformed that outlook into greater optimism going into 2019. Trends that came to life over the last year, including the push for greater transparency, the continued evolution of traditional media, and the adoption of voice technologies, have already impacted the strategies marketers will need to set in the coming year.
To remain ahead of the curve, Nina Hale recommends preparing for major changes in shopping behavior driven by technology. Living in Amazon’s world does not necessarily mean forfeiting highly equitable brand experiences; rather, working with the ecommerce giant can yield major returns for retailers. And outside of retail and ecommerce, Amazon’s influence can be leveraged by nearly all advertisers to target segments of Amazon shoppers.
Marketers should also prepare for some growing pains as personalization and privacy continue to clash. A balance will need to be struck in 2019 as marketers push for more personalized experiences and consumers consider how much data they are willing to give up. Those who can toe the line will be set up to succeed in the years ahead.
Search, too, will likely see major changes in 2019. SEO specialists and search marketers alike have been preparing for the figurative death of the keyword, whose impact on strategy has been lessening over the last few years.
Finally, advertisers have a lot to look forward to when it comes to the evolution of traditional ad formats. Technology and media innovation has finally caught up with the industry’s desire for better attribution from traditional media. And even more changes should be anticipated in the coming year as the next life stage of traditional advertising begins.