By its very nature, digital marketing is constantly changing as new technology emerges. Because of this, it can be difficult to predict where the industry is headed and to differentiate between fads and true trends. As industry professionals, however, we owe it to our clients to stay in front of these changes and leverage the most promising new technologies to help them continue connecting with their customers.
As the Vice President of Search at Logical Position — a national digital marketing agency headquartered in Portland, Oregon — I’m fortunate to be in the middle of our industry’s leading edge. I’ve also had the opportunity to see what’s been working over the last few years with our SMB, midsize, and enterprise clients. Thanks to this unique insight, our team has charted a few important trends we believe will lead the industry in 2019 and beyond.
Ecommerce Will Continue to Grow
With the emergence of user-friendly ecommerce platforms like BigCommerce, Shopify, and WooCommerce with WordPress, we’re watching a growing number of national brands reaching out to consumers directly. Even brands that have traditionally only sold their products through resellers are beginning to dip their toes into the B2C waters thanks (in-part) to the low barrier of entry these platforms provide.
Other brands, like Oreo for example, are taking a more staggered approach to their direct-to-consumer sales. Instead of building out a fully functional shoppable ecommerce experience, they utilize a Buy Now button on their homepage which leads to their Amazon store. This approach allows Oreo, and other brands like them, to offer ecommerce functionality on certain products to their consumers without fully investing in a costly fulfillment infrastructure.
This trend also trickles down to very small businesses. Many people who might traditionally market their products on a platform like Etsy are taking advantage of the lower cost of entry and launching their own websites with ecommerce functionality. Using tools like Google Ads, Facebook and Instagram Ads, these small businesses are finding it easier than ever to get in front of potential customers.
Personalization Will Increase, but There’s a Big Catch
Marketing has always been about reaching the right person at the right time with the right message. In the digital age that’s easier than ever with consumers increasingly requesting personalized sales experiences. There is growing concern, however, about the intrusiveness of the data-gathering techniques necessary to offer this level of personalization. The challenge for marketers and big advertising platforms — like Google, Facebook and Amazon — is delivering this personalization without being intrusive.
Marketers are already using many forms of personalization in their efforts to offer timely and relevant information to consumers. It’s been a common practice to use identifiers such as gender, age, location and purchase activity in email marketing historically. However, over the past few years we’ve seen an increased investment by Google, Bing, and Facebook in expanding their products to allow advertisers to create more personalized advertisements for their users. Features such as advanced demographic targeting, in-market segments, and dynamic product remarketing use advanced signals and consumer behavior patterns to deliver customized ads to users as they navigate around the web. Some marketers are even beginning to take this personalization to their website experience, dynamically changing aspects of their website for users based on their previous engagements with the site or the products they interact with.
However, personalization only works if you’re able to obtain information in the first place. Europe, for example, has been much more invested in talking about data security. The recently enacted Global Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Right to Be Forgotten make offering personalization much more challenging overseas as users opt out of cookie tracking. Balancing consumers’ demand for relevant information while respecting their privacy will be a challenge in the coming year and beyond.
Machines Will Not Replace Us…Yet
There’s been a lot of talk in the culture lately about the promise — and potential threat — of artificial intelligence. In a marketing context, this technology holds a lot of potential. By some estimates, we produce 2.5 billion gigabytes of data every single day. That’s far more information than any human could ever make sense of. Eventually, machine learning could analyze, contextualize and act on all that data in ways that are valuable for both marketers and consumers. However, we’re not quite there yet.
Currently, there are limits to the important contextual information machine learning uses in its decision making. It’s limited by the number of relevant data sources it can join together effectively and the quality of the data it’s fed. If the marketing analytics or tracking feeding the machine learning are incorrect, or if that information comes in without taking into account important contextual cues, a business could quickly be automated into bankruptcy. As a result, human experience is still very important in leveraging this new tool effectively.
So while machine learning continues to grow and create new opportunities for marketers and their clients, it still requires old fashioned marketing savvy to truly be effective.
YouTube Advertising is a Hidden Value
Many marketers still mentally separate traditional media from digital media. As the industry continues to mature, however, those walls are continuing to break down. As an example, we’re seeing a growing number of new companies taking advantage of the great value of YouTube advertising.
YouTube ads are cheap when compared to Facebook or traditional Google ads, and they’re especially economical since certain formats don’t charge the advertiser if the viewer ends up skipping their ad. Marketers are recognizing that value, and as a result, we’re starting to see Google invest in new YouTube ad formats, such as mid-roll ads inside single videos, to increase the opportunities for advertisers to get in front of users.
That’s not all. Thanks to Google’s recent deal with Disney, YouTube ads will soon be served across Disney properties like ABC, ESPN, Marvel and Star Wars in various ways across the web. That means YouTube advertisers will have the opportunity to associate their brands with a host of premium content. So in 2019, we expect to see more advertisers moving to YouTube and for ad costs to begin creeping up as a result.
Audiences Will Become Even More Sophisticated
Custom advertising audiences give marketers the power to narrow their beam of focus into a more detailed target. In the new year, advertising platforms will be rolling out more targeting tools which allow marketers to layer search intent with cues that certain people may be in the market for a particular item or are going through a certain life event such as buying a house.
For example, Google now includes golf equipment as an in-market audience segment. That means marketers can now target groups of people who are showing indicators that within the next few days, they’ll be buying a product categorized as golf equipment. You can also target users that are showing patterns that they’re about to move, have a baby, or take other important life steps. These more sophisticated advertising tools will allow marketers to invest their clients’ money more intelligently while providing the personalized messaging consumers want.
A Life of Constant Change
We believe 2019 will bring more opportunity and challenges for marketers and their clients. It’s clear that simply relying on the techniques that have worked in the past won’t be an effective path forward. New technologies will only increase the pace of change and the digital marketers who can’t keep up will be left behind.
There is, however, an important place for traditional marketing techniques amidst all this change. As such, the marketers who can leverage the latest tools in ways that are informed by their expertise will lead the way forward for the entire industry.