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2019’s Top Digital Marketing Trends Revisited

2019’s Top Digital Marketing Trends Revisited

by: George Iacovou

2019 was a big year for digital marketing innovation with some potentially game-changing ideas seeping into the mainstream. At the top of our “will this really happen?” list at the end of last year was AI-enhanced digital experiences. Other developments like the growth of personalized ads and programmatic advertising seemed like writing on the wall.

As we turn the corner into 2020, we’re going to revisit some predictions we made at the end of 2018 and see if 2019 truly lived up to its digital expectations. 


Personalization and serving the segment of one 

We weren’t really going out on a limb in 2018 when we predicted more personalized digital experiences. Obviously, personalization is here to stay and the more granular an understanding of our audiences we have the better. From the consumer side, it’s difficult to argue with the logic that our existing and potential customers like seeing relevant content that serves their needs.  So we should expect to see even more personalization in 2020 and more sophisticated tools to help us communicate better with the audiences we hope to reach, no matter what the size of our companies.

 Predictive, AI-enhanced personalizationsmart segmentation and more A/B testing will be helping us turn the mountains of data now available to us into astoundingly accurate customer profiles we can use to connect more efficiently and deeply with our customer base, whether it’s through audience-tailored special offers, customized email templates or targeted website landing pages. 


Programmatic advertising 

Programmatic display advertising is on a rampage, as we predicted. If you have any doubt just how big it is, estimates say that in the US alone 88% of digital display ads, or close to $81 billion, will be purchased automatically. Since Spotify went programmatic in 2016, they’ve reported a consistent 94% growth rate. Google jumped aboard in 2018 and pushed programmatic audio ads via DoubleClick Bid Manager.  

In 2020, we’ll be seeing more standardization of audio ad formats and more brands connecting with customers via smart devices like voice-activated speakers, connected TVs, and wearables. This is a particularly big trend for streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, where ad spend on personalized over-the-top (OTT) ads with embeddable CTAs is expected to reach the $5-billion mark in 2020


Artificial intelligence 

How do you know I’m not a computer living on a server in Singapore? Whether you do or don’t is actually relevant because just how useful AI will be to CMOs and their teams in the coming years boils down to how well computers can learn to help us communicate better with—well, other humans. And, as we expected back in late 2018, it seems like they’re starting to get pretty good at it.

Artificial intelligence can already tell us what kinds of offers will work best on specific audiences based on their consumer preferences and online behaviors. And because AI algorithms are self-learning, they’ll only keep getting smarter.

From 2020 onwards we should start seeing AI helping us not only segment our users, but actually identify new customers to target. If the results of Outsell’s multi-year study of AI-driven customer lifestyle marketing is any indication, we can also definitely expect to see more companies using AI to improve customer retention and win-back. And, finally, writing about AI back in 2018, we forecast more transformative digital experiences.

Here’s the big winner: predictive analytics. Not familiar? Ok, imagine Google Analytics on whatever turns the Hulk into the Hulk. Predictive analytics can actually detect trends and launch automated campaigns before your customers even know what they want.

Scary? Not if you’re a CMO. 



Do you like talking to bots?

Probably not. So, while the boom in AI assistants we predicted has indeed become reality, our willingness to actually communicate with them is still the biggest hurdle chatbots will face if they want to become welcome components of our daily digital experiences. When you read about debacles like the Jeremy Renner app, where unbeknownst to the Hollywood actor’s fans a “Renner bot” was baffling them with bizarre direct messages, this might be a pretty steep hurdle to climb.

That said, reliable sources claim that as early as next year 80% of businesses will be giving many important digital duties to web droids. This is really the confluence of two trends: AI and the ubiquity of messaging as the go-to medium for quick, attentive B2C and B2B communication. 

Digital marketing strategy is always a work in progress with hours of man-power-intensive trials, tweaking and execution behind it. Chatbots are not just free and available 24/7. As we mentioned above, these days they’re actually starting to know better than you or me what our customers are actually looking for and how to help them find it in a heartbeat. 

Sorry, folks, but personalization like that is just unthinkable for us lowly humans. As our customers grow more comfortable chatting with the likes of Amazon’s Alexa (when she’s not cackling at them in the dark) and Microsoft’s Cortana, any service bots that can respond to their needs accurately, promptly and without the capriciousness of an actual human may very well be the great customer service seachange we’ve been waiting for. 



While in 2018-19 blockchain was just wading into the waters of digital marketing, 2020 is shaping up to be the year it makes a splash—if it can move successfully from proof of concept to actual production.

Like the case of the most important tech start-up you’ve never heard of—General Magic—which invented the mobile phone nearly two decades before the tech to make it work existed, blockchain’s entrenchment really depends on jumping some key barriers to adoption, from well-known security, privacy and regulatory issues to the nuts and bolts of implementation.

Fortunately, all signs point to smoother sailing for both blockchain and crypto markets in the coming year. What this could mean for digital marketing in the near future is absolutely huge.

For one, blockchain is already shifting the power dynamic from businesses, which have traditionally had carte blanche over our online data, back to consumers via opt-in ad viewing schemes. The free, open-source Brave browser, for example, reimburses users with BAT tokens (Basic Attention Tokens) every time they consent to view an ad.

Blockchain will also be a potentially gigantic step for manufacturing transparency because blockchain technology can verify things like where products are made and the conditions they’re made in. For companies whose brand promise hinges on sustainably sourced goods, and brand names awash in a sea of knockoffs, blockchain stamps could be key in marketing campaigns aimed at convincing consumers they’re actually getting what they paid for.

But probably most disruptive to digital marketing will be blockchain’s already proven power to redefine ad spend by plugging the black hole that once stood between the ad dollar and the end user. By getting rid of intermediaries (agency trading desks, ad exchanges, demand side platforms, supply side platforms, etc.) that once ate up as much as 50% of the pie, blockchain technology has already resulted in unimaginable savings for companies like Unilever

This also means that companies that owe their existence to verifying ad metrics will probably be looking for new jobs. Cue the sound of the world’s tiniest violin.


The takeaway 

As we round the bend of yet another highly innovative year in digital marketing, one thing is clear. The future is here, and it’s personalized and blockchain- and AI-fueled.

If your clients were scrambling for higher ground when the video revolution hit, the next few years may be more destabilizing, especially for smaller companies without huge marketing budgets. 

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean we’ll all have to learn and master highly sophisticated, tech-driven approaches and tools if we want to deliver powerful, affordable, scalable solutions for companies of all sizes. 

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