The Most Important Digital Trends You Missed in 2018
January 16, 2019
Todd Henderson

The Most Important Digital Trends You Missed in 2018

In 2005, two men emerged from the jungle of a Philippine island, claiming to have been Japanese soldiers. Their story: they were in hiding since before the Second World War ended. Fearing court-martialing for desertion, they lived out the large remainder of their lives with little knowledge of the outside world.

The world moved on since then. The two men emerged to find Japan and the United States at peace—and the world decades removed from major international conflict.

If you’re in digital marketing, you can’t afford to hide from the world changing around you. You can’t afford to rest on the laurels of a successful year when the ground is shifting underneath you.

Yes, a year has passed. You’re one year older.

But are you one year wiser?

If not, it’s time to review some of the top digital trends of the year. Not only will this help you better digest what you saw in 2018, but it will help you prepare for a new year—and a completely different digital environment:

Trend #1: Programmable/AI Advertising Buying

Most of us are aware of AI and its impact on marketing. Today’s companies utilize AI to power customer service and even outsource decisions.

But were you aware that today’s AI is capable of doing much of your marketing for you?

According to eMarketer, almost $19 billion “in additional ad spending will enter programmable display space between 2018 and 2020.” Today’s mobile display ads are highly electronic, programmable, and susceptible to decisions made by AI.

Digital video is nothing new to an experienced digital marketer. Its uses include everything from programmable gas station ads to electronic displays at trade shows. But as AI becomes more sophisticated, it will help drive a larger segment of this market. That means digital marketers need to know that—and need to stay on top of it.

Trend #2: Robotic Communication

Anyone who surfs the Internet regularly knows their browsing will occasionally be interrupted by a bot trying to be helpful. In fact, many of us are even used to these interruptions.

The trend you didn’t notice in 2018? Just how ubiquitous these are becoming. Uber, for example, uses chatbots to keep its customers engaged while they wait for a ride. These little touches may not seem like much, but they add up to a far superior customer experience. They also enable apps like Uber to engage customers at the point of sale, which can increase the likelihood of making further sales down the line.

Robot communication has a long way to go before it’s as effective as a qualified, skilled, experienced salesperson. But as the technology improves—which it did in 2018—it will provide a cost-effective alternative that makes better marketing habits possible for a wide range of companies.

Trend #3: Instagram and Social Media Brand Engagement

Engaging users on social media is no new trend. It’s not new to Instagram, either. But Instagram’s changes in 2018 highlighted a tidal shift in the way people expect to interact with their social media these days: they’re much more comfortable following brands.

In fact, it’s possible to think of today’s best brands on social media as having reinvented the catalog. As we see Sears make headlines for bankruptcy possibilities and all-time low stock prices, other brands have taken the same essential concept and moved it to the world of social media. There never was anything wrong with catalogs; they’ve simply changed position.

Consider the numbers: Instagram’s global following is now over 1 billion accounts worldwide that are active every month. Four hundred million users—at least—use Instagram stories. 80% of all accounts follow a business of some sort on Instagram.

What are digital marketers left to conclude?

Instagram is no longer the sole home of meal photos and selfies. It’s a bona fide way for digital marketers to reach its brand following through catalog-like services.

We keep throwing that word “catalog” around. What does it mean in this context? After all, a catalog is more than a collection of photos; catalogs are essentially sales funnels that are supposed to drive sales.

Instagram’s latest features make it possible for brands to advertise a wide range of their products through their regular postings. By including links to their shopping sites, they can essentially use their Instagram pages to curate an interactive catalog. Users are increasingly enjoying this style of browsing over traditional print catalogs—and even if no one says the word catalog, it’s the latest trend in social media.

Trend #4: Machine Learning

You already know about artificial intelligence. In fact, we’ve already discussed it here. But in 2018, there was one trend within artificial intelligence that appears ready to give no ground in 2019—machine learning.

What is machine learning? refers to it as “a subset of artificial intelligence where computer algorithms are programmed to learn on their own from new and large sets of data (“Big Data”) in order to perform certain actions.”

To digital marketers, that means that AI is continually becoming better at learning and identifying its own set of trends given a large pool of data.

One question remains: how might this be relevant to digital marketers?

One area comes from a result of analytics and content marketing. Utilizing machine learning to get a better grasp on what your target audience wants to learn about is one critical way to deliver more useful information with your content marketing strategies in 2019. For example, a tool like OneSpot helps companies “individualize” their users’ content experience. By creating an individualized profile for specific users, OneSpot delivers content relevant to them, which in turn helps drive more engagement with a specific brand.

Trend #5: Friendlier Interactions Between Brands and Customers

In the two previous examples, you might have noticed one large meta-trend: people are becoming more comfortable with brands.

If the era of social marketing has taught us anything, it’s that people are willing to engage with you if you’re going to improve their experience. High-profile social media outlets like Facebook get users to willingly enter their personal information. The same is true across a wide range of platforms.

Given the experience of Instagram businesses, it’s fair to say that one overarching trend in 2018 happened on a broad basis—hidden in plain sight. Simply put, people are willing to engage with your brand if your brand serves them better.

Today’s Internet user appreciates a single “dashboard.” They like it when they only have to use one App to run their daily productivity efforts. They don’t want to have to sync across multiple calendars to plan meetings or be reminded of a birthday party.

There’s another trend that’s much bigger than 2018 itself, but is still relevant to this case: membership loyalty.

There’s a reason the big brands like Amazon and Walmart offer customers premium discounts and rewards for signing up with their credit cards—they want people to continue to shop with them. This brand loyalty drives a tremendous amount of sales growth. According to Fundera, 84% of U.S. adults are loyal to a specific retailer. The big brands know this—and take advantage of it.

Trend #6: Video Loyalty and Influencers

Just as there’s more brand loyalty than ever, it’s easy to spot some of the same trends in 2018 across video platforms like YouTube and Vimeo.

What does “video loyalty” refer to specifically? It’s those influencers with a primarily video-based audience that continues to drive a tremendous amount of engagement with every new post—oftentimes to millions of subscribers.

These influencers have essentially created their own television shows, to an extent. And because it’s possible to target channel-specific audiences and understand one’s demographic, there’s less worry for brands that they’re going to simply apply a wide-net approach to their marketing. With video influencer marketing and video loyalty, it’s easy to isolate specific audience segments.

There’s a reason today’s video content creators will include sponsored content—not only do they have a large audience that might be interested in the brand, but they have to make money themselves. Ad revenues don’t always support this, but influencer marketing makes it possible to support video content creators while accessing a specific demographic.

Trend #7: Direct Marketing via Social Messaging Apps

We know what you’re thinking. You’re already on social media. You’ve already posted a wide variety of content for your social media audience. You’re not about to go through each and every individual social messaging app to reach out to potential customers because it’s too much work.

But because social messaging apps often require user engagement to participate in, it’s easy to use automation to reach out to a wide range of potential customers who have already demonstrated some level of commitment to your brand. These social messaging apps make it more possible than ever to drive engagement and increase the engagement that’s already there.

You’ll want to be a little cautious with this one, however, as continually blasting your social media lists for more engagement can sometimes have a negative effect. Remember to continually offer value and topics that might interest your audience specifically.

Trend #8: Retargeting Customers

Retargeting customers is nothing new—but the technology that makes it possible continues to intrigue. According to statistics at Fundera, lowering customer churn rate by only 5% can result in an increase of profitability of anywhere from 25% to 125%. If there’s anywhere you can be sure your brand will achieve a solid return on investment, it’s on retargeting customers you previously lost.

Why? As the brand loyalty statistics showed earlier, there’s nothing more valuable than an engaged potential customer. Brands will move heaven and earth to keep customers in the store, or using a branded credit card, or shopping on their website.

You can do the same on a more targeted basis when you use customer retargeting. When you look for those customers who abandoned their shopping carts, you know that you have a lead that was on the cusp of buying. The dollars you spend on those buys can be more profitable than any other digital marketing dollars you spend in all of 2019.

Making the Trends Work for You

More happened in 2018 than we can possibly list here. What’s important is that you identify the trends and keep your brand flexible so you can take advantage of new trends as they arise. The more you use today’s trends to reach your target audience, the more you can count on sales growth and an engaged user base.