Ashley Friedlein’s marketing and digital trends for 2019 – Econsultancy

Every year I pick out the digital and marketing trends and developments which I believe will shape the industry and digital/marketing planning and thinking in the year ahead.

In some previous years new digital marketing disciplines emerged e.g. search engine marketing, social media marketing, mobile marketing, content marketing, influencer marketing and others. I cannot see any new such disciplines appearing in 2019.

No new digital marketing disciplines

Instead 2019 will continue to be shaped by broader changes and imperatives like digital transformation, customer experience, data, omnichannel, personalisation, the war for talent, business model evolution, new ways of working (like agile) and new ways of organising teams and how digital/marketing gets done. None of these are new but none of them are easy or over in a year.

From a technology point of view artificial intelligence (AI) is more exciting for marketers than other areas of tech advancement like 3D printing, Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, self-driving cars or weareables. But even AI will be experienced by most marketers in specialist, applied, ways which are incremental improvements to existing tools, data and platforms rather than step changes.

1. Digital Transformation

Digital transformation does not happen quickly. Some companies seem to expect it to happen over the course of a year. In my experience, particularly for larger organisations, closer to five years is more realistic. Even then, the task is never over.

This Slideshare presentation I created almost four years ago, looking at digital transformation across the business vectors of strategy, technology, people and process is still very much work in progress for most organisations.

The data below from a recent SmartInsights webinar showed that a third of businesses are planning transformation within the next 12 months with a quarter already having embarked on them.

Within ‘digital transformation’ I think particularly hot areas for 2019 will include:

New ways of working:

New skills and capability:

  • I expect to see ‘growth marketing/hacking’ escape the world of start-ups and become adopted also by larger organisations.
  • Data and martech skills continue to be scarce and at a premium.
  • Product marketing/management will also become more in ‘mainstream’ demand (see recent McKinsey article “The product management talent dilemma” for more).
  • Customer experience capabilities remain highly sought after – see next section.

2. Customer Experience

Customer experience is perhaps as much a mindset and business philosophy as a discipline. But it is one the elements of our Modern Marketing Model (M3) and a much bigger part of what marketers spend their time focusing on.

Within customer experience there are various sub-disciplines, tools, tactics and approaches: personas, customer journey mapping, digital analytics and conversion rate optimisation (CRO), the ways of measuring CX, and, of course, the specialist design and UX skills involved in crafting the best possible experiences across various media and touchpoints.

For 2019 the hot areas for CX will be:

  • Conversational user experience design – chatbots may not quite have lived up to the hype they had in 2018 but there is no denying the rise in interfaces (most obviously voice) which are based on a conversational paradigm. Some good thinking from IBM on conversational UX design.
  • Realtime experiences – our expectations for instant experiences are not slowing down and there is still so much most brands can do to improve. It was almost three years ago but most of what I wrote about in 10 examples of realtime digital experiences we can expect more of still applies.
  • Mobile – yes, it is still the year of mobile. Most of us may have mobile-optimised our websites and emails now but there is plenty still to do e.g. around m-commerce, messaging, accelerated mobile pages (AMPs) and mobile apps (possibly including Progressive Web Apps (PWAs)). Google popularised the idea of micro-moments across the customer journey and there is still plenty to be done in using mobile to enable those moments of interaction with your brand.
  • Personalization – again, not a new trend but still something most brands are focusing on. In particular, how to use data to improve the customer experience. For example, US fashion retailer Stitch Fix has a team of over 75 data scientists working on personalizing the customer experience as explained by CEO Katrina Lake.

3. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

On an operational basis Google’s launch of Google Marketing Platform, and the closer integration of their various advertising products with their data and optimisation tools (like Google Analytics, AB Testing, Data Studio) is significant.

On a strategic basis, as with many other digital marketing disciplines, it is those who can use data more effectively who will continue to win out in SEO. This means the intelligent use of data signals to optimise towards goals and increased automation to improve productivity. In my introduction to our Modern Marketing Model (M3) I make the point that marketers now need to market to machines using data and nowhere is this more true than with SEO.

Last year there was a lot of hype around voice search. Econsultancy wrote about the future of voice search and natural language & conversational search but, rightly, sounded caution too: Why we need to stop repeating the “50% by 2020” voice search prediction.

One of the most fascinating developments to watch around voice search is the degree to which Google’s dominance in search can be eroded. Most obviously by Amazon who not only have Alexa but are also increasingly the first place users go to conduct shopping-related searches. Amazon’s recent press release revealed “Customers use of Alexa for shopping more than tripled this year compared to last year.” Precedents from China (Alibaba and Tencent vs. Baidu) suggest Google should be concerned.

But on a more prosaic level it is worth looking at Mozcast’s SERPs features analysis which tracks changes in what is shown in search engine results over time. These are the top ten from the last 30 days at time of writing:

For 2019 we should clearly be continuing to improve around areas like:

  • Conversational content e.g. questions and answers, phrases people would say rather than keywords they would type in. More in “Five ways to optimise your content for voice in 2019”.
  • Reviews and ratings
  • Video and images
  • Site links
  • Featured snippets (which relates of course to voice and conversational content)

Two other areas I predict should justifiably be a focus for SEO in 2019:

  • Visual search – read Econsultancy’s excellent “Visual Search: A Guide for Marketers” for all you need to know on this.
  • Site speedGoogle announced last year that they are using page speed as a ranking factor in mobile search results. Whilst this initially only impacts the mobile search rankings of the slowest sites it is surely indicative of where things are going and speed, as we have already discussed in the Customer Experience section, is vital in many more ways than just mobile SEO.

4. Social Media

There are plenty of data sources (including, for the UK, Ofcom’s excellent The Communications Market research) which echo changing consumer usage patterns across the main social media. Facebook is static or declining but Facebook-owned Instagram and WhatsApp are growing strongly. Snapchat is growing and not just for younger users. And now, of course, there is TikTok exploding onto the scene.

There are plenty of new formats and opportunities too for us to experiment with in 2019 e.g.


  • Facebook’s “Click-to-WhatsApp ads” (ads that launch a WhatsApp chat via the Facebook News Feed) now report on traffic, conversions and post engagement objectives.
  • WhatsApp Business App – announced a year ago, this is currently a free-to-download Android app for small businesses allowing them to create business profiles and have a messaging relationship with customers.
  • Last year it was also announced that WhatsApp will show ads in the app’s status feature this year but there are no specific timings yet.
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  • It’s not a new feature but Instagram’s polls in their Stories are an interesting way for brands to get customer insight and are evolving so you can now send private polls throughs DMs and use Instagram analytics for further intelligence.
  • IGTV – announced last June, Instagram call this “the next generation of video” and is for watching longer-form, vertical video i.e. for mobile where most video viewing now happens. Brands with verified accounts can use IGTV to create videos up to 60 minutes long.

I predict the following will also be significant for social media in 2019:


We know how huge the numbers are for the use of messaging apps, but this world has been ‘dark’ to most brands and advertisers so far. 2019 will see some light in this darkness. Partly because of new advertising opportunities highlighted above but also as brands start to use messaging apps for customer interactions including service and sales. Apple Business Chat is still in beta but, along with Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp Business App, will see brands experimenting this year with a new medium for customer interaction.

Influencer Marketing

2019 will be the year influencer marketing grows up. Econsultancy, with our sister brand Influencer Intelligence, have published a free industry trends report ‘Influencer Marketing 2020’ which explores how the influencer marketing landscape has evolved. As the amounts of money being spent grow, media agencies will need to treat influencer marketing more strategically and not just as an extension of a short-term, tactical PR campaign. Tiered influencer strategies will be required to address both reach and influence. New software will emerge to address ‘fake influence’ problems.

B2B social media

It may be damaging for LinkedIn’s level of engagement and value in the long term, but in the short term there is no sign that LinkedIn’s growth is slowing or that their advertising solutions and opportunities are decreasing. Twitter may have had its challenges but is also growing. I expect both to remain important for B2B marketing in social over 2019. Messaging also presents an exciting opportunity in B2B: whilst not busy with Econsultancy I run Guild which is to WhatsApp what LinkedIn is to Facebook.

5. Email & Marketing Automation

Email is the workhorse of digital marketing. Rarely the sexiest or hottest topic but still, with search marketing, part of the bedrock of digital marketing.

I cannot think of anything significantly new in email marketing or marketing automation that has not been talked about before. It is still about personalization, about better integration across the customer journey, about mobile optimisation, about responsive design across devices, about improved triggers and sequencing. Even machine learning is not new to email marketing, whether used for subject line optimisation, content recommendations or optimising send times.

But I’m sure we all recognise that whilst these are not new concepts or technologies, most of us still aren’t executing on email nearly as well as we know we should be. There is plenty to do over 2019 and beyond.

An interesting question in relation to email and marketing automation, and which I believe will surface more often over 2019 as marketers wrestle with “omnichannel customer experience optimisation”, is which system is the ‘brain’ for your digital marketing?

The brain is the (increasingly AI-powered) decisioning engine for your digital marketing. The brain needs data, supplied via various inputs from other systems, to make a decision and send instructions for execution. Trying to run more than one brain at once is problematic. So which system is your digital marketing brain? The ecommerce platform? Your CMS? An analytics engine? A ‘smart’ advertising platform? Surely the email/marketing automation platform has a claim on being your primary digital marketing brain?

2019 then is more of the same for email. But email is very much at the heart of much bigger challenges around marketing logic, data orchestration and experience architecture.

6. Data & Analytics

The megatrend around data goes beyond marketing. We have been talking about data-driven marketing in the world of digital for a long time. But increasingly data needs to be the operating system for your business. And, as with customer experience, this is as much about strategy, culture, talent and process as it is about technology or any specific discipline.

Data certainly isn’t going away in 2019. Indeed, as I wrote about in “What ‘data’ competencies does a modern marketing function need?” the need for both specialist and generalist data skills and competencies is only going to increase, as shown in the table below, with talent in short supply.

(Click to enlarge)

Over 2019 we will see the following focus areas for data and analytics:

  • Data security – sadly customer data breaches will continue and consultancies like Deloitte are delivering services to address this emerging client need. CMOs will be held as equally responsible and accountable as the CIO/CTO for customer data security especially with the continued growth of martech (marketing technology).
  • Data privacyGDPR and CCPA are merely the beginning of an era where marketers, and customers, are going to think much more carefully about their data for all sorts of reasons.
  • Data integration – continued efforts to integrate online/offline data to understand customers across channels. But also integrating quantitative and qualitative data better for a more rounded picture e.g. marrying transactional data with sentiment data. Linked to this, ongoing efforts to create dashboard reporting and analysis which shows consolidated views.
  • New forms/sources of data – e.g. moving beyond polling APIs to streamed realtime data. Data at rest becomes data in motion.
  • Machine learning – to better turn data into insights and actions. From the relatively simple Google Analytics’ Insights feature to powerful predictive analytics and personalization.

7. Content Marketing

Content marketing as a discipline continues to mature. 2019 is unlikely to see much that is radically new but there will be increased efforts to take a more strategic and holistic, rather than merely experimental or tactical, approach to content marketing.

This will include looking at teams, roles, structures, processes, as well as reporting, analytics and optimisation frameworks to ensure not only that content marketing delivers a return on investment but that it is properly aligned with the wider business strategy.

Two broader trends I expect to see for 2019:

Quality content. There may have been a tendency in the past to ‘pump out’ content with too much emphasis on quantity rather than quality. Marketers now realise that there is little value in mediocre quality content created for its own sake as it just gets lost in the tidal waves of other content out there. Instead it is better to take more effort on doing less content but making it better to have a chance of creating impact.

Content distribution. In the past there has also been a tendency to spend too much time on creating content and too little time and resource on promoting and distributing that content properly. Sophisticated content marketers now know that perhaps 50% of their time, budget and resources need to be spent on distribution and promotion to get the most value out of the content assets they have created or commissioned.

More tactically, although ‘voice’ may have been over-hyped last year, it makes sense to consider how the content you create would work better for voice interfaces.

Video will continue to be a focus for content over 2019 as its popularity grows. There will be an increased need to think about video formats to suit the medium and platform. Video is no longer just long form or short form; it may need captioning for when audio is not available; even shorter versions might be appropriate for mobile where video is fast creeping into messaging apps too; portrait versions are more viewed then standard landscape versions because of mobile; ‘stories’ and other platform-specific formats need creating; video is being embedded more in other media like email; live streaming was hot last year but will continue to grow in 2019; commerce links, overlays and video analytics are all becoming more sophisticated.

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8. Paid Media & Advertising

As ever there is much debate around the death of TV, or lack of it, and the dominance, or otherwise, of digital advertising.

The growth in digital advertising spend is not in question. The IAB internet advertising revenue report looking at H1 last year showed a 23.1% increase in digital ad spend year on year. To put things in perspective, Q2 spend last year was more than the whole of 2009. Desktop ad spend was flat, but this was offset by huge growth in mobile and video spend.

Furthermore, according to Zenith, 2019 will be the first time ever that people around the world will spend more time online than they do watching TV.

However, GroupM’s media spend forecast for the UK below shows ‘traditional’ TV, radio, cinema and outdoor media all growing in 2019. That is happening almost entirely at the expense of newspaper and magazine advertising.

The broader trend continues to be how best to combine the various media, traditional and new, to get better results. All the research confirms that a smart combination of multiple media outperforms using fewer media.

More tactically we can expect the following over 2019:

  • Native and video advertising – plenty of growth still to come for video advertising in all its various formats and plenty of innovation and new offerings from the major platforms for marketers to get their heads around in 2019.
  • Ecommerce advertising – 2019 will see growth not only in spend on ads on ecommerce sites (most obviously, Amazon) but also in ads that enable buying or booking much more directly as with EasyJet’s recent campaign allowing customers to link seamlessly from a destination photograph through to booking.
  • Instagram growth – expect to see increased spend and experimentation on Facebook-owned Instagram, particularly around its Stories format. According to Merkle’s recent digital marketing report which analyses yearly social advertising trends, spend on Instagram grew four times faster than that of Facebook last year, while YouTube advertisers spent nearly triple what they did the year before.
  • Paid voice search – perhaps 2019 will be the year we see marketers able to monetise voice search.

9. Ecommerce

The economic climate for most retailers was tough over last year and does not look like improving in 2019. Whilst the retail sector is often where digital marketers look for the latest innovations, the focus for 2019 for most ecommerce practitioners is likely to be more on efficiency and optimisation.

Indeed, Validify, a platform for retailers to discover new ecommerce technologies, is reporting a growth in interest for products and technologies which are less about topline revenue growth and more about improving margins and profitability.

As part of this broader trend, expect to see more efforts in 2019 around the ecommerce experience which are about improving conversion rates or lowering return rates. For example:

  • ‘Try before you buy’ options for customers are likely to increase e.g. clothes retailers also sending a size higher/lower than ordered and the delivery person waits whilst the customer tries on the clothes.
  • Experiments like Waitrose’s trial of a new delivery service allowing their drivers to enter your home when you are out so that they can put your food shopping away for you.
  • Pay-later financing options, enabled by the likes of Affirm or Paypal Credit, offering zero down payment for products like electronics, clothes and home goods.

Whilst levels of innovation for most ecommerce players may be more restricted than previously there are interesting opportunities around the connected home and voice is also seen as a growth driver in which digital leaders like ASOS are investing heavily. Mobile, as covered in the following section, will continue to be an area of focus for ecommerce over 2019.

10. Mobile

I have been saying this for years but it is worth saying again. Very, very few of us are doing mobile, in its various forms, half as well as we should be. 2019, as with previous years, is mostly about doing all those things in mobile that we already know we should be doing better but are not. All the data continues to point at the importance and growth of mobile.

John Lewis’s ‘How we shop, live and look’ report revealed: “This was the year of shopping on the move as mobile overtook desktop and tablet as the most convenient way for people to browse and shop. Shoppers still like to make bigger, more considered purchases via desktop but it is clear that mobile is catching up in this area, with 21% of sales made on the move, up 16% from this time last year.”

Deloitte’s Global mobile consumer survey for the US contained important, and sometimes surprising, insights around mobile behaviour that should inform 2019:

  • Smartphones easily remained the most favoured mobile device among US consumers, growing three percentage points and reaching 85% penetration overall.
  • Smartphone growth was strongest among older age groups at over 10%, reflecting already strong adoption among younger generations.
  • Americans are viewing their smartphones more often than ever before, on average 52 times per day.
  • Tablets had the largest year-over-year decline in market penetration, decreasing five percentage points, from 62% to 57%, penetration overall.
  • Among wearables, only smartwatches increased market penetration over the past year, increasing 1 percent and reaching 14% overall.
  • Over 80% of consumers are concerned about sharing, use, and storage of personal data.
  • Only 31% of consumers used mobile in-store payments in 2018 with security concerns and lack of perceived benefits cited as the top two reasons for non-users.
  • Smartphone voice assistants remain very popular with 64% of consumers using them compared to 53% in 2017.
  • Voice-assisted speaker penetration nearly doubled year over year, reaching 20% penetration.

We can expect, therefore, to see ongoing interest in creating mobile apps and experiences, perhaps in particular which appeal to specific customer segments or demographics where there is value e.g. older age groups. Spend on tablet-based customer experiences may wane in 2019, and likewise weareables, but voice is picking up.

We have known for years about the importance of speed in the customer experience and the impact that speed can have not just on conversion rates but loyalty. Data from Google last year showed that for 70% of the mobile landing pages they analysed, it took more than five seconds for the visual content above the fold to display on the screen, and it took more than seven seconds to fully load all visual content above and below the fold. As can be seen from the subsequent analysis of bounce rates in the graphic below most businesses are therefore failing miserably when it comes to speed on mobile.

Whilst Google have been promoting their Progressive Web Apps approach, with seemingly less impact than they would like, I expect to see the popularity of implementing Accelerated Mobile Pages increase in 2019. This is not only to improve the customer experience, and thereby conversion rates, but also as an SEO tactic. George at ASDA boosted site speed using AMPs leading to a 1.71 times faster site speed and a 32% improvement in click-through rate from organic mobile traffic. This is significant considering 65% of Asda’s visitors are on a smartphone.

As ever, exciting times, and I look forward to your comments below.

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