A Wrap Up of 2018 and Top Digital Marketing Trends for 2019

Lil Miquel - virtual influencer

River’s Head of Digital Content Experience, Pares Tailor, tells us what grabbed his attention in 2018 and what digital trends to look out for this year.

CGI/virtual influencer, image credit: @lilmiquela Instagram
CGI/virtual influencer, image credit: @lilmiquela Instagram

Listen to Google’s DeepMind AI voice synthesiser read this article:

2018 was a big year in the world of marketing. We had Nike taking a gamble with their Kaepernick ad and Mark Zuckerberg testifying before Congress in the US. KFC ran a masterclass in PR and crisis management and those four letters – GDPR – gave marketers sleepless nights as they worked towards what has been described as the most important data privacy change in 20 years. Social media continued to be ingrained in everyday life but people started to engage with it differently and brands had to respond with their marketing efforts.

Against this backdrop, it’s all change for 2019 and these are our three top takeaways for this year:

1. Instagram is king!
Ignore the power of Instagram at your peril. Creating valuable Instagram content should be a non-negotiable element of any brand marketing plan in 2019, if you want to create an emotional connection with your end user. The numbers speak for themselves as Merkle report that visits to brand sites driven by Instagram grew 111% in Q3 of 2018. There are also opportunities to commercialise in multiple new and exciting ways, including in-feed, influencers, Instagram TV and Stories.

2. Voice Search
The rise of voice search will be monumental. As digital assistants become part of everyday life, touchscreens and keyboards are taking a back seat, so brands will have to understand user intent more than ever before. Content will now have to respond to both traditional and voice search, and if you ignore this development, you could find yourself and your content lost online.

3. Dark social cannot be ignored
As more content is shared via private networks, dark social will be causing marketers headaches as they struggle to accurately track content shares. In 2019, brands and their agencies will need to work together to establish a new way of measuring content success that goes beyond public shares. If you don’t do this, proving any ROI on content investment will become increasingly difficult, as you report on only half the story.

Before we go into more detail about what we think 2019 holds, here’s a quick recap of the headlines that stole our attention in 2018:

  • Social media got serious
    Facebook was hit by a series of data, privacy and hate-speech scandals. Cambridge Analytica harvested 50 million Facebook profiles without user consent, which led to Mark Zuckerberg testifying before Congress. This also put Google and Twitter in the hot seat with political lawmakers.
  • Nike’s Colin Kaepernick ad sparked a boycott and earned Nike $6 billion
    The Kaepernick ‘gamble’ turned into a big win. 58% of UK consumers say it’s important that brands take a stand on social and political issues (YouGov) so this type of storytelling became a new brand currency in 2018.
  • 2018 was the year of GDPR
    On 25th May GDPR rules gave users more control of their personal data online. It has been described as the most important data privacy change in 20 years. Post-GDPR, Econsultancy reported that there had been 24,319 complaints to the ICO, which equates to an increase of 113%.
  • It was another tough year for retail
    At the end of 2018, The Guardian reported 85,000 jobs had been lost from the British high street. The unprecedented level of discounting in the sector also hit online retail, with ASOS shares dropping by 40% in November, sending shockwaves through the City. M&S, boohoo, H&M and Sports Direct also saw their shares drop after the news.
  • KFC showed us how PR and crisis management should be done
    KFC struggled at the start of 2018 when their supply chain failed, leading to a chicken shortage and 80% of their UK restaurants closing temporarily. The negative sentiment and media coverage spread like wildfire and the brand was in crisis. However, the fast-food chain pulled themselves out of a hole with their ‘FCK’ campaign. Appearing only once in two national print publications, the apology made an incredible amount of noise below the line. The campaign was shared 219,138,216 times through social and reached an estimated 796 million people with editorial coverage.
  • Ethics took centre stage
    2018 was the year that the European Parliament voted for a complete ban on a range of single-use plastics in a bid to stop pollution of the oceans and a Waitrose report suggested that a third of Britons have reduced or stopped eating meat due to animal welfare, environmental and health concerns. Questions were also raised yet again about the ethics surrounding ‘designer babies’ in the  New York Post’s article ‘Should scientists be using gene-editing technology on human embryos, rewriting the basic makeup of the human person in the race to prevent disease?
  • The robots really are coming
    The Guardian reported that more than 6 million workers fear being replaced by machines, and they might be right! Chinese state media has TV news anchors that can broadcast 24/7 with computer-generated faces and there has been a rise of CGI influencers within fashion. Instagram superstar Lil Miquela has 1.5m followers. She has collaborated with Chanel and Prada. In August, the computer-generated Instagram influencer released a song called ‘Hate Me’ and made the pages of American Vogue wearing Alexander McQueen.
  • Sci-fi has now become sci-fact
    China’s social rating system has passed the trial phase and every Beijing citizen will be tracked and assigned points based on their actions by the end of 2022. People will be rewarded or punished according to their scores, and it has already stopped millions of people from boarding planes and has banned people from staying at the best hotels. Your pet will even be taken away if it causes a public disturbance. This is something straight out of the ‘Black Mirror’ episode ‘Nosedive’. Some UK firms have also started to microchip employees. Legal and financial companies are attracted by security and performance benefits. The miniature technology bypasses the need for cash, tickets, access cards and even social media. In Sweden, the technology has really taken off and young people are even throwing ‘implant parties’.

Social media consumer behaviour in 2018

The use of social media continues to be part of everyday life in the UK. At the beginning of 2017, the total number of social media users in the UK had reached over 39 million, that’s 59% of the UK population!

According to Battenhall, Facebook is still the largest social media platform, with 2.27 billion monthly active users, followed by YouTube with 1.9bn and WhatsApp with 1.5bn. However, a report from Buffer uncovered a 50% decline in engagement on Facebook business page posts, which illustrates a change in how people are consuming content on social channels. Despite this, there is still an opportunity for marketing on social as 56% of social media users state that they are happy to be exposed to branded content on their newsfeeds.

Here are some more interesting stats from 2018:

  • 98% of all digital consumers are social media users, and adoption is high even among 55-64s (94%)
  • People online have an average of seven social media accounts, which is an increase of three since 2013
  • 40% use social media to stay up to date with friends, news and current events
  • 42% say they use social media to research new brands or products
  • 36% use social media to find funny or entertaining content
  • More than a third of internet users say they follow their favourite brands on social media, while 1 in 4 follow brands that they are thinking of making a purchase from
  • Just 19% say they find new brands via celebrity/influencer endorsements
  • 56% of internet users have watched a video on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or Instagram in the past month
  • 73% of consumers say email is their preferred marketing channel
  • Digital consumers are now spending an average of 2 hrs 22 mins per day on social media. The 16-24 age group spend on average 4 hrs 11 mins.

Source: GlobalWebIndex 2019 social report

Trends and predictions for 2019

Now we’ve looked back at 2018, here are our predictions for the next year:

  • The rise of dark social
    Dark social will prompt marketers to look beyond social share counts. Dark social refers to private sharing of content via messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Snapchat or SMS, rather than on public social platforms such as Twitter or Facebook, and therefore can’t be accurately tracked. From our own data, we have seen up to 80% of all YouTube content being shared via dark social.
  • Chatbots will become the norm
    Social Report expect the use of chatbots to continue growing in 2019. According to a study from LivePerson, only 19% of the 5,000 people surveyed had a negative perception of chatbots and 48% were indifferent so long as their problems were resolved.
  • Brand authenticity is key – especially for millennials
    Gaining consumer trust will be of the utmost importance for brands in 2019 and 86% of consumers state that authenticity is an important factor when deciding which brands to support (Stackla report). This number is even higher amongst millennials.
  • AR and MR become crucial to a brand’s marketing activity
    At Facebook’s developer conference, they announced augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) will soon be available to brands to show off products within the Messenger app and newsfeed. For example, viewers will be able to ‘try on’ products advertised. Personalising the user experience allows users to experience a brand product in realtime and will encourage sharing and user-generated content. This is nothing new for Gen Z, where 22% of them are using AR geo-filters each month already.
  • Voice-enabled devices will continue to go mainstream
    According to The Verge, more than 100 million devices with Alexa on board have been sold and Google Assistant could be on billions of devices if Google install it as the default on their phones. Voice is becoming part of the essential channel mix within content marketing. By 2020, 30% of all website sessions will be conducted without a screen and up to 50% of all search activity will be conducted by voice.
  • Visual search is on the rise
    Google, Amazon, Bing, eBay and Pinterest have all launched visual search engines. With the introduction of Google Lens, users can now take a photo or upload an existing one and have Google scope the entire web for additional information. As machine learning and artificial intelligence push the boundaries of image recognition technology, algorithms will help with providing more relevant content.
  • Influencer marketing focusses on ROI
    Businesses spent more than $2bn on influencer marketing campaigns in 2018. Brands will continue to use influencers as their ‘salespeople’ but will pay greater attention to ROI as less than a fifth of companies say that they are able to integrate influencer marketing into their broader ROI calculations despite the fact that the vast majority believe it will be critical to their success going forward.
  • Live video is back
    Video content is set to be responsible for 80% of all internet traffic by 2021 and a report from BuzzSumo says that Facebook video posts get at least 59% more engagement than other post types. Consumers are craving authentic content and this is what you get with live video. For brands, the cost of using live video can be low as there are no post-production costs and live video activates FOMO!

So what does this mean?

As tech evolves and more people adopt it, the communication touchpoints for brands and their intended audiences are growing. This channel expansion gives an incredible opportunity to reach audiences in different ways, but brands must do so with a coherent, multi-channel content strategy, as what has become clear, is that no matter what channel a brand message is pushed through, authenticity, consumer experience and consistent tone of voice are key.

If there were only three things you could focus on this year, they should be:

  1. Understanding the impact and potential of Instagram for your brand. Miss this and you’ll be missing the opportunity to connect with your audience in an engaging, authentic and emotional way.
  2. Not underestimating the rise of voice search. If you do, it’s likely your content will be lost without a renewed understanding of user intent.
  3. Working to establish new measurement for your online content. The rise of private sharing cannot be ignored in 2019 and if you continue to measure what good looks like with existing metrics, you will be seriously underestimating the success of outstanding content and proving ROI will be difficult.

The River Group are experts in omni-channel content innovation and employ a host of digital, strategy and creative experts who can create and implement a measurable content plan for your brand in 2019 and beyond. To learn how The River Group can support your content marketing efforts, please contact Nicola Murphy, nmurphy@therivergroup.co.uk

The River Group is a 24-year-old, full-service content marketing agency based in Marble Arch, London. In an age of content spam, we don’t add to the noise – we make lean content designed around a simple consumer/brand value equation. Our content combines the new science of digital media with the old artistry of storytelling. We produce content for web, social and print, to address hard-nosed marketing objectives for 22 brands, including Holland & Barrett, Co-op, Superdrug, BBC Worldwide, WW, Cunard and Ramblers. We have 103 staff and work across 18 international markets, with billings of £15 million.

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