The marketing landscape of 2018 was riddled with challenges for brands and their agency partners. Studies revealed a widespread sense of cultural disunity along with an erosion of public trust in social media and corporations’ stewardship of consumer data. Given the year’s headlines — fierce division in politics, consumer data breaches and misuse by large corporations and social media platforms — neither result is particularly surprising. Yet each still poses a novel challenge for marketers. How does a brand speak with a unified voice to perhaps the most atomized consumer audience ever? How can brands continue to interact with consumers over the long-term when consumers are aware (and wary) of data harvesting, personalized marketing and branded content on social media? Answering these questions with innovative new strategies and tactics will be among the core tasks of marketers in 2019. What else is on the horizon? We’re glad you asked. As promised in our blog running down the marketing trends of 2018, we will again consult the Trilix Crystal Ball and gaze into the future to reveal the marketing trends coming in the year ahead.

Changing Winds for Influencers

The year began with millions of viewers tuning into Netflix’s and Hulu’s respective documentaries on the Fyre Festival fiasco. Many were left with one burning question: how dare those influencers? The Fyre Festival attracted huge numbers of wealthy, millennial ticket-purchasers largely thanks to a concerted marketing push through Instagram “influencers,” those rarified cultural figures who wield tremendous influence over their followers. Fyre employed mega-influencer Kylie Jenner to post in support of the festival for a reported $250,000 while other supermodels posted in tandem, generating viral social media buzz that traveled, well, like wildfyre. The only problem was that the festival wasn’t going to happen.

Influencers’ followers felt bamboozled by the #FyreFraud, and new regulations were implemented to ensure that when influencers post paid content from brands, they note it as such in the post with #ad, #sponsored and the like. But trust in influencers is still at an all-time low. In 2019, brands will increasingly shy away from pricey celebrities of questionable relevance and seek out so-called micro-influencers, figures who have established trust within niche communities (think Paleo chefs, mommy bloggers, bodybuilders, crafters, gamers, etc.) and whose expertise carries weight. Transparency in brand-influencer partnerships will remain paramount, to the point that brands and influencers will take pains to specifically note what aspects of a particular post or video are #sponsored and what’s coming from the heart.

Ethical Personalization

Facebook had more than a few scary frontpage stories about consumer data misuse in marketing, from tales of Russian cyberespionage centered on targeting users based on their interests and ideology with inflammatory and divisive content to Cambridge Analytica’s illicit use of more than 87 million Facebook users’ personal data to create psychographic profiles for controversial political purposes. These stories, coupled with frequent data breaches at major retailers, mean consumers are wary of giving their personal information to corporations. Yet advances in the sophistication of analytics and AI make that data more valuable than ever for marketers. The solution will be this 2019 trend: ethical personalization.

To get consumers to part with their information, brands and their agency partners will have to create robust and radically transparent opt-in processes. Marketers will need to make clear to users what their information will be used for, whom it will be used by and what the consumer has to gain in return, whether an additional discount, promotional item or simply the promise of a more seamless user experience. The big winners in this regard will be the brands that state their case to consumers in plain language and clarify the quid pro quo arrangement by illustrating how consumers can benefit from giving data to marketers. 

Bringing Content Marketing to Life

Marketing leaders have been advising brands to invest in content marketing for years now. Many brands have done so with zeal, building loyal, engaged audiences of consumers who find varying degrees of utility in branded content and come to see brands as knowledgeable, helpful sources of authoritative information (who just happen to be able to sell you the thing their content is about). But in today’s crowded landscape, it takes more than some user-friendly content on a blog, podcast, or YouTube channel to stand out. What’s the trendy next level of content marketing? Literally putting your audience inside your branded content through experiential marketing activations.

SXSW Interactive has set the bar for activations during the last several years, largely thanks to the presence of media, publishers and content creators at the festival. AMC made headlines two years ago for their Los Pollos Hermanos restaurant, a piece of Breaking Bad history brought to life to promote spinoff Better Call Saul. At the same fest, HBO created escape rooms themed around premium cable hits like Veep, Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley. Beautyrest proved that you don’t have to be a television network to create a fun marketing activation at SXSW 2018, stocking a venue with 150 beds for attendees of Max Richter’s immersive concert/performance art exhibition, “Sleep”. The best marketing activation of 2019 may have already happened during the Super Bowl, at least if you’re eager to wrap your brain around meta-textual performance art. Skittles opted out of the big game and instead produced a postmodern Broadway musical about the very nature of advertising that also happened to garner tons of press (and pretty good reviews, too). A looming question for marketers looking to leverage experiential marketing techniques is how best to scale experiences, and thankfully social media solves half the problem. The viral nature of activations at large events or in major cities brings them to audiences beyond those able to physically experience them and foments FOMO, while smart speaker technologies provide another clue for bringing marketing activations into millions of homes. Look for marketers to find more ways to bring activations to scale through voice, VR and augmented reality experiences in 2019.

That’s what we see in the coming year in marketing. How about you? Let us know on Twitter!