Marketing, media and journalism predictions for 2019

Photo by Chris Gilbert on Unsplash

If there’s one sure-fire prediction in media and marketing, it’s the proliferation of predictions for the year ahead. Never one to break a trend, here’s a few thoughts of my own for 2019. I’ve written content and social predictions for the year ahead for several years now, but this year it seems quite limiting to just talk about these two disciplines: they’re part of bigger conversations and have been for some time now.

So without further ado, prepare to be well and truly whelmed by the predictions.

Plus ça change

If there’s one thought for 2019, it’s that it won’t look vastly dissimilar from 2018. Which isn’t really how you should start new year prediction articles.

Abuse will still be rife on social platforms. Facebook will continue to play fast and loose with our data. Shiny new objects will be sold in as solutions to problems that don’t really exist. But there’s not really a killer trend or piece of tech that feels like a must have for your strategy.

And when you look at major predictions over the past few years — Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, AI, voice and voice speakers, blockchain, Snapchat, and so on — you’d be hard pushed to say that any of these have caused a revolution, although AI or machine learning have evolved nicely. And please don’t say 2019 will be the year of the mobile. That happened a long time ago.

So despite numerous stats being thrown around that x% of shopping transactions will be done by voice or that x% of consumers want an AR experience (I’m sure they really don’t), it’s unlikely to cause a revolution. Electric scooters? Yeah, nah. Driverless cars? Been a thing for a while and will take a while for the effects to be truly felt, assuming regulation allows them onto the streets anytime soon.

But that doesn’t mean any of the above are dead or should be ignored. So AR is more likely to be continually embedded into shopping experiences. Machine learning should be standardised across comms, theoretically freeing up creative, strategy and tech teams to solve bigger and better problems (although this won’t stop a number of articles quoting marketers saying how much AI has cut their $CPWhatever and enabled them to dispense of an entire department).

There will always be experts who will shout loudly that if you don’t have a Tik Tok strategy to market to Gen Z your business will be dead within a year, but the real value comes in understanding how best to evolve the shiny new object after a bit of that sheen has rubbed off.

It’s all about the community

For all Mark Zuckerberg’s pronouncements about bringing the world closer together, it’s noticeable that the one area of Facebook that’s currently thriving are Groups. Indeed, when you look around the internet, there’s a move back towards communities and interests.

For those who’ve spent many years online, there’s an element of growing full circle. A lot of social media was built out of communities and expanded to take in everybody. In Max Read’s excellent essay, he points out that one of Facebook’s flaws was it grew to take in acquaintances and people we vaguely knew. Eventually, this just became too big for the relationships we build, having people we vaguely knew liking holiday photos was deeply unsatisfying and we retreated into areas that actually interested us, whether that’s sport, fashion, politics, close friends.

Turns out we didn’t really want to connect to the world, just a connection other people who share the same interests.

This isn’t always a positive thing. Witness the rise of extreme political viewpoints and an intolerance towards opposing views. It’s never been easier to be moved towards a more radical viewpoint. On the other hand, what could be seen as niche interests become more mainstream. Twitch is a prime example.

So what does that mean for those who works in media and marketing? Journalists who understand how communities work will get access to better stories — much the same as how knowing your ‘beat’ in the offline world led to better stories. And PR professionals who know and understand the online communities stand a better chance of disseminating their message.

For advertisers, Facebook and Instagram still have the biggest targeting graph, but there’s a new conversation to be had. Do you go for mass reach but low engagement newsfeed advertising, or do you get to know your audience and attempt to play into your mutually shared interests? It may require a little more investment, but developing salience with key communities, either big or small, may be a smart long-term strategy.

It also sees the return to prominence of a role that has been somewhat downgraded in favour of performance marketing: the community manager. Both are important and should work as part of a blended social strategy, but there’s long-term value in nurturing communities. Expect to see plenty of articles proclaiming understanding online spaces being the key to success.

Podcast

One medium it’s understandable to get excited about in 2019 is podcasting. Yes, this isn’t a trend. But it is a format that’s come right through Gartner’s hype cycle and is now out of the trough of disillusionment (other than people who have already proclaimed it dead).

With Edison Research’s annual look at podcasting suggesting a continual rise in regular listening and a sharper rise in overall listening and awareness of podcasts, not to mention a podcast’s ability to lead the news agenda (witness the effect of true crime podcast Teacher’s Pet in Australia), the medium is becoming a regular part of everyday life.

Not that this should come as a surprise. Radio has been particularly resilient ever since it’s demise was first mooted with the age of television in the 1950s and 60s. Breakfast slot DJ appointments still generate headlines and a significant amount of people tune into both commercial and public service radio. Where podcasting has an advantage is the ease of listening and the honing in on particular interests.

For broadcasters, this has the advantage of picking up wider audiences post-broadcast. A niche interest 30 minute programme broadcast in the middle of the afternoon on Radio 4 or ABC can live long beyond its original shelf life. And, what’s more, once somebody starts listening to a podcast, Edison’s research suggests 80% of listeners stay with the episode until the end (interestingly, this is down from 86% the previous year).

Where podcasting has benefitted in the past year has been advances in platforms that have opened the medium up to a wider audience. Spotify’s decision to open up the platform to podcasts, coupled with Google building a podcasting app for Android added a significant number of potential new listeners. In addition, the cost and effort in producing a podcast (already pretty low) keeps dropping with new technology. Video may get our industry’s attention, but podcasts command water cooler conversation.

But before you all run out to buy shares in Acast, iHeart Radio, Whooska, or other platforms, there’s still a few not insignificant challenges to overcome. Firstly, monetisation for creators is still not easy, while the advertising solutions and buying methods aren’t as unified as in other media, while “live” reads risk going to audiences who can’t even purchase your products. It requires a lot of homework. So this is one prediction: media buying on podcasts will get cheaper and easier and brands will want a slice of the action.

And then the second issue. The number of podcasts are growing. Apple confirmed in June that there are over 550,000 podcasts on iTunes. That’s a lot of listening hours. Podcasting is not a nascent trend, it’s well established, so getting a foothold in your market means you have to be exceptionally good or professional. Podcasts already took work to establish. This will get even harder.

But for all podcasting’s positive points, marketers still don’t seem entirely sure what to do with podcasts. Some advertise. Some have set up partnerships. Some have even attempted branded podcasts. There’s no right solution and no one size fits all approach. Podcasting, at least, is not like Instagram influencer marketing given it has a substantial level of depth to it, although it’s much further behind the influencer industry when it comes to organising any kind of consistency across the board of commercialisation.

But despite that, plenty of the aforementioned platforms are making serious efforts to standardise podcasting advertising and collaborations. Given the creative side of the industry is pretty healthy and listeners keep rising, it’ll be in the industry’s best interests to make podcasting even more attractive to non-converts and advertisers alike. It’s an area I’m excited about, and slightly wistful given I stopped hosting a weekly podcast a few years back.

Customer Experience becomes the year’s buzzword

There’s a wonderful piece of research in Marketing Week’s 2019 trends. In it, 42.4% of marketers think their organisation should be structured about the customer (which makes me wonder what the other 58% are thinking), but just 5.8% think their organisation are structured in that way. And while phrases such as Customer Centric and Customer Experience will be thrown around as trendy buzzwords, it feels like there’s slowly a growing realisation that delivering a Cannes Lion winning AR activation might be good for grabbing attention, but it might not actually, y’know, do anything for the person they’re trying to sell to.

But Customer Experience is a broad church, as it goes beyond just the marketing department, and touches on a vast number of areas. So, wrapping a few smaller points into one, hopefully the below will actually become A Thing in 2019 — at the very least, expect to see more forward-thinking organisations adopt the following:

  • Being human when called for. So not just blindly following whatever the machine or efficiencies tells you to do, but knowing when to let the tech take over and when to ask if we’re actually communicating in a way that’s human. That especially goes for building a chatbot if it just replicates a phone menu system.
  • Ensuring your first experience of a brand isn’t a giant autoplaying pop up or video in your Instagram feed
  • Acknowledging that customers go beyond just acquisition. That means working with other departments, often IT, digital, and customer service and joining them all together. Silos aren’t a marketing problem, they’re an organisational problem that needs real will to be fixed.
  • Focusing on relevancy of communication rather than out and out personalisation, which can just get a bit creepy and weird at times.

So CX is less of a trend but more of an acknowledgement that 2019 will be the year when some organisations start to shift towards a customer first viewpoint, but also that it will appear in hundreds of powerpoints, keynotes and internal documents that will generate plenty of agreement and no actual actions. Because this sort of thing is hard.

A different pain point for publishers

If the demise of Mic and the struggles of the likes of Buzzfeed, Vice and others showed, 2018 was the year that publishers finally weaned themselves off basing a strategy solely around Facebook’s whims. Zuckerberg’s algorithm change that theoretically cut news organisations out of the newsfeed and the realisation that blindly following Facebook’s latest ambition (Pivot to video! Pivot to vertical video! Do both while standing on your head with your arms tied behind your back!) probably wasn’t the best strategy, there was a renewed focus on their readers.

So for some publications we’re now back in a world of gated content, sign-ups, subscriptions and the like, as publishers look to diversify both traffic and revenue stream. This is no bad thing. However, there’s a question that publishers who are asking for subscriptions need to ask. Namely, how many subscriptions can their audience afford or are prepared to have?

While $10 or even $20 a month may not be much, once you add on a Netflix and Spotify subscription, then one newspaper and magazine micro-payment, you’re potentially looking at $50 a month minimum. For early subscribers, other publications are going to have to work hard to add them to the mix. For publishers, it means they need to continue to offer compelling reasons for people not just to spend time but money on them.

There’s a lot of subscriptions online all competing for your cash — from The Guardian’s voluntary payments, to Medium’s $5 a month, to The Australian, to the New York Times, to The Economist, to trade publications. I like and read all of these named publications, but I’m not going to pay to subscribe to all of them. Rent, food, nappies — they all take priority.

There will no doubt be publications or media owners who fail to get the requisite numbers and may fail. While not a publisher, niche sport streaming service Eleven Sports is already struggling to generate enough subscribers for the European football offering in the UK. And no doubt this will lead to a number of articles proclaiming the subscription model dead (because there’s nothing the media loves more declare the death of a trend).

Subscription models will not die in 2019 though. It just means the early adopters have a head start and the ones that failed aren’t offering a compelling enough reason to generate sign-ups at the requisite volume. That’s a challenge.

This doesn’t mean gated content with no payment is the answer either. At some point, publishers will need to monetise this data, and if handled badly, could lead to a serious erosion of trust in the brand.

There’s still no one answer for journalism’s challenges, but just as a marketing agency needs to have a broad client base to insulate itself from losing an account, so publishers need to have a diversity of outcomes and traffic sources, and not be overly dependent on one source of revenue or eyeballs. Expect a few more crashes from well-known media brands as they attempt to figure out a long-term strategy that sees the likes of social media and Google as a slice of the pie rather than the saviour of their industry.

Social media: changes in influencers, Stories, fake news and videos

These aren’t particularly big trends, which is why I’ve lumped them together, but they’re worth a paragraph or two.

Firstly, influencer marketing. Last year I wrote: “As the discipline matures, there should be more standardised understandings of what success looks like, and what this is worth to a brand. Hopefully 2018 will be the year inflated fees and questionable ROI are consigned to the past in favour of a more solid framework.”

I don’t think we can say that this happened. Brands still continued to pump cash into influencers, while “influencers” became shorthand for “lots of followers on Instagram.” Some wannabe influencers even started making up brand sponsorships to appear more influential than they are.

So what of this year? If influencer marketing continues to take a greater part of the marketing budget then the demands on measurement and ROI throughout the funnel will (hopefully) sort the truly influential from those who merely describe themselves as such and give marketers a clear understanding of what they’re delivering. The need to accurately target communities should see a more thoughtful approach to the discipline that goes beyond just Instagram.

I also suspect we’ll see a lot of mid-tier influencers burn out or vanish — or post detailed descriptions of how the demands of being always on and in a persona take their toll on their mental health. While the latter may be uncomfortable, it may well be that the maturity of the influencer market is driven by its own community rather than relying on marketers.

Secondly, Stories. Again, not a trend, it will be fascinating to see how the more ephemeral format continues to shape social platforms. With Stories content set to surpass news feed content, and acting as a traffic driver from Instagram, it requires a slightly different mindset and understanding of your goals.

Facebook have hardly helped themselves by making news feed ads adaptable to the format with none of the creativity or appreciation of what makes a good story. As the big blue giant continues to look for new monetisation opportunities, expect even more adverts in Stories. If anybody breaks the format, Facebook will through its incessant need to wring every last advertising drop.

Meanwhile, a lot of brands will continue to post to Stories without any understanding of what it delivers, while the algorithm that decides what people see first will become even more opaque as organic reach goes the same way as Facebook.

General fakery, trolling, gaslighting and general hateful behaviour will continue to be a major issue for social media. Users will get even more entrenched in opinions, people and publishers who should know better will increasingly drive polarisation as clickbait, and fake accounts, ad fraud and the general distortion of reality will continue apace. I can’t see any positive breakthrough in this area, sadly, unless social CEOs make it a priority or a country decides to introduce regulation that tackles the problem rather than the headline.

Finally, Instagram TV will continue to struggle unless it can find a breakout hit or a reason for creators to post video in the platform over YouTube. Ditto Watch. Facebook will look for more ways to monetise Messenger. Expect adverts, although the more interesting aspects of Messenger will come from brands who’ve really thought about the Customer Experience.

And Twitter and Pinterest will continue to do their own thing as they start to move further away from Facebook’s idea of social media and become clearer about what they are (news and culture / visual search) and what they deliver that’s a viable alternative to Facebook.

Binet and Field

Expect to hear Les Binet and Peter Field’s names used in a lot of presentations in 2019 with regard to marketing effectiveness. Mark Ritson has been championing the pair’s research heavily, and it appears to offer a sane balance between short-term efficient performance marketing and long-term brand building, and why marketers need to focus on both when they set their budgets.

Whether marketers and agencies who start to quote the pair’s research have actually read it is another question, but it at least starts better conversations outside simple effectiveness. Whether that’s debating the merits of spending on TV, whether content should form part of the mix or how much to invest in simple sales performance tactics over brand building and vice versa, it should lead to more mature conversation.

It won’t stop marketers chasing after short-term goals, spending hundreds of thousands on brand purpose or getting seduced by shiny new trends. But it should at least give strategists a more solid foundation on which to start conversations.

So, that’s my thoughts for 2019. Some of the above may happen. Some of the above ought to happen. And some may pleasantly surprise me by not happening. Happy 2019 everyone.