Croud predicts: 2019’s digital marketing trends

With the new year in full swing, Croud’s digital experts share what they think will be the key trends over the next 12 months in the digital space.  A continued pendulum swing between agencies and in-house, increasing transparency in programmatic, and the next leap for AI as it moves into mainstream consumer tech are all on the cards…

Agencies vs. in-house

Luke Smith, CEO & co-founder

The agency/in-house debate should not be a binary one.

Seemingly forever there has been a pendulum swing between in-housing and using agencies; the pendulum is on the face of it swinging very much towards in-housing. There are, however, signs of a swing the other way – I think we’ll see a few in-house businesses RFPing agencies for digital services in 2019.

As you might expect, Croud’s belief is that agencies with multi-client experience and all manner of skill-sets and an agile workforce, will always have the advantage.

And if agencies hadn’t consistently underwhelmed clients for the last 10 years then we wouldn’t be here. The 10%(ish) of media fee that clients pay for digital media should be a fraction of the ROI an agency delivers.

However – agency versus in-house isn’t necessarily the right question.

2019 will see much more collaboration between agencies and in-house teams – smart agencies will provide tools and technology to support in-house teams; they will offer access to talent on-demand to support the demands on client-side teams that are never linear.

Traditional to digital

Nelson Elliott, VP Biddable Media (US)

The application of traditional media planning to digital media will accelerate in 2019.

Metrics like reach, frequency, and brand lift have long been secondary considerations for online marketers. They have not been consistently available and – where they have been available – they have often taken a back seat to metrics like CTR and CPC.

This will change in 2019. Driven by higher digital media prices, fewer independent measurement options, and the growing realisation that micro-segmented audiences don’t drive scalable business results, marketers will be looking for alternatives.

The duopoly (+ Amazon to some degree) are already moving in this direction. Google has recently announced reach-based tools for YouTube buys and Facebook has lowered spend thresholds for brand lift studies. Aided by increasingly comprehensive, login-based estimates of audience, these tools will be critically important for brands looking to build significant audiences online.


Andy Cooney, Commercial Director (UK)

The trend of in-housing will continue, but brands who were earlier to adopt this and are further down the path will return to agency support of some kind in order to audit their in-house teams and ensure they are staying ahead of the curve by leaning into agencies’ proprietary tech and knowledge.

There will, I hope, be some kind of shake-up of the pitch process. We have seen some partners adopting a new, less cumbersome and rigid method of agency selection, which involves getting to know agencies rather than filling out a document and then being pitched at. That said, agencies still have to play by the rules that brands set if they want the opportunity to take the business.

Google and visuals

Liam CARNAHAN, Director of Content (Australia)

Google will get smarter when it comes to understanding visuals.

We already see Google attempting to get better at understanding what an image is with their enhanced search announcement. Soon enough, I think the Google algorithm will improve, until eventually it can look at an image and know what it’s seeing without needing any text to explain it.

If you want to get ahead of this trend, then it’s time to stop looking at imagery/visuals as a nice perk for your content and instead as an absolute must. Start now by cataloguing and tagging your imagery in detail – it will keep you ahead of the game when these changes come down the line.

I also think we’re going to see some big shifts in the world of social media advertising, with both Facebook and Twitter cracking down on security in the wake of the 2016 political scandal. Mark Zuckerberg’s name leaves a bad taste in many people’s mouths, and while Facebook is still going strong, there’s no doubt that public trust in social media companies is waning. Keep an eye on these conversations, and be ready to change how you go about advertising on social media, because shake-ups are coming.

AI in Ad Creative

Kevin Joyner, Director of Planning & Insight (UK)

Advertising creative is about to take a very big leap as we see a surge of AI in ad creative. In 2018, we saw some world firsts in this space, as China created the first AI TV news reporter, an artificial newsreader that simulated the voice, facial movements and gestures of a real-life broadcaster. There will also be a continued rise of  “deep fakes”, computer-generated replicas of a person, saying or doing things that they have never said or done. We will also see a big shift in voice control/synthesis as it moves into mainstream consumer tech.

In 2019, we’ll see the first multi-channel co-ordinated dynamic, automatic digital campaign.  This means the user will see the faces, hear the voices, read the words – all at the right place at the right time. It will grab the user’s attention enough to move them down the purchase funnel.  Although it sounds creepy, I think it will be a success, as it will also win over the user’s loyalty (eventually).

This will be done with AI, meaning no campaign or media planner will have lifted a finger to create the individual’s experience.

More Investment in Data Quality

Kris Tait, SVP Client Strategy (US)

Cast your memory back less than 12 months ago; the attitude among some marketers to use any data they could get their hands on was prevalent. Uploading lists of emails with little regard to customer experience or preference. As I type I’m still getting targeting with some jeans that I purchased last week. GDPR kicked some into action and with increased scrutiny on privacy, data quality will become a bigger focus.

For marketers it’s a positive move. They’ll focus on implementing more accurate analytics, cleaning up their CRM data and better understanding customer interactions. In the face of increasing media competition this shift will help to deliver greater marketing ROI, better experiences and instill trust in their brand.

We’ll continue to see Google and Facebook take more steps to protect users; in fact Google are already at it with a new customer match policy introduced in late 2018. I for one am looking forward to brands investing more in data quality to power their marketing in 2019.

Future of SEO

Piers Butler, Director of SEO (UK)

There is an astonishing amount of data out there. So much so that it is now impossible for humans to fully collect and analyse it all in order to provide the best possible insights and recommendations. Machine learning and AI have to be incorporated in order to obtain the most accurate analysis and understanding.

Google has already invested millions into this through several different projects: its natural language processing, driverless cars, image recognition, spam filters, recommended YouTube suggestions and its many self-learning advertising algorithms. And it, of course, plays a large role in Google’s core offering of being a search engine and providing the best organic results possible. This is known as RankBrain and will become 100% of the natural search algorithm in the future.

The internet will become more of a neural net of things.

We can use several SEO inputs and model the SERPs in order to create a virtual testing/learning environment where each input can be tweaked in turn. We can then begin to understand the value of the various inputs and weight them. This will establish a clearer understanding of the Google algorithm/RankBrain and what elements of SEO will drive the most value when optimised, while also forecasting the potential impact (which will help in making business cases) before finally measuring the results in real-world data collection versus its modelled simulation/forecast. Core signals to indicate success could be traffic and rankings (+/-). 

Site structure and semantic (clustered) relevance is also a huge part of the future of SEO. The internet will become more of a neural net of things. Google themselves said it many years ago, on the subject of structured data, it is the internet of things, not strings (meaning strings of code).

It will be imperative that brands structure their ‘things’ in a clustered and semantically relevant way. The foundation of this will be the website, and more precisely, the structure of the website. Any other ‘things’ will also need to be integrated into this structure, such as the app (via app store optimisation) and social media profiles (not being treated as islands but rather being integrated into the structure where relevant). This will all need to be marked up with structured data to future proof for voice search and information requests.

Organic listings on the move

Gipi Gopinath, Head of SEO (Australia)

Organic listings are going to be pushed lower down the SERPs and possibly out of the first page. The increase of Google Place Listings, Google Shopping Ads, Answer Box listings, videos etc. are going to own this real estate.

It is not going to be about keywords and backlinks to the page, but more about results based on queries. Marketers need to decide what content to create for a phrase. If “how to bake a cake” search term only pulls video content results, then one should only create videos.

Start analysing your business and decide what types of content to serve the audience; sometimes all you need will be a video platform.

Programmatic transparency and brand safety

Connie del Bono, Programmatic Associate Director (US)

In 2018 Programmatic ads accounted for 46% of all media spend. We expect this to become 65% in 2019, representing a 41% increase!

Transparency and Brand Safety are two key features of this growth

I believe that Transparency and Brand Safety will remain two absolutely key factors within this growth. We will encourage our clients to layer all forms of brand safely onto their campaigns to avoid various fraud mechanisms that can be prevalent within some exchanges. Our first priority is to protect our clients from bot vehicles and fraud. We are encouraged by the recent actions taken by leading industry players to combat fraud and we endeavour to continue to challenge our demand, supply and brand safety partners to remain vigilant of the associated risks.

Transparency is key in the current marketplace and we at Croud have always been proud of our continued clarity and communication with clients. Native display and video  will continue to grow alongside accurate data layering, which is currently seeing many changes with the battle between DMPs and Customer Data Platforms and first party on-boarding platforms. This will be an interesting development in 2019. Another development we expect to see – and a very exciting one for programmatic – is an increase in video spending, attributed in Programmatic TV. With recent media and tech acquisitions, as well as developments in technology from a number of DSPs, addressable TV is becoming a real opportunity for more advertisers. It gives us the ability to create engaging content, through storytelling personalised at scale.

For marketers this is an exciting time, the market is maturing and, with smart investment, they will quickly see an uplift in brand awareness and, in addition, a strong ROI from adopting the right strategies.

Finally, a recent study showed that consumers’ attention span is at its lowest ever – eight seconds. With that eight seconds – whether display or video – we need to adopt new, exciting, even thought-provoking creative to reach out to that relevant person – and grab their attention head on!

by Croud
4 January 2019



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