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There’s no question, the digital marketing revolution is here — and it’s moving quickly. But with new technologies emerging every day, and digital advertising techniques changing in real time, it’s no longer enough just to keep pace. Staying ahead of the curve requires looking forward to what’s coming next and then taking the right steps to get your business where it needs to be.

Getting – and Remaining – Ahead of the Game

Following are six important developments that are sure to impact the world of digital marketing in 2019.

1. The World Is Quickly Turning to Virtual and Augmented Realities. Remember the hysteria around Pokémon Go a few years ago? People of every age walked into cars and slammed into one another on the street as they immersed themselves in this new and exciting reality. Gaming may be how the masses interpret and understand augmented and virtual realities (AR and VR), but there’s also tremendous opportunity for brands to use these technologies to improve the customer experience.

IKEA has been experimenting with VR gaming technology since 2016 when the well-known furniture brand announced the Virtual Reality Kitchen, IKEA VR Experience—a shopping app designed to let customers’ try out different IKEA solutions before buying them. Users can experience the look and feel of a customized kitchen, for instance, with just a click, moving about the space easily while testing different finish or cabinet solutions.

More recently, Nickelodeon entered the VR and AR landscapes by adding an AR mode to its mobile app and launching SlimeZone, “its first multiplayer, social VR experience.” The children’s channel hopes that these new high-tech additions will “keep kids on board in the face of distractions elsewhere.”

In 2019, we’ll likely see more brands take bold steps such as these to revisit VR and AR in ways that add value to consumer experiences.

2. Voice Is Becoming the Ultimate Search-Marketing Tool. ComScore estimates that, by 2020, half of all search queries will be voice-based — a prediction that’s causing shrewd brand marketers to sit up and take notice. Voice recognition technology is only expected to grow bigger and better, and consumers are welcoming the convenience of intelligent voice search with open arms.

To get in front of this trend, think about the differences between text and voice search. More specifically, consider what your customers might speak, rather than type when making an inquiry. It also makes sense to start writing in a more conversational tone to develop content that better aligns with voice search. Finally, if you haven’t done so already, optimize your site for mobile — like, yesterday.

For now, the majority of voice search usage is based on utility — people use it most when their hands are full or when they’re driving. But as word accuracy rates improve over the next year, and consumers become more accustomed to having their needs met, expect to see brands competing on yet another platform, as they struggle to understand how to be found in voice searches.

3. AI-Powered Solutions Are Everywhere — From Small Businesses to Large Enterprises. If 2018 is the year brands started to experiment with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) applications, 2019 will be the year they get it right. From chatbots to robotic process automation, the value of improved efficiency, increased productivity and higher customer satisfaction is becoming clear.

In 2019, AI-powered technologies will take customer-centric marketing to a new level. Huge differentiators, expect better trend analysis, enhanced customer profiling, and even more sophisticated personalization strategies.

“Marketers should look to how they can use AI as a way to understand what content a potential customer is consuming, whether it is marketing generated content, support or technical documents or user generated, which will allow for more personalized customer experience and high customer satisfaction,” says Lisa Matherly, VP of Content Marketing at McAfee.

As you start to dig into the data you collect and store, deploying smart AI-powered applications will help you reach targeted audiences with precision, increasing efficiencies and paving the way for extraordinary customer experiences.

Digital workflow will become easier too, as simple-to-deploy AI-powered solutions are made available to more businesses looking to maximize the technology. For instance, media agencies can optimize paid advertising campaigns for their clients by using smart algorithms to analyze the performance of campaigns in motion. With automated A/B testing and algorithms that update themselves in real time, necessary improvements can be made on the fly to increase marketing ROI.

At the enterprise level, software-as-a-service companies provide AI-driven automation and workflow solutions that dramatically improve digital operations across healthcare, banking, insurance, and more.

4. Video Views Lead Internet Traffic. Video is eating the web — a phenomenon we recognized years ago when the Washington Post predicted that video would account for 80 percent of all Internet traffic by 2019. That makes sense, because the average attention span is short, and most people would rather watch a video than read a blog post.

Realizing this, brands enthusiastically publish video from live events and behind-the-scenes moments. They create video tips and tricks and anything else they can scrape together in a pithy two-or three-minute piece. Yet, video marketing only succeeds if it delivers what consumers want, when and how they want it.

Done well, video marketing produces amazing results. According to HubSpot, simply adding a video to an email boosts click-through rate by a staggering 200–300 percent, and putting one on a landing page increases conversion rate by 80 percent.

Next year, live video feeds will continue to explode, but the real differentiator going forward will be originality. Interactive video and imaginative video marketing that encourages user engagement will quickly outpace video for the sake of moving pictures. Consumers become bored quickly — brands that use video to engage and excite users will win.

5. The Onslaught of Native Advertising Is Pushing Marketing to Be More Creative. Today’s consumers are resistant to advertising, and the sudden increase of ad blockers has made it increasingly difficult for marketers to send out their messages.

If companies want to reach new consumers in 2019, they’ll have to work on making their advertisements blend more naturally into content.

Enter native advertising.

Native ads provide a much-needed break from in-your-face techniques like banner ads. However, as brands work desperately to become less annoying, they’ve successfully blurred the lines between native and traditional ads.

“It can be difficult to know if that article you are looking at on Mashable is a real article or a sponsored native one,” says Bernard May, CEO, National Positions. In the future, “Platforms may run into a situation where customers might request a clearer differentiation between various types of content … pushing marketing to be more creative, less disruptive, and a bigger part of the conversation.”

Despite consumers growing wiser, native ads are becoming an essential component of the marketing mix for several major brands, including Airbnb, Lexus, and Visa, says Nedelina Payaneva, digital marketing specialist at Asian Absolute.

In the coming years, Pavaneva believes businesses will leverage native ad strategy through social media like Instagram Stories, showing content that users hardly recognize (or mind) as ads.

6. Programmatic Advertising Is Going Mainstream. In 2018, we’re seeing the growth of programmatic advertising. The technology that was once reserved only for media-buying is on fire and predicted to account for two-thirds of the world’s digital display advertising by 2019. Buyers and sellers are investing heavily in automated ad buying — and they will continue to do so.

Digital display is well on its way to becoming 100 percent programmatic. But what’s really interesting is how traditional media is following suit. You can expect to see this shift from programmatic to traditional media begin to take shape in 2019.

Wrapping It Up

The future of digital marketing is bright. With virtual and augmented realities inspiring new engagement, and marketers tapping into greater creativity, brands will find it easier to be authentic and responsive to their customers’ needs.

As businesses become more familiar with artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities, they will deliver better, more sophisticated, more personalized experiences. With access to more data, better insights, and new opportunities, the future will leave no smart businesses behind.

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