Please see our updated article: 12 Digital Marketing Trends for 2020.

Some years ago, Bill Gates wrote the book Business @ the Speed of Thought. In the book, he explained how technology and digital infrastructures can put businesses ahead of their competition.

However, the book already seems outdated…the internet in its early stages and the technologies integral to business operations back then are now obsolete. But the basic premise of the book still stands—due to evolving technology, business moves fast. And so do their marketing efforts.

In 2013, 76% of those asked in Adobe’s Digital Distress survey felt that marketing had changed the most in the past 2 years than the previous 50. Well, this is Q4 of 2018, 5 years later. And digital marketing is still going strong.

Internet, social networks and AI are continuously changing the world of marketing.

The basic tenets of marketing like crafting powerful messages to attract your ideal customers still remain. However, the channel or method of delivery of your message now includes a full gamut of SEO optimization, customer acquisition, retention, engagement, pay-per-click, social media, search advertising, and more.

Businesses that move fast continue to gain more customers and profits as slow movers get left behind.

And if you’re reading this guide, you are probably ready to take your company’s marketing to the next level. So, here are some trends and innovations to pay attention to or start applying in the new year:


1. Artificial Intelligence Will Get a Little Too Good at Profiling Buyers

Artificial intelligence will definitely be pulling its weight in the marketing world this year as AI is now powering customer segmentation, retargeting, push notifications, click tracking, you name it – in a limitless combination of possibilities. It’s even creating content now!


How you put AI to work for your digital marketing portfolio depends on your goals and your channels. But if you’re not already working with digital marketing teams and partners who know and leverage AI in their marketing intelligence and delivery systems, you’re falling behind.

According to a study by Blueshift, 28% of marketers are using AI for product recommendations and 26% are using it for campaign optimization.

Marketers expect increase in AI usage in marketing campaigns

Apart from this leading to more sales, using AI can also help you improve your customer service. According to a Forrester’s Global State of Artificial Intelligence Online Survey, 57% of businesses are using AI to improve their customer experience and support while 44% are using AI as a means to provide the ability to improve upon existing products and services.

Benefits of using AI in digital marketing campaigns

But how does artificial intelligence help businesses to achieve growth goals? One of the main ways is through personalization. Businesses can now personalize their marketing to each lead to turn them from a marketing qualified lead (MQL) to a sales qualified lead (SQL).

In an online marketing survey by IDC in collaboration with Criteo, 67% of marketers believe that AI is currently delivering personalized headlines and advertising copy while 66% believe its delivering personalized advertising design formats and initiating personalized advertising creative.

Even 64% believe it will deliver real-time personalized advertising insertions and optimized message targeting by 2020.

Machine learning technologies - today and in near future

Despite the obvious benefits of AI to businesses, very few businesses are currently using it. For instance, in the same survey by IDC, 83% of marketers are aware of AI but only 14% have implemented it into their marketing strategies.

Machine Learning Technologies, usage in marketing campaigns

What are some ways you can become more comfortable with AI? One quick tip to prep for future AI-powered image-search shopping features is by using ample, high-quality images of as many of your own products as possible and make sure they’re labeled with appropriate alt-text. This will give the online robots more to work with as AI and machine learning gets more popular.


2. Chatbots

Human beings are social animals. And part of that is interacting with other humans, having a voice and being heard. This is why social media networks like Facebook and LinkedIn are so popular.

However, constantly engaging in social media is not the end-all answer to becoming closer to your customers- you can install a chatbot on your website to interact with website visitors on their terms.

With the improvement in artificial intelligence over the years, chatbots have improved by having the ability to hold a basic conversation with visitors and answer most-asked questions like a live human customer support representative would.

Even though many websites have been offering live chat support systems with live representatives on the other end for years, the system has still not been robust as people still experience long wait times.

A chatbot is cheaper than a customer support person because it doesn’t have to be staffed and it can answer visitors’ questions almost immediately.

Potential benefits of chatbots

Leadpages installed a chatbot by Drift on its website with the goal to immediately answer questions without using a real person.

After a period of time, the chatbot was set to greet visitors which alone increased the number of monthly conversations from 310 to 1,168- a 267% increase. Leadpagesalso saw a 36% overall increase in their conversions from the use of chatbots.

Chatbots increase conversion

Leadpages also uses chatbots to start a conversation based on the page the visitor is viewing.

For instance, they used it on the product comparison page of their company Drip which led to a 30% chatbot open rate and a 21% click-through rate.

Using chatbots variations

Amtrakuses its “Ask Julie” bot to help travelers book tickets on their website and book their tickets for those trips.

Using Ask Julie helped Amtrak save $1 million in customer service costs in a single year and they generated 30% more revenue per booking and got 25% more bookings with Julie.

Ask Julie Chatbot

With the continuous improvement in artificial intelligence, chatbots will improve as well.


3. Omnichannel Marketing

Consumers are now more sophisticated than ever and find their information through many channels. Initially, multichannel marketing was introduced to allow prospects to communicate with businesses through various channels.

For instance, prospects can be introduced to your business through Twitter, Facebook ads, or stopping into your brick and mortar store. Email subscribers can communicate through email and website visitors can communicate through chat or comments. But even though multichannel marketing was a step up from single-channel marketing, it didn’t solve consumers’ problems.

That’s why omnichannel marketing provides a better experience for your prospects because it provides a seamless and consistent communication process to prospects and customers across all channels.

Multichannel vs Omnichannel marketing


For instance, you may start interacting with a customer on a social media network and then it continues through your SEO rankings and eventually through email. Eventually, you get the prospect on the phone which turns into a sales qualified lead.

The main aim of omnichannel marketing is for you to be able to keep track of the prospect’s interactions even though they’re interacting with you through different channels. In turn, your customers will be impressed that you’re paying attention to the details about your previous interactions and that you really care.

Research by Invesp shows that companies with omnichannel customer engagement strategies retain on average 89% of their customers compared to 33% customer retention rate for companies with weak omnichannel strategies.

Customer engagement withand without omnichannel

To implement omnichannel marketing for your business, find a customer relationship management (CRM) program that helps you to keep track of your interactions with customers on different platforms.

This helps you move your prospects effectively through the sales funnel even when your prospects are communicating on many channels. With the use of omnichannel marketing, Net-a-Porter achieved a 16.9% year-over-year growth to create revenues in excess of $3 billion in 2017.

Net a Porter omnichannel marketing showcase


4. Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) and PWA

Search engines drive a huge amount of traffic, especially on Google. And about 60% of search traffic on Google comes from mobile devices. As a website’s load time increases, its bounce rate increases which could negatively lead to a lower Google ranking.

Share of online searches initiated with mobile device, by industry

This need for speed led to the AMP project initiated by Google. AMP pages load in less than 0.5 seconds creating a lower bounce rate for your page.

Even though Google has not listed AMP as a ranking factor, the lower bounce rate as a result of using AMP is a positive sign. Currently, there are more than 4 billion AMP pages on the web.

Accelerated Mobile Page (AMP) median load time

Progressive Web Apps (PWA) exist as a middle ground between your normal responsive website and a native app.

More so, PWA offers the benefits of a mobile site and a native app without their downfalls. Advantages of PWA on your website include:

  • Faster loading time: Website visitors want a fast website and PWA loads faster than your average mobile site. And faster than a traditional mobile native app. Faster load times are something Google loves to see, thus improving your SEO visibility.
  • Better website experience: A PWA gives users a better experience than through a simplistic mobile site that may not have all of the features they’re looking for.
  • No need for user download: Users can have all the features of your native app without having to download your app in the app store or competing with other apps.
  • Eliminates app development costs: Building an app requires a lot of money and time. By building a single PWA, users on any kind of operating system can have the same view without you having to go through all the time and hassle of app development.
  • Users can create a shortcut on their smartphone: Without downloading an app, users can create a shortcut through their mobile browser that allows them to access your website easily and efficiently. It also supports push notifications* to keep visitors updated.

Flipkart gets one-third of its total visits and 60% of its mobile internet purchases from rural areas with poor internet service. These visitors find it difficult to use their mobile app. But with a PWA, Flipkart got 60% of users who had uninstalled their app to come back through their mobile site.

AMP allows your website to render fast and could improve your website rank on Google searches while PWA eliminates the high cost of building a mobile app and provides the same great experience to visitors on your mobile site.

Speaking of increased mobile use…it’s a steady powerhouse that is not going anywhere anytime soon. Revenue for social media ads is expected to rise from $67B to $93B in 2019, and most of that growth is powered by mobile spending.

In this upcoming year, we’ll see more spending, optimized mobile video and graphic experiences, and great social media ad campaign management. Because like search ads, social media spending requires engagement and a lot of experimentation to become profitable. But once you get the mix right, it will become one of your most reliable growth channels.

* An additional note about push notifications, expect to see it as the new remarketing tool in 2019. GDPR may have shaken email out of its hot seat, but push notifications were waiting in the wings to pick up the slack for remarketing. In fact, push has been rising in the ranks of marketing power tools since 2014 and in recent months, due to a new burst of AI-based push platforms, push has become an unbeatable way to engage, re-engage, and retain customers.

But uses this comes with a huge caveat – your push notifications MUST add value for the user, otherwise push becomes a negative force in your marketing efforts by prompting unsubscribes.

You need the right number of notifications, yes, but more importantly, you need to be sending them at the right time, with the right content, for the right user. AI is making that easier and easier to achieve. And the click-through rates are irresistible.


5. Email and Marketing Automation

Email has been a popular tool for a long time, but email 15 years ago is different from what it is now.

What’s the main difference? Personalization – the key in making customers spend more. According to Jainbrain:

Facts about personalization

Now, businesses can send different emails to different subscribers based on their interests, which is usually determined by the content they engage with.

Personalization makes email more effective. However, personalization is not only applicable to email- it’s applicable to all your marketing efforts.

Plus, the new GDPR consumer protection ordinance that recently took effect ensures that the people receiving your emails want to receive them by clearly opting into your marketing communication. Although it adds a few extra layers to reaching people, it means you’re now emailing the people closest to closing – the warm leads and happy consumers, the people most likely to buy and buy again.

To improve your email communications, start repurposing it as a lead nurture and customer engagement tool. Use it to encourage learning and behaviors most closely associated with the big buyers in your database.

Marketing automation has been a trend for a few years now. But it’s a trend that will continue to grow in 2019 because of its many benefits including:

  • It eliminates time wastage: If your marketing representatives have to manually copy lead information, then they’re spending precious time they could have used to contact more leads- wasting man-hours and money.
  • It minimizes error: Your marketing reps are humans that can forget to copy a lead’s contact details or call them. Marketing automation software has all the records and can send alerts to help your people stay on track.
  • Marketing automation increases collaboration: One of the main issues with businesses today is a lack of collaboration between the marketing and sales department. Lack of collaboration means the sales department doesn’t get all the details they need about a lead from marketing and vice versa. Marketing automation software makes all the information about a lead or customer available to any department that needs it, eliminating silos.

6. Video

With platforms like Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video, Facebook Live, video is a big trend online that will continue to grow.
Traditional content that people had to watch on their TV in the past is now available through their smartphones at the touch of their fingertips.

According to Cisco, 82% of internet traffic will be through video by 2021 but you don’t have to wait till 2021, you can start taking advantage of the trend now.

Share of video in web traffic by 2021


As consumers spend more time on their smartphones watching videos, advertisers are expected to spend $20 billion on mobile video in 2019, up from $2 billion in 2015.

Daily time spent watching online videos

In a 2017 Facebook earnings call, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, “I see video as a megatrend. That’s why I’m going to keep putting video first across our family of apps.”
One of the main drivers of the mobile internet video market is creating live, in-the-moment videos. Cisco reports that by 2021, live video is going to make up 13% of total video traffic compared to 3% in 2016.

Global Internet Video Traffic

Here are some reasons why live video so attractive and expected to grow:

i). It’s authentic: In some cases, editing may take the originality out of it and smart consumers know that they are only being shown what the business wants you to see. But with live video, viewers can see events as they occur and there’s no feeling of a “doctored” video.

ii). It’s cheaper: Editing videos and other production costs can eat into your marketing budget through time and labor. With a live video, your only need is a camera and internet connection.

iii). It activates FOMO: With an uploaded video, social media users can always come back to view it. For a live video though, there’s some thrill in watching it live.

There are many ways you can apply live videos for your business. Some are:

i). Hosting an industry event: When your business hosts an industry event, it can be an opportunity to establish your reputation in your industry to prospects and customers by recording it as it happens.

ii). Product launch: This is one way to add glamour to your product launch. You can create more awareness for your product and viewers can see the demonstration of how to use it.

Apart from live videos, there are many other ways to use video for your business. Many website visitors today prefer watching videos to reading a text because it’s easier to visualize the concepts.

Having video versions of your written content gives you an opportunity to reach a wider audience and when you consider that YouTube is the second largest search engine, then it creates a lot of opportunities you can generate for your business.


7. Voice Search

With the improvement in voice recognition, voice searches have been increasingly getting more popular. Smart speakers can be used to order items and control smart devices in your home solely through verbal commands.

According to a study by OC&C Strategy Consultants, voice commerce was a $1.8 billion retail segment in the U.S. and $200 million in the U.K. in 2017. This value is expected to rise to $40 billion in the U.S. and $5 billion in the U.K. by 2022.

Voice search commerce sale

There are many reasons why voice command leads to profits. Some of them are:

i). Voice search is easier: It’s easier and safer for people who are on the move to talk to their phone rather than type. With voice command, you can still type while walking without breaking your stride.

ii). Voice search is faster: People can talk faster than they can type, which means they can also perform a voice search faster.

Now, you may be wondering how these affect your business. Here are a few reasons why you should optimize your website for voice searches:

  • Voice search usage is increasing on mobile: in 2016, voice searches accounted for 20% of searches on Android devices and it’s only getting higher.
  • Smart Speakers are becoming more popular: with the introduction of Amazon Echo a few years ago, followed by the Google Assistant and Apple Home pod, smart speakers are becoming popular household items. According to research by NPR and Edison Research, 39 million Americans currently own a smart speaker.

16% of Americans own smart speakers in their home

The same study found that 31% of smart speaker owners have added an item to their cart to review it later to purchase and 29% have researched an item they are interested in.

Ways people are using smart speakers

3) The majority of people using voice search are performing a local search: When people perform a voice search, they’re usually looking to buy from a local business.

To optimize your website for local SEO rankings and voice search, you need to note the following:

  • Voice searches are usually longer than typed searches: Since they’re way easier, voice searches tend to be longer than typed searches. Therefore, optimizing your content for long-tail keywords* is important if you’re targeting voice search.
  • Voice searches are conversational: Most people perform voice searches like they’re talking to someone else so it’s important to make your website content conversational.

* More about creating voice-command friendly content: Some experts think voice could comprise 50% of 2019 searches. Therefore, this makes long-tail SEO strategy more vital than ever. Why? People tend to voice search with full sentences and questions, not a specific domain name or a few keywords. Factors like loading time and site organization are also becoming more important in an age of quick, on-the-go mobile and voice search.

Think about your own website and its loading time. Is it worth investing in a professional audit and a capable web designer experienced in optimizing for mobile and voice search to stay up with the trends of 2019?

Also, as search engines grow more and more sensitive to user intent, it becomes increasingly vital that every image, video, and piece of content is appropriately tagged with meta descriptions and alt-text. Search engines use these bits of information to promptly categorize and serve up your content to users. Without them, you lose traffic – more so in 2019.


8. Augmented Reality or Virtual Reality

How powerful will your marketing be if your prospects can test your product right now before making any commitment? You can eliminate most of the risk that prospects take when they decide to buy your product for the first time.

Using augmented/virtual reality to release your product ensures that there’s no risk on your prospect’s part and shows that you are ahead of the game. Here’s a breakdown between the two:

Augmented reality inserts objects into a real-life setting. This allows people to add an item to an environment and see how it will look like when the object is included in it.

Augmented reality

Virtual reality creates a completely new environment that an individual can experience and besides using it in games, businesses can also use it for marketing purposes.

Both technologies have been increasing in usage over the years. According to eMarketer, 48.1 million Americans will experience augmented reality at least once per month in 2018. That figure is expected to rise to 54.4 million in 2019.

Augmented Reality Users in US

Likewise, 36.7 million Americans are expected to experience virtual reality in 2018. That figure will probably rise to 49.2 million in 2019. And Business Innovation Center predicts that the AR/VR technology will reach a market volume of $150 billion by 2020.

Virtual Reality Users in United States

One of the most popular applications of augmented reality is from IKEA.

With IKEA’s augmented reality app, individuals about to buy a piece of furniture can see how it will fit into space they want to put it in. The app got 8.5 million downloads and many potential buyers.

IKEA is using Augmented Reality App for furniture buyers

To give people a glimpse of what driving in its new SUV is like, Volvo used the Google Cardboard to take users through a mountain drive in the Volvo XC90 luxury SUV using virtual reality. How nice is it to virtually drive a car before you have to drive it?


9. Native Advertising

People are exposed to many ads on a daily basis. Here’s an example of a native ad on The New York Times website.

Native Ad, The New York Times example

But most prospects don’t want blatant selling or feel like a product is pushed down their throats. In some cases, website visitors get pop up ads that interfere with their user experience.

It frustrates the user when ads make it difficult to view a web page in peace which is one of the reasons the number of installed ad blockers has been increasing over the years. In 2016, 24.4% of U.S. internet users blocked ads. That figure is expected to rise to 30.1% in 2018.

Ad blockers usage over years

Since prospects are already using ad blockers, one way to get your message across is through native advertising.

The main essence of native ads is that they’re not supposed to look like ads. And in most cases, a native ad would be mistaken as normal content on a page if it’s not labeled as an ad.

The most popular way that native ads are used is on social media where users are most receptive. Apart from social media, Amazon is also playing a major role in the growth of native ads.

eMarketer expects native ads to grow faster than the total U.S. display market. The amount spent on native ads in 2018 is expected to reach $32.9 billion, 58.3% of the total display ad spending. In 2019, this is even expected to rise to $41.14 billion, 61.4% of the total ad spending.

Native display ad spending in US

They further explained in the report that 77% of all mobile display ad dollars will be spent on native ads and 96% on native social advertising.

Below is an example of a native ad on apartment therapy by the Mindy Project show on Hulu. One thing you’ll notice is that the ad suits the website’s content about apartments:

Native ad example on Hulu. The content of ad relates to the content of page

With the use of native advertising, Toshiba got a 0.78% engagement rate on its ads compared to 0.14% that it got through traditional mobile ads.


10. User-Generated Content

One of the best ways to market your product is to show your prospects how your current customers are using it. There are 2 advantages that user-generated content has over most of the other marketing channels available to a business:

i). It convinces prospects: With user-generated content, your current customers are marketing your products for you. It’s like a word-of-mouth campaign. Your customers have nothing to gain, but a sense of belonging.

According to Bazaarvoice, user-generated content has an impact on the buying decision of 84% of millennials and 70% of baby boomers.

User Generated Content impact on buyers

ii). It’s free: You don’t have to spend on this type of marketing. And it’s more effective than most of the marketing channels you use. In fact, its biggest appeal is that it’s free.

Prospects are persuaded because a consumer who understands their needs is marketing your product.

Tourism Queensland wanted to build more awareness for its brand. It told people to apply for the best job in the world. And it went viral as 35,000 people created video applications. This led to an estimated $368m in media coverage, 8.4 million unique website visits, and 55 million page views.


11. Events and Experiences

They might seem like one-off blips on your marketing radar, but real-life events where people can network, celebrate, and hang out together are actually fuel for your digital marketing efforts.

Millennials, who now own big-time Fortune 500 buying power, have resurrected record players creating 12 times the growth in sales. This generation grew up in a virtual world, yet as adults they spend their dollars inordinately on physical objects and real-life experiences.

So when brands decide to appeal to a younger, cooler market, they branch out into the real world, not just the virtual one. Pop-up brand experiences, festival appearances, local events small and large – any unique, colorful, tangible, memorable way customers can interact with your people and your products is the wave of the future.


12. A Rise in Adwords

If you’re like everybody else in the digital marketing universe, you’ll be spending more marketing dollars on Adwords in 2019 than you did in 2018. Search advertising revenue has been marching up and to the right since 2016, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Why? To put it plainly, search ads work when you manage them well. If that surprises you, it’s time to get a PPC agency to reevaluate your Adwords strategy. A mismanaged suite of PPC ads can drain your budget, but with the right planning, oversight, and optimization, your Adwords spend will become an ROI machine, and investing even more in 2019 will be a given.


Stay Aware of Trends but Remember The Big Picture

2019 is a digital marketing year to look forward to. With these new trends, there are enough ways to attract more customers to your business and satisfy them. However, there’s a lot of work to be done to stay ahead of the marketing curve in 2019. Lots of content work to stay afloat amid Google’s algorithm changes, planning and set up to make great use of AI for marketing, reimagining and repurposing email as a nurture tool, thoughtful positioning to take advantage of the potential in push notifications…the list goes on and on.

Even with great teams in place, it’s good to have an expert SEO company in your corner keeping an eye on the big picture. If you need a trusted crew of experts to help you audit your 2019 marketing plans, Cardinal Digital Marketing can help.

So knowing what’s to come in 2019, which strategies are you planning to implement in the coming year?


Alex Membrillo Cardinal CEO

Alex Membrillo

Founder and CEO

Alex Membrillo is the CEO of Cardinal, a digital marketing agency focused on growing multi location companies. His work as CEO of Cardinal has recently earned him the honor of being selected as a member of the 2018 Top 40 Under 40 list by Georgia State University as well as 2015 and 2016 Top 20 Entrepreneur of metro Atlanta by TiE Atlanta, Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 2016 Small Business Person of the Year,and the Digital Marketer of the Year by Technology Association of Georgia (TAG).