10 digital marketing trends to watch in 2020

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Ten years ago, display advertising was in its infancy and Promoted Tweets were yet to make their debut. Times have changed considerably. Intelligent and automated technologies have increasingly super-charged digital marketing efficiency — so much so that the creativity versus data debate has dominated the last decade. But for marketers scrambling to finalise plans and budgets for the year ahead now that January has limped to a close, there is only one key matter to settle: determining what exactly the rest of 2020 will hold.

We asked a cross-section of industry experts what the next 12 months will bring

To answer this question, we asked a cross-section of industry experts what the next 12 months will bring. According to the specialists, we can expect a mix of fine-tuning current practices — including more precise targeting across the web and connected TV (CTV) — and leveraging emerging opportunities in gaming, and beyond.

1. Brand safety definitions evolve


Victoria Chappell, VP Marketing, APAC & EMEA, Integral Ad Science (IAS)

“Context is now king for advertisers. Marketers’ understanding of consumer perception is evolving from a binary focus of brand safety to an increasingly nuanced view of brand suitability. Emerging as a dominant consideration for marketers of all stripes, in the not too distant future they will likely be prioritising brand suitability as much as brand safety."

“Brand suitability tactics have the power to both improve brand awareness and increase brand equity. Brand suitability is much more than avoiding running ads alongside obviously inappropriate content, such as terrorism or hate speech. Instead, 2020 will be about brands weighing up their risk threshold against their appetite for reach. This year, the industry will begin to look into standardisation and consistent measurement, to provide a clear baseline for suitability decisions. Marketers, publishers, and ad tech firms must begin to understand that a dramatic shift is underway.” 

2. Customer loyalty re-takes centre stage


Adam Singolda, CEO and Founder, Taboola 

"Next year, we’ll see brands reprioritise what matters most: profitable growth, not just growth for the sake of growth. Historically, growth has meant spending more to build market share on the hope that market dominance will eventually translate into pricing power and eventual profits." 

“But that model will shift. As the cost of user acquisition continues to grow, 2020 will see marketers place a greater emphasis on loyalty. Mary Meeker cited this in her last Internet Trends Report, noting customer acquisition costs might be "rising to unsustainable levels." Building long term relationships with consumers, learning how their affinities for things ebb and flow, and delivering constant improvement in marketing messages will be key to 2020 business success.”

3. Gaming joins the marketing mix


Steve Evans, Sector Head Technology & Entertainment, Harris Interactive

“With Xbox testing its xCloud streaming service and Google’s launch of Stadia in 2019, we expect video game streaming will be a key focus for the year, and the decade, ahead. Our recent research has shown significant interest in this trend from consumers and, while these services are still in early days of development, brands will be looking to capitalise on the latest evolution of video gaming."

“As streaming technology enters the market, providers will need to closely monitor consumer response to make certain their offerings meet expectations. Quality, catalogue, experience, and accessibility will be important factors in the success of these innovative new services. In 2020 and beyond, it’ll be exciting to see how brands anticipate and react to the demands of their target markets.”

4. Transparency guides automated spend


Alex Bradbury, Buyer Development Director, Sovrn

“2020 is already shaping up to be a good year for programmatic. With digital expected to absorb half of advertising budgets globally, volumes of spend flowing through automated pipes will inevitably grow. But this investment will also be distributed with greater care. Transparency has become table stakes in the programmatic space — in the year ahead; we will see marketers carefully consider their choices and divide spend across a smaller selection of trusted partners."

“This, in turn, will lead to a slimming of the ecosystem. Those that offer clarity and generate tangible value will succeed, while those who don’t will find it increasingly hard to operate. Yet this won’t necessarily be negative. With the programmatic landscape populated by fewer inhabitants there will be more opportunities for high-quality players to innovate and a higher standard of practices set, bringing trust back to programmatic.”

5. Esports means serious business 


James Draper, CEO, Bidstack 

“If there were any doubts remaining about the status of esports in mainstream culture, 2019 has quelled them. This year we witnessed the largest esports events to date, including the Fortnite World Cup which offered over $30 million in prize money, and ‘The International’ Dota 2, where a similarly high figure was awarded. The industry is estimated to have generated over $1 billion in revenue by the end of 2020, a 26.7% increase from 2018. There is no arguing that what was once a niche area is now a leading form of global entertainment." 

“Celebrities, musicians and sports stars all want a piece of the pie, and many are choosing to invest in the best teams. The most successful esports players are becoming superstars in their own right, attending movie premieres and guesting on talk shows. And as popularity continues to skyrocket, the opportunities for brands are boundless." 

2020 will be the year major household brands enter the game as they aim to engage a younger audience. But they should be wary – esports fans don’t appreciate those who jump on the bandwagon solely for personal gain. Brands need to prove they genuinely care about the teams and events they sponsor to avoid any negative backlash and cement themselves in this new era of entertainment.” 

6. TV narrows its targeting focus


Thomas Bremond, General Manager, International, FreeWheel

“As addressable TV advertising continues to mature, focus on refining the current business model will increase. The market is already starting to see a shift away from broad demographic-based planning and targeting, and towards more sophisticated audience-centric activity. In 2020, this evolution will inevitably drive a desire for scalable methods of identity resolution that can quickly and efficiently produce the unified audience insight advertisers need."

“Yet to achieve the 360-degree view of audience habits required for precise targeting, advertisers must attempt to match data across multiple TV networks, content owners and distributors. Tools have begun to emerge that leverage the principles of blockchain technology to create a unified and secure advertising identity layer. By pinpointing and linking data points from multiple channels with specific audiences, these solutions are showing that it’s possible for advertisers to match viewers and inventory partners, without disclosing proprietary data.”

7. TV steps up measurement accuracy


Marlene Grimm, Head of Customer Success International, TVSquared

“In the past, advertisers have assumed that a programme genre is an automatic proxy for an audience, when this simply is not the case. As we move into the next decade, brands must focus on looking at data-driven insights to facilitate their understanding of the consumer’s needs and use this to effectively target ads."

“In 2020, advertisers can use performance data to highlight the most successful TV spots and the genres proving to be most captivating for an audience. Without these insights, the content and art of advertising will be irrelevant as the intended audience will never see the brand’s messaging. In other words, advertisers will be utilising the ‘science’ of data-driven insights to enhance the ‘art’ of TV advertising.” 

8. Privacy tops the CTV agenda


Ben Barokas Co-founder and CEO, Sourcepoint

“Over the last year, consumer protection of digital data has become increasingly influential as media owners consider the ways to become compliant with emerging global data privacy regulations. However, this shouldn’t be limited to digital display." 

“In 2020, with CTV audiences continuing to grow, broadcasters and the OTT industry need to consider their responsibilities in protecting the data of their multi-platform, multi-location audience. Companies that put procedures in place to ensure they’re legally compliant and engaging with viewers on their data preferences will benefit from more robust direct relationships and greater cross-audience insight. As a result, information given with consent can support a more tailored advertising approach.”

9. OTT providers protect their assets 


Charlie Johnson, VP UK, and Ireland, Digital Element

“The OTT market is crowded and, although this is nothing new, we’ve recently seen a huge spike in even more players looking to get into the space – as we know consumers are dictating high-quality content on-demand and are starting to move away from the conventional linear channels."

“One of the major changes over the last decade has to be the increasing trend from content creators now choosing to stream directly themselves rather than via other platforms. Alongside this, AVOD as a service is no longer being overlooked and many large players in the industry are offering this model alongside their SVOD offering to maximise engagement."

"While the increase in content and streaming services is a positive for consumers and the industry as a whole, the potential issues this can bring – especially users trying to access restricted entertainment content – must be at the top of agendas as we look ahead to the next decade. The importance of Digital Rights Management will be key for new entrants in the streaming space to not only stand out, but also to prioritise quality and protect revenues through effectively harnessing the most effective technology and premium data available.”

10. Innovation sees the rise of AI in voice advertising


Niki Stoker, COO, A Million Ads

“In recent years digital advertising has left creativity behind in the data-driven race. But this is now slowly changing as brands turn their focus back to the consumer experience. Technological innovations will increasingly power this creativity in areas such as voice, and in a way that would’ve been unthinkable a few years ago."

“In 2020, we’ll see advertisers adopt AI to translate and edit creative in real-time, which brings new potential for scaling campaigns at speed in different languages across multiple national markets. AI will also drive advances in the realm of synthetic voice. Soon it’ll be normal to licence celebrity voices for advertising campaigns in the same way we licence music tracks. This will open up a range of opportunities to personalise campaigns, connect with consumers on an individual emotional level, and drive behaviour change on behalf of brands.”

The year ahead will see a more balanced approach to innovation

Constant disruption has always been the mantra of digital marketing, but the year ahead will see a more balanced approach to innovation. Instead of seizing every emerging tool and platform, the focus will be on refining existing capabilities and harnessing a carefully curated selection of new opportunities. For marketers, keeping up with industry development will mean a stronger emphasis on quality rather than quantity, alongside a return to the ultimate fundamental — getting the basics of personal and engaging customer experience right.