An Unpopular List of Marketing Trends for 2019

This morning, after celebrating Geraldine’s James Beard Writing Award nomination, I foolishly Google’d “marketing trends 2019“. I’m working on some presentations, and was hoping to tie back… blah blah blah… doesn’t matter. What matters is that the results are awful. Nachos-with-fake-cheese awful. Freezer-burned-waffles awful. Gas-station-hot-dog awful.

Just like you’d expect, there’s a bunch of lists from the usual suspects — Hubspot, CMO, Entrepreneur, Forbes (which Google really, really needs to ban) — but what stood out was that, of the top 10 results, I could not find one item on one list that I’d agree would have a major impact on marketing in 2019. NOT ONE.

Here are just a few examples:

“Data-Driven Creativity Will Be A Strategic Differentiator In Customer Experience”
CMO (even though they really don’t deserve a link for this)

“A Turn To The Human Side Of Marketing”
Forbes’ Agency Council (who deserves even less of a link for this)

“People are cautious about security.”
Entrepreneur (who might have used a mediocre aggregator AI to write this)

“Video Content”
Hubspot (love y’all, but how is that a trend?)

These are hardly trends, they’re hardly new for 2019, and worst, they are completely non-actionable. There is almost nothing you can read in these ten, long, overlay-after-pop-up-ad-after-cookie-consent-filled pieces of drek that will make you a better, smarter, more likely-to-succeed marketer.

I want to dream that Google’s trolling searchers. Maybe they really don’t want marketers to hone their craft, so they hand-selected these as some of the worst of the worst, and put them front and center to throw us off. Hey, a guy can dream.

So, along with my bitter complaints, I thought I’d share what I believe to be real trends in marketing for 2019 and beyond. These are just my opinions, they’re probably going to be unpopular (plenty of folks on Twitter have taken issue already), but they have one thing those lists don’t… Criteria for inclusion.

My three criteria for making this list are:

  1. The phenomenon is relatively new, or is having a new kind of impact
  2. There is a measurable difference between marketing without consideration of the trend vs. with it
  3. Learning more about this thing can make us better marketers by informing strategic or tactical decisions about where we put budget and effort in the months and years ahead

Cool? Cool. Let’s get into it.

Rand’s Five, Unpopular Trends that Will Impact Marketing in 2019 and 2020

  1. The US (and probably many other parts of the world) will experience a recession in the next few years. Companies, investors, and consumers are already making behavioral changes with marketing impacts.
  2. Western governments are a combination of unwilling or unable to take intelligent action to protect their citizens from the undue influence of big businesses and monopolies. This results in friction-adding, web-harming legislation like GDPR (which is annoying, but relatively minor), the loss of Net Neutrality protections (which could really suck for less-well-off Americans), and Article 11 and 13 (which are unequivocally terrifying, and backed only by a few big European publishers and copyright owners who don’t realize that it will harm even them). More broadly, it means a winner-takes-most system; the exact opposite of what the innovation of a public WWW promised.
  3. There aren’t enough net new Internet users for the Internet giants (mostly Google and Facebook, but Amazon, Apple, Reddit, Twitter, and others, too) to post the revenue numbers they need, so they’re extracting money by competing with publishers, cannibalizing clicks, limiting organic reach, and making many channels pay-to-play.
  4. Voice Answers have the potential to disrupt any competitive opportunity to appear in results and earn traffic and value. This affects Google, most obviously, but Amazon’s Alexa, and Apple’s devices could have similar, though less-wide-ranging impacts.
  5. There’s an emerging, broad societal belief that overuse of social networks and heavy web content consumption do more harm than good. Economically privileged groups are already shifting to a culture of less screen time, especially for their children.

In addition to sharing those, I thought I’d also share my curmudgeonly opinions on things that could reasonably be called “trends” but which I don’t actually believe will impact web marketing much in the years ahead (at least, not more than incrementally).

Five Things I Don’t Think Deserve to Be Web Marketing Trend

  • AI – first off, AI and machine learning are not the same thing. Second, true AI is still a ways off (more than 5 years IMO). And third, machine learning, while it was absolutely a big trend in 2010 or 2011, is now in incremental improvement and adoption mode.
  • Voice Search – yes, voice search is different than voice answers. A machine that responds with a single, audio answer vastly changes the marketing landscape of how people think about search. A machine that accepts voice input but still shows options on a screen of results (like most Google Voice searches on mobile or desktop device) doesn’t change much of anything. When Google releases stats about “voice search” I don’t worry much. “Voice answers” are the cause for concern.
  • Chatbots – I’ve always been a skeptic, and I think the last five years of adoption suggests this is a niche technology that’s in incremental growth mode.
  • Beacons – for a hot minute, several years ago, it seemed like these might tie together offline and online in interesting ways. But unless you’re a giant retail or service business, they really haven’t (and even if you are a giant player, the marketing changes beacons have brought about have been incremental at most).
  • Virtual and/or Augmented Reality – too niche. Even in gaming, the adoption has been much slower and more stunted than all the hype of the last decade suggested.
  • Blockchain – as above. Not only too niche, but I think the cratering of crypto has irreparably harmed perception, at least for the short term.
  • Native ads, video, emphemeral content, micro-influencers, mobile-first indexing, mobile payments – yes, they’re all growing in adoption, but no, I don’t think any of them are going to have “breakout years” in 2019 or 2020 or even 2021. They’re just part of the marketing ecosystem now, churning along.

I know I’m being a bit harsh and negative in this post, and I apologize to the authors of those many, many results that will almost surely outrank this one in Google’s “2019 marketing trends” and variant SERPs.

Look forward to your comments and feedback — it is *totally* OK to vehemently disagree.