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As we welcome 2019, it’s time to look at what this year will bring for advertisers and publishers across our network and for the digital marketing industry as a whole. Here’s what some of our experts across the UK and European regions predict for the coming year.

1. International expansion through technological advances

2018 saw many retailers and brands expand – or continue to expand – internationally. In Britain alone, more than 35% of transactions driven for Rakuten Marketing clients are now taking place overseas. The APAC region, in particular, proves popular with advertisers, with our New Horizons report finding that APAC is the most important emerging market for one in ten marketers.

2019 will see more brands taking the opportunity that APAC offers, and utilise technology to adapt their offering to affluent international customers in China, for example. International shopping events, such as Singles’ Day, will continue to become more of a focus for marketers in the UK, set to increase from the 13% of UK marketers who were focused on the event in 2018, while events such as Cyber Week continue to gain traction in France and Germany.

“Singles’ Day is now established but we’ll continue to see these events to be marketed widely by global brands. Brands want a piece of the affluent Chinese market and they will adopt more tools and channels to aid cross-border sales. For example, brands speaking directly to consumers via WeChat integrations and adopting Alipay on sites to cater for Chinese audiences. The number of brands adopting local languages and currency conversions – not just in APAC but around the world – to speak to global audiences will increase,” said Sheetal Sahota, senior manager of network development at Rakuten Marketing.

As Sahota points out, 2019 will see this trend of international growth expand outside of APAC – not only across regions but also verticals.

“Advertisers in luxury and fashion retail are expanding into markets like APAC. Not only will this continue into new markets – for example, Eastern Europe and the Nordics – but also other types of advertisers will begin expanding. This will lead to innovations on the part of third parties to help advertisers overcome potential blockers, such as distribution, and it will be interesting to see how this moves the industry forward,” said Jeremy Coster, VP of client growth at Rakuten Marketing.

Distribution is one of the three key influential factors that will shape international expansion for advertisers and their partners, said VP of Strategic Partnership & Supply, Rakhee Jogia: “On the supply side, there are three key questions to uncover to determine where international expansion will be most impactful for advertisers. One – where is the demand? Two – where are the publishers? And three – where is distribution easiest, or even possible?”

For Rakuten Marketing, the focus on international expansion will continue as well, added Anthony Capano, managing director EMEA: “2019 will include some big advancements in our programmatic technology to drive further efficiencies and performance in the affiliate channel for both our advertisers and publishers. In addition, international expansion remains a core focus for us. We are continuing to expand our publisher network and payment infrastructure to support our clients’ international growth objectives.”

2. Influencer marketing will become more data-led

Diving into one area of marketing, 2019 will see influencer marketing become more sophisticated in several ways. Our 2017 survey found that 60% of marketers admit they don’t use an attribution model to assign credit for influencer sales, indicating that the value of influencer partnerships isn’t fully understood – or scrutinised. 

Sahota predicts that there will be more data-led decision making when choosing an influencer to partner with, and believes there will be continued debate around issues related to influencer effectiveness, transparency and partnership disclosures: “Data will increasingly be used to vet the quality of influencers to clamp down on influencer-fraud. There will be increasing scrutiny from authorities and audiences alike about how influencers are being paid for creating content and how these partnerships are being disclosed.”

This will ultimately result in long-term partnerships and ambassador-style relationships being a focus for brands hoping to see more authentic content that resonates with their audience. A likely knock-on effect of this is the continued rise of micro-influencers. These influencers may have a smaller audience than their celebrity counterparts but can generate more resonance due to their niche appeal. 

In conjunction, brands and advertisers will look to understand the performance of their influencer marketing activity more accurately and tailor their campaigns to objectives accordingly. For example, working with celebrity influencers to generate brand awareness but working with micro-influencers to more directly generate sales.

3. The tipping point for attributed ROI

For a long time now, “this year” has been heralded as the year that we will see, finally, the widespread adoption of attributed measurement. As 2019 gets underway, we’re closer than ever to that happening.

“2019 will accelerate not only the need for attribution but also the opportunity. There will be increased demand from the C-suite to understand marketing ROI properly, driven by the maturing of the industry and the move away from the desire to try new things, to the need to properly understand the value of mature channels. Secondly, vendors will be challenged more under increased scrutiny due to ad fraud and the demand for ethical advertising. And finally, better tools will be available at the tech necessary to understand ROI properly increases in availability,” said Coster.

“We’re reaching the tipping point where the reasons to implement an attributed understanding of ROI are outweighing the reasons not to. Those who don’t embrace it will suffer.”

This leads on to our fourth prediction…

4. The end of ‘performance at all costs’

The demand for a deeper understanding of ROI will extend beyond attribution and mark the end of ‘performance at all costs.

“Now is finally the time for the move away from last-click ROI. Not only will we see more adoption of attributed performance, but also a move to softer KPIs. For example, qualitative metrics; measures of brand relevance and safety that help give advertisers an understanding of how well their look and feel is being maintained through advertising,” said Nick Fletcher, VP of client success.

This move to measurement that looks beyond the performance as we know it is perhaps linked to the growing scrutiny programmatic advertising has been under. 78% of programmatic buying tech owners cite lack of transparency around media buys as a major challenge, while 59% say brand safety is an issue. According to eMarketer, advertisers will demand clearer reporting, fee transparency and guaranteed brand safety from ad agencies and other vendors.

It is not just advertiser demands that will herald the end of ‘performance at all costs’. As the industry comes to terms with the impact of GDPR – and of the upcoming ePrivacy Regulation – consumers are becoming more aware of their rights over their own personal data. Although GDPR impacts businesses outside the EU, it’s also worth noting that data regulation will become even more of a global talking point as other regions continue to update their privacy laws, for example, the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018. Not taking significant steps towards compliance will no longer be an option.

As consumers become more accustomed to having control over their data, managing their rights through consent management platforms, and even adopting ad blocking when they’ve really run out of patience with disruptive advertising, targeting audiences will likely become harder for advertisers and their partners.

This undoubtedly presents a challenge but also creates an opportunity. In the UK, 17.2 million consumers agree that they’re more likely to engage with adverts that are tailored to them, indicating that there is a huge appetite for targeting advertising – provided it is done correctly. To balance this appetite with privacy fears and ads ‘creeping consumers out’ (which over half of British adults say personalised adverts do), brands must work harder to deliver creative experiences that respect consumer data and add value, rather than disrupt with irrelevant and ignorable ads.

Jogia agrees, pointing out that this aligns nicely with the IAB’s movement to re-educate the industry on what ‘performance’ means, and what it means to be creative and tell an engaging story.

5. New content formats and publisher models will shake up affiliate marketing

Onto our final trend for 2019, which is also linked to advertisers having to take a more creative approach to reach the right consumers. As the Internet of Things (IoT) becomes increasingly developed and audiences move away from traditional devices, brands will have to work harder and more creatively to reach them. This will have a significant impact on affiliate marketing.

“As people use more and more devices as part of their daily lives and consume content in new formats, including video and audio, rich media will continue to evolve via different platforms, like Spotify, for example. Publishers will think more about experiential journeys for users, using AI, augmentation and VR. We’re also likely to see more connected devices powering publisher models – for example like how Samsung is using its phone capabilities (Bixby) to monetise discovery and shopping,” said Sahota.

As well as this, we’re likely to see affiliate – as well as other marketing channels – take learnings from programmatic display. As eMarketer points out, new programmatic infrastructure is being laid for other channels and formats, including out-of-home, audio and television. What puts such ‘new’ programmatic channels at an advantage is that they are able to learn from display’s programmatic journey and take steps to ensure transparency and brand safety straight from the off.


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