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The Changing Complexity of Advertising

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Once it was enough just to be careful where you placed the company logo or how you stated an advertising message. It was fairly simple. Prudence dictated that the company’s persona should not appear in a publication or in a position where accompanying content would cast a negative light on the brand. Certain publications were off limits, depending on the brand and the publication’s content. Messaging followed some basic dos and don’ts, usually established by some unseen censor whose job it was to monitor the sensitivities of “Joe or Josephine public” and establish some simple set of norms to be followed. Generalized messages were broadcasted to a wide audience and communication channels were fewer and relatively easy to monitor.

Careless advertisers were often chastised for testing the limits of the accepted norms of society, presenting content and images that nudged the outer edges of what was considered responsible behavior. Offenders either earned the rebuke and condemnation of a community or received accolades from those who appreciated a marketer’s sense of adventure. Either way, the risk of serious damage to a brand’s reputation was often tempered by an off-setting reward of increased public notoriety.

Ethical conduct in advertising and marketing has long been ripe with controversy and the subject of intense debates. The field of advertising is quickly becoming an environment where the definition of responsible is increasingly fragmented and more comprehensive than ever before. The process of creative discipline in advertising is changing dramatically and at warp speed. Parsing every word of content and scrutinizing every image in order to ensure (as much as possible) that the final effort doesn’t offend an increasingly diverse universe of consumers is a challenging effort.

“Niche is the new mass market,” says director and producer Justin Ching. “Gone are the days when you can appeal to everyone with your messaging, because of audience fragmentation.” Thirty years ago it was enough to sell a man a close, comfortable shave; today razor makers are selling a myriad of socially responsible issues as much as they are the blade and razor. Advertising is becoming a boxed set of social messaging and product features and benefits, carefully crafted to sell a solution while avoiding offending any one consumer or market segment.

YouTube is defending itself against what many are finding as objectionable content. Several big-name companies have pulled advertisements from the site over concerns their ads were running on videos of young children, primarily girls, on which pedophiles were making objectifying comments. In response, YouTube has disabled thousands of inappropriate comments and has suspended more than 400 offensive channels. “Any content, including viewer comments, that endangers minors is abhorrent and we have clear policies prohibiting this on YouTube,” a company statement said. “We took immediate action by deleting accounts and channels, reporting illegal activity to authorities and disabling comments on tens of millions of videos that include minors. There’s more to be done, and we continue to work to improve and catch abuse more quickly.”

It is hard to imagine that YouTube or any other marketing platform would deliberately risk such embarrassment and condemnation from its advertisers. The situation is an overt example of the difficulty and complexity of the challenges being faced by advertisers today.

Artificial Intelligence’s Rate of Ascension to Reality

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It wasn’t that long ago that developers of robotic machine tools that replicated many traditional human actions downplayed the idea that machine intelligence would one day take over more than a few menial and repetitious functions in the workplace. There would always be the need for human intelligence interaction with the machines in order for the robots to perform their tasks. At least that is what most early developers and supporters of artificial intelligence (AI) predicted. AI is the science of computers and machines developing intelligence like humans in order to perform simple and complex functions that most of us humans do on a daily basis.

The early defense, while calming and reassuring at the time, is giving way to a reality where artificial intelligence is rapidly impacting millions of workers who once thought their life and profession would be safe from the thinking machines. At the same time all of mankind is benefitting from the rapid development and deployment of artificial thinking systems.

Now scientists openly predict that the day when AI surpasses humans is upon us. At least the time is a lot closer than anyone previously dared to surmise. In 2019 it is likely that visual lenses will allow consumers to visually react to a purchase consideration and initiate and complete the transaction. An important benefit of these AI-powered lenses is the elimination of barriers caused by limitations of human language. Finding the right words to describe something will no longer impair clear and immediate understanding. 

As consumers demand a more personal connection with brands, they freely volunteer personal information that allows AI to respond with more personalized and comprehensive messages. While current AI is making short work of simple and menial operations, this year will see incremental advancements in machine learning applications. As the technology becomes more proficient, more time and energy will need to be spent on reassuring society of how the technology works and the ways it may affect not only individuals but whole communities.

In the coming year AI will continue to revolutionize whole industries where human interface and personal interactions with customers were once thought to be irreplaceable. Automation of many traditional processes in the retail industry will bring about efficiencies that can no longer be overlooked by retail executive suites. Humans currently account for 45 percent of call center interactions with customers, a number predicted to drop to 14 percent by 2022.

As the benefits to this expanding technology are overtly touted, serious concern among many scientists and technologists are beginning to be heard. Some are sounding an alarm to the risk of AI being used to cause harm or mayhem to society. Many are calling for regulation and oversight of the AI industry to ensure the peaceful development and application of the expanding technology. “I am really quite close, I am very close, to the cutting edge in AI and it scares the hell out of me,” said Elon Musk, founder of Space X and Tesla. “It’s capable of vastly more than almost anyone knows and the rate of improvement is exponential. I am not normally an advocate of regulation and oversight; I think one should generally err on the side of minimizing those things but this is a case where you have a very serious danger to the public.”

The rate of acceptance of any new technology that promises to significantly disrupt societal norms often regulates the technology’s progression. Understanding the capabilities of AI and how it can safely benefit society will ultimately determine the rate of implementation. Human terror, real or imagined, of being ruled by the very machines it creates may just temper the enthusiasm for its rapid ascension to reality.

Lower the Number of Abandoned Shopping Carts with Improved User Experience

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In the beginning, that time when the internet was this shiny new thing whose intention was often misunderstood and which was capable of disrupting accepted norms in conducting business and social interactions, website design focused mostly on the technology and all the gee-whiz things a talented techy could command new digital devices to perform. The vast majority of business managers and leaders had only a passing fundamental knowledge of the technology and an even more limited appreciation as to how it all would revolutionize the seller/consumer relationship. The focus initially and for some period of time was on the technology; the science of making it all function consistently and dependably. Today, the importance of user experience, one of many new terms to be added to language dictionaries around the world since the introduction of digital communications, is still misunderstood in many digital marketing arenas.

“User Experience or the UX basically compasses all the details of end-users’ interaction with the brand, its products, and its services,” says Don Norman, author of “The Design of Everyday Things.” Getting user experience right is critical to an online retailer’s ability to close the sale. Getting it wrong will result in increased online shopping carts left abandoned. Shopping cart abandonment refers to visitors leaving an online store without purchasing the items in their online carts.  Recent studies by Baymard Institute show that 69.89 percent of online shoppers abandon their shopping carts.

Online shoppers are accustomed to having thousands of choices from online sellers who are out to satisfy consumers’ increasing desire for convenience. Their expectations of service are fueled by sellers who have made it their mission to reduce the number of abandoned shopping carts. Eliminating even the smallest obstacle to consummating the purchase decision is critical to achieving sales success.

Simplicity is a hallmark of any successful user experience. Consumers are by nature impatient. The process of creating and managing a customer profile must be as simple as possible. Managing customer profiles, address and payment details and tracking purchases are all fundamental to a well-formed user experience. Pages should load quickly and correctly across various devices, functionality should be consistent and dependable with little need for consumers to experience utilization problems. Focus functionality on consumers’ expectations and create a journey from research to the implication of purchase that is seamless and personal. A great user experience will build brand loyalty and result in repeat customers eager to make additional purchases.

Does your website’s user experience need some enhancements? Contact the web design specialists at Junction Creative Solutions today to learn how we can help you lower your number of abandoned shopping carts.

Valentine’s Day Isn’t Just for Lovers Anymore

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Hallmark holidays have always been an opportunity for retailers to rack-up some additional sales. Valentine’s Day, once a day reserved for romance and couples, is trending in some interesting directions. With more than 50 percent of Americans identifying themselves as single and not fully committed to a love relationship, the dynamics of the once romantic holiday are changing.

The changing social norms are not slowing the momentum of spending. This year consumers are expected to spend nearly $20 billion dollars on gifts for their sweetheart, co-worker or favorite pet. Consumers plan to spend just over $26 on pets for Valentine’s Day. But the tradition has not totally gone to the dogs.

The traditional winners in the loving gift department will continue to be candy, flowers and jewelry but gifts of experience are beginning to find favor among consumers.  People aged 25 to 34 will be spending the most on Valentine’s Day gifts this year, dropping an average of $202.76 per person. A poll conducted by the National Retail Federation found “the top reasons consumers chose not to celebrate Valentine’s Day were that they considered it over-commercialized, didn’t have anyone to celebrate with or simply weren’t interested anymore.” Sellers spend less time planning their campaigns in advance of Valentine’s Day than other holidays throughout the year, and most consumers wait longer to shop for their gifts. 

The origins of the lovers’ holiday has been traced back to the second century when Emperor Claudius II executed two religious Martyrs named St Valentine. The original February 14 holiday doesn’t appear to have been about romance or love. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that Hallmark Greeting Card Company’s forbearer started distributing Valentine’s Day cards. By the start of the 21st century, more than 60 percent of Americans celebrated the holiday. Despite the falling popularity of Valentine’s Day, total spending during the holiday continues to rise and the bulk of the spending will be for significant others and spouses. Co-workers, family members, classmates and pets will join the rank of favorite relationships in 2019.

Hey Siri, What’s Up with Voice Search?

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In 2014, Andrew Ng, Chief Scientist at Baidu, predicted that “In five years’ time at least 50 percent of all searches are going to be either through images or speech.” Like the discharge of the starter’s gun at a track and field sporting event, the futurist picked up the quote as if it were an absolute certainty. But as with all predictions the likelihood of certainty is tempered by a healthy amount of those things that are out of the control of even the most enlightened among us. After all, if an early prediction by a well- known global climate change enthusiast would have been accurate, a large number of us living along the east coast of the United States would be living in sea water by now. It is not to say that the predictions of weather or technology won’t still become reality; it’s that the time frame of “sooner or later” may be more accurately realized.

The good news is that the predictions of voice search overtaking the key punch method will most certainly come to pass. The bad news is that the next generation will miss out on typing lessons, learning the art of cursive and creative writing classes. In the end, technology and science and speech lessons will prevail. The time-curve may be drawn by user’s acceptance of the technology, the measure of its importance in their lives and the user’s accessibility to the gadgets, both hard and soft, that will be required to implement voice commands dependably. As it has come to pass in the past, technology will prevail.

Regardless of whether it is 30 percent or 50 percent, 2019 will be the year that voice search commands will significantly change the landscape of internet search. “Voice-only search allows users to browse the web the Internet and consumer information without actually having to scroll through sites on desktops and mobile devices.” Voice search drastically improves the search experience for users. Speaking in short, simple phrases users can expect that their message is received and acted upon with only an occasional, “sorry, I don’t understand” reply. The smart marketer will begin to move their investment in SEO to voice optimization in the coming year in order to improve their brand awareness and online revenue. It is expected that voice search eCommerce will rise to $40 billion by 2022, and whether we are likely to get our feet wet by the rising tide or become drowned in almost total submersion still remains to be seen. So how soon do we divert greater amounts of our marketing budgets to implementing voice search?

Brent Csutoras, digital marketing consultant and Managing Partner at Search Engine Journal says, “This space is going to open up, it is going to provide an opportunity for just about everyone, so stay abreast of what’s happening in this space, watch the technology, and start envisioning your company in that space, and then wait until you have that opportunity to make that a reality. But don’t overstress yourself and feel like you’re failing because you’re not in the space right now.”

Opportunity Awaits Small Businesses that are Optimistic Enough to Brave the Journey

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A recent Federal Reserve forecast for 2019 proposes that the U.S. Economy will grow 2.5 percent in the coming year and inflation will be checked at 2 percent. Such a prediction only a few years ago would have been thought to be the ranting of an overly optimistic and controversial student of economics, or the position statement for a largely discredited, naïve, want-to-be politician.  At the start of this New Year, perhaps the least surprised entity among the business community is small business. Cut from the same cloth of optimism, small businesses in America account for 2 out of every 3 new jobs created.  With unemployment at the lowest level in decades (some predict it could set a record low in 2019 of 3.5 percent), it would appear that the optimists are winning the day.

The accepted thought among a majority of business soothsayers is that the coming year is the best time for those optimistic entrepreneurs to engage their plans and open their dream businesses. The reality is that no one can promise success for anyone venturing into business at any time. While 2018 was generally considered a positive tipping point for small to mid-sized businesses, just over half said operations performed better over previous years, and less than half were willing to venture a prediction of continued growth in 2019. Despite all the positive economic indications, there remains just enough room around the edges of everyone’s crystal ball to manifest a degree of doubt about the size of the expected fortunes to come for small business owners.

Most vulnerable are new and emerging businesses that lack the time to establish a sustainable base in which to weather any downturns in market performance. To survive and prosper, small entities will need to be focused on adopting strategies that gravitate towards growth in 2019, regardless of temporary fluctuations in the economy. Experienced entrepreneurs are painfully aware that failure lurks in the economic shadows occupied by those factors that are just beyond their control. A profound and sustained focus on technology, finance, marketing and public policy will be of paramount importance going forward.

“Customers today have more choices than ever, and they have shown they will gravitate toward those who prioritize the delivery of fast, seamless and personalized service. This is true whether they are ordering lunch, getting their car repaired or making a financial transaction. In my industry of financial services, we’ve already seen large legacy companies start to fall behind smaller startups who offer better user experiences,” says Bernardo Martinez, U.S. managing director at Funding Circle.

Another challenge facing all small to mid-sized businesses is the lack of qualified and motivated employees. With a record 39 percent of small business owners reporting unfilled job openings, finding qualified workers is the single most challenge facing them in 2019.  “Optimism among small business owners continues to push record highs, but they need workers to generate more sales, provide services, and complete projects,” said NFIB President and CEO Juanita D. Duggan. “Two of every three of these new jobs are historically created by the small business half of the economy, so it will be Main Street that will continue to drive economic growth.”

The year 2018 turned out to be a boom-time for non-bank business lending as 80 percent of traditional bank small business loan applications were rejected. The trend in non-bank financing appears to be ripe for continued growth in 2019. Kabbage, an Atlanta-based online lending company established in 2008, says small businesses now access more than $10 million every day via its platform. Despite all the preponderance of predictions, finding success in business is, in itself, a risky business; one where failure or success awaits just around the corner of opportunity and for those optimistic enough to brave the dangers of the journey.

Building Complete Business and Marketing Solutions with Strategic Alliances

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In a blitz-paced technological marketplace going it alone, even for the most established company, is no longer a strategy for optimal success. Strategic alliances are gaining favor around the business world for both small and mega-sized companies who are finding that not all business solutions are born and reared in-house. Successful partnerships are proving that going it alone in a diverse and dynamic business environment may not be the best path to expanding reach in marketing, distribution, or human resources.  Benefits for organizations that join forces include increasing brand strength, attracting new demographics and improving a company’s credibility with new and untapped market segments.

More than 85 percent of companies say that partnerships are essential to their business growth, and more than half say mutually beneficial agreements have helped them acquire new customers and strengthen their brand. A strategic alliance or partnership between two companies comes in the form of a joint contractual relationship. Unlike a merger or joint venture, the partnership allows the participants to maintain their individual identities. Each partner agrees to share proprietary technology, intellectual resources, physical attributes or marketing collateral in order to advance shared goals without losing unique identities. 

According to Booz-Allen & Hamilton, “strategic alliances are sweeping through nearly every industry and are becoming an essential driver of superior growth. Companies participating in alliances report that at much as 18 percent of their revenues are derived from their alliances.” The relationship can produce advantages in scaling up the scope of an emerging business, increase new market penetration, allow for smaller organizations to initiate entry into global market space and reduce operating costs. Larger players can improve inroads into unique and diverse market segments and improve their brand’s reputation with these segments. Other unified ventures are extending the life of some marketers disrupted by the advance of technology on operations.

Barnes & Noble, a once powerful brick and mortar book retailer, found their very dominance and existence threatened by digital formatting of all things readable. Focusing on selling the reading experience, Barnes & Noble formed a strategic alliance with Starbucks, the popular coffee shop retailer. The move provides an opportunity for the book retailer to offer coffee kiosks or small coffee shops within their space, and gives Starbucks the opportunity to efficiently expand local community presence. Such an alliance can work for localized, small coffee shops as well.

To be successful, an alliance between two entities must be mutually beneficial to the goals and objectives of each participant. Clearly defined responsibilities and goals of each partner must be defined at the agreement’s outset. Each organization must be flexible in order to adapt to the impact of the alliance on the differences in each organization’s culture and operating methods. It is necessary in advance to identify what strengths each partner can bring to the new relationship and how each can build trust and respect for one another and their individual objectives   Most importantly, as with any strategic alliance or partnership, there must be benefit and value for both parties.

Influencer Marketing Trending Up for 2019

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According to Am Golhar, founder of Abstract PR, there are an estimated 1.5 million influencers in the digital communication world, and approximately 71% of Generation Z’s digital users have a close relationship with at least one influencer. With Instagram leading the influencer journey, many marketers are lamenting the importance of increasing marketing spend on influencing customers via social media platforms.

Launched in 2010, Instagram continues to grow at a remarkable pace. Just a little moret han 7 years of age, the visual social media platform has surpassed 800 million monthly users and is not only attracting individual social conversations but is proving its worthiness to marketers looking to grow brand awareness and showcase products. With 51 percent of users indicating that they visit the site daily and 70 percent using the platform to search brands, influencer marketing is proving itself as an authentic method to connect with potential customers. Influencer marketing content is delivering an 11 times higher return on investment (ROI) than traditional forms of digital marketing.

Generation Z consumers are proving to be much more active and reactive to social media outlets like YouTube and Instagram than former generations. Businesses need to establish an effective and targeted strategy to engage with this new generation of consumers in order to grab their share of the next big consumer market. In the coming year, influencers will continue to increase their impact on marketing efforts for businesses of all sizes. Participants will continue to focus efforts on specific geographical market segments with targeted and quality content.

The trend in 2019 will require an even greater command for authenticity and transparency as the initial exuberance of the new shiny marketing tool meets with the greater reality across all marketing channels.  Consumers say they trust social networks to guide them to purchase decisions, but some of that trust is being worn away by paid influencers who fail to make important financial disclosures that exist between their content and the brands they are reviewing. 52% are expressing distaste for repetitive advertising offers that are being pitched this holiday season by influencers.  With nearly 54% of consumers indicating “reliability” concerns about some current influencer content, User Generated Content (UGC) is set to receive more attention from marketers in the year ahead. Joe Rohrlich, from Bazaarvoice says, “Today’s consumers are looking to corroborate what they see or hear in one place with the information they find elsewhere.”

Social media influencer marketing is a natural technological segue from the long tested and tried method of “word of mouth” advertising. The former one to one approach to connecting with an expanding audience is being amplified by the internet’s “one to many” social media environment. In a global survey of consumers, Nielsen found that ”83% of consumers trust the recommendations of friends and family over other forms of advertising.”  In 2019 successful brands will find a way to utilize this expansive amount of customer content.

To learn how Junction Creative Solutions (Junction) can help refine and improve your influencer marketing strategy, call 678-686-1125 today.

It’s Important to Select an Effective SEO Provider

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Now that you have a well designed and developed website, it is time to turn it on and ready your organization for a deluge of new business. If you are like most newcomers to the digital marketplace, you’re a little uncertain as to why the billions of online consumers in the vast cyber community are not beating a frantic path to your door.
The internet is not unlike a crowded public space where getting noticed by even a small targeted group of individuals is lost among the noise of the masses. The cyber world is a very, very crowded public space with vast numbers of solution providers looking for problems to solve. How is one to get the attention of even a miniscule number of the masses looking for a solution solver? Similar to the author striving to elevate their prose to the Best Sellers list by connecting with a reader audience, marketers must first get noticed, and being noticed often means gravitating your brand to the top of the most recognized digital search lists.

In order for a website to appear at a prominent position on a search engine, it must conform to the engine’s complex and proprietary algorithms. Understanding the SEO process can be convoluted and complex, requiring the expert services of an outside SEO provider. According to imFORZA, 93 percent of online experiences begin with a search. Therefore, omitting search engine optimization (SEO) from the marketing mix is simply not an option. So how do you choose an SEO professional?

According to CIO Magazine, “Today’s SEO needs to understand all of marketing at a deep level, the psychology of the human race, the specific culture to whom they’re marketing, the social media landscape, web analytics, web design and development, viral marketing, content, product, business models and more.” The process will begin by reaching out to a SEO provider who has significant interest and experience in your particular business, understands your unique selling position, can identify and locate your targeted customers and understands the goals of your website and its mission.

The successful candidate should not only have a demonstrated expertise in SEO, but should also be someone who can relate to your vision and have the ability to evoke confidence and work with you in meeting projected expectations. Be wary of those who over promise and over simplify. Successful SEO strategy takes time and constant tweaking. Optimizing the strategy and achieving and maintaining a position on the top of any list takes commitment of time and financial resources. Coordinating website design to better perform with an SEO strategy should be encouraged. Coordination between the web designer and the SEO provider will enhance your website’s performance over time.

The SEO process is a journey that requires adjustments and enhancements to its initial direction. It is often not a direct line but one that detours from a projected plot to capture the attention and participation of various market segments that ultimately make up your most productive market niche.

Junction Creative Solutions (Junction), an award-winning marketing agency, realizes the importance of SEO to digital marketing. “We have long standing relationships with leading SEO providers who understand the intricacies of search engine functions and the factors that go into forming a SEO strategy focused on delivering successful connections between our clients and their customers,” says Julie Gareleck, founder and Junction CEO. “We’re experienced in coordinating a client’s total marketing journey from the design and development stage of a website to the initiation of a SEO campaign strategy.”

To learn more on how Junction can help you select the perfect SEO partner, call 678.686.1125.

“What is old is new again” May Be the Most Surprising Trend in Marketing in 2019

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Believe it or not, we have once again come full circle on another year. Marketing prognosticators are polishing their crystal balls of future things to come and declaring how technology will revolutionize our channels of communication with consumers in 2019.  Last year’s predicted trends are being measured against reality, and the process is becoming akin to scoring a competitive game of sport.

As with so many games in life the results of our collective efforts to predict the future of marketing tactics and activities are never completely aligned with perfection. Shifting consumer expectations and the response to accepting new communication technologies make the playing field difficult to read and an unsuited environment for calling a perfect game. All we can really do is take stock of what is working, evaluate why some predictions failed, make necessary adjustments to the strategy for 2019 and move forward. The most successful predictions of marketing in 2018 appeared to be offered by those who envisioned a broader and less specific set of outcomes.

“While some industries have embraced the paradigm shift in how they reach, engage, and mobilize new customers, I predict that we will see even more attention and focus being placed on getting the marketing mix correct,” predicted Julie Gareleck, CEO & Managing Partner, Junction Creative Solutions. The year’s performance appears to have been another example that absolutes and inevitabilities rarely pan out. So what appears likely to work best in 2019?

Video Marketing’s performance will continue to align with the previously predicted game plan. A Cisco forecast indicates that video will make up 85% of Internet traffic by 2020. While posts with digital images and content continue to capture a significant audience, video is generating 135% more organic reach for marketers. Once seen as an opportunity for only the most well-healed, larger players, video is becoming more economical for those smaller marketers who can benefit from projecting an emotional and appealing story. According to The Wall Street Journal, “the usage of online video has increased by 10 times between 2011 and 2016. Over the next two years, the trend has only intensified and is unlikely to slow down.”

Automating the marketing process to work more efficiently and smarter will continue to pay dividends of better understanding customers.  Scott Brinker, Founder of Chief MarTec, said, “As much amazing marketing software as there is today, there is still an opportunity for new ideas. Marketing should be — and can be — better.”  Automation will be seen as another set of marketing tools that enhances the acquisition of new customers.

Smart marketers will continue to develop an expanded inbound approach to connecting with their market segments. Content marketing, automation, social media and multichannel marketing can be coordinated to create a brand reputation that is authentic and valuable to customers. Consumers are more often placing trust in those they know. Quality, reputable content will prevail over stock ads in the coming year. If one were to bet on an absolute, a continuing utilization of inbound marketing tactics is a wise wager for 2019.

Once predicted to be rendered obsolete; direct mail, print advertising and brick and mortar sellers are showing some unexpected resilience in the digital age. Not unlike wax LP’s return to popularity among a niche market of music lovers in a world of digital recordings, old school marketing tactics are finding success with consumers who are tired of the incessant barrage of digital media noise and those who long to revisit a traditional physical shopping experience. Players on the field of brick and mortar will need to focus on creating entertaining events and an enticing experience for their target markets.

Who would have thought it: consumers like getting mail, even if it was once thought to be junk? Print advertising is not dead. While a small and much diminished portion of overall marketing spend, print is finding its rightful place in the digital world. In the field of marketing where a fast, bang, digital technology appears to arise every minute, the most surprising trend in marketing for 2019 may just be “what is old is new again.”