2018 was an incredible year for the industry, and was rife with change. From Google's latest updates, the ongoing GDPR compliance rush and associated privacy scandals, to the rise of Amazon as a critical platform for retail, and the link between e-commerce and the fall of brick-and-mortar stores, 2018 had it all.

The leadership team at Reprise, part of Mediabrands division of the Interpublic Group, explore how some of these past events will impact 2019, and what brands should take into consideration in the year ahead.

1. The return of quality

Jason Carter, MD Reprise Network EMEA tells us, with the furore around fake news, combined with potentially monumental political events on the horizon; people will put their faith back in trusted news sources more than ever. The question is how will advertisers react? Will marketing dollars shift back to support high-quality journalism at the expense of the digital goliaths? A sober assessment must be done around the value of ‘context' to a brand's marketing and business performance.

Brands should be aware of this as the quality of ad delivery and transparency around it has become more of a requirement. We have seen numerous pitches recently focusing on quality reach and how we can measure it. In social, for example, there appears to be a shift towards focusing on the reach that will drives business results, rather than simply looking to reach as wide an audience as possible. It will be interesting to see how the walled gardens approach this issue in 2019.

2. The maturity of social

As the long-term impact of extensive screen time becomes more widely understood, we may see a decrease in time spent on social apps according to James Fairweather, Head of Reprise Network UK. However, the shift towards verified truth in the media and digital content will see a related increase in the consumption of curated content.

If brands want to thrive on social, they need to re-think their content strategy at the risk of becoming irrelevant in this vital space. Think quality, not quantity.

3. Trusting in one data source is over in 2019

Dipesh Shah, Digital Analytics Manager, Reprise Network UK notes that brands need their agencies, not only to see beyond the walled gardens, but to walk between them – to enrich their data so that it can help deliver better targeting, optimisation and results. Brands must embrace technology and different data platforms if they wish to be able to navigate this new landscape.

4. Technology is evolving alongside changes in ad industry regulation

Blockchain in the verification of digital advertising has the potential to allow de-duplicated reach, perfect and instant reconciliation and full attribution abilities, without compromising individuals’ privacy says James Fairweather. With Google and Facebook accounting for almost a quarter spent on advertising in the last year, the clear path to innovation for others is to begin building the next generation of ad tech where empowered and informed consumers control their data, deciding exactly when and how it should be shared with advertisers. This value exchange mechanic is important given that millennials and Gen-Z are open to sharing their personal data if they get something in return - a significant undertaking with so many potential stakeholders in the supply chain.

5. Amazon domination

We have already seen Amazon partner with Volvo to offer test drives of a new car through their Prime Now service, which could be perceived as a commercial expansion for Amazon ads and partnerships, says Allie Tattersall, E-Commerce Senior Account Manager, Reprise Network UK. Amazon has also bought into a prescription delivery service, which suggests a shift into selling services. Amazon can leverage its vast collection of consumer data to push services such as prescriptions, insurance and more.

We all know that Amazon is an important platform for retail, with 50% of product searches now beginning on the e-commerce site. This will only increase as Amazon's presence in worldwide markets continues to grow. An expansion of Amazon's product offering will lead to increased competition for brands, and a need to rethink marketing budgets to ensure they are competing with Amazon. Development of Amazon's partnerships offering would result in opportunities for a wider variety of advertisers than ever before.

6. Brands will demand visual search capabilities - and agencies will deliver

Just as voice search has been the flavour of the last couple of years, Charlie Davison, SEO Director, Reprise Network EMEA predicts that in 2019 more brands will ask agencies for bespoke visual search strategies. With advances in visual search technology around AI and the resultant shift in consumer behaviour, we expect to see the likes of Google and Pinterest release more data around the adoption of visual search to support their respective Lens products. Expect to hear more about the benefits that visual search brings compared with conventional search; from more immediate purchases due to frictionless conversion to bigger baskets due to the emotional connections formed through visual search.

If brands want to be ahead of the curve, they must explore the new ways people are searching. Voice and visual search represent unique opportunities to provide customers with what they want the most: a frictionless customer experience.

7. Expect more changes to Google ads

In 2018, Google was forced to make changes to its shopping platform following a €2.4bn fine by the EU, and in 2019, it may need to start paying publishers for any articles linked from Google News. Aaron Kempen, Head of PPC, Reprise Network UK predicts Google may be required to make even more significant changes to its Ad platform with regard to a few different factors – potentially competitor brand name bidding, breach of GDPR rules and further anti-trust violations.

Brands, beware: these changes will have a knock-on effect to the functionality and feature set in Google DoubleClick Search, which may have a negative impact on campaign targeting and efficiency for clients.

8. The evolution of search never ends

According to Elliot Abraham, Head of SEO, Reprise Network UK, SERP (Search Engine Results Page) formats will evolve profoundly in the coming years, with new formats being tested from "trusted repositories" like Wikipedia and other informational hubs.

This will include using schema to add additional information directly into SERP results for queries around questions, facts, locations and images. In addition, featured Snippets will become even more interactive – with click-through tabs or windows for further reading.

It is crucial for brands to understand that these changes will have a direct impact on how audiences perceive them. Optimising for these ahead of the curve will ensure higher organic click-through rates, thus enabling brands to surpass competitors in this ever-evolving landscape.

9. Location, location, location

Marty Wightman, Head of Performance Reprise UK foresees an increase in focus on Local SERPS, as digital conversions to in-store tracking improves. This will create the next "battlefield" of generic "restaurant near me" queries, which are crucial from a local SEO perspective. This will likely increase the need for customised offerings and promotions to be displayed more prominently on local pages.

This should also mean more ad formats become available, for example, customised ad pins, gifs or different emoticons. For brands, this means if you have a localised business offering, 2019 is the year for you to optimise for local searches under the penalty of missing out on valuable intent from potential buyers.

10. QR codes make a comeback

James Fairweather states that the QR code may come back as a marketing tool (having been deemed ‘outdated' since 2015), given that the new iOS has native QR recognition in the camera app, negating the need for a standalone app download. The industry needs to consider the potential for connecting physical locations with new developments like web-based AR, so brands offer a truly frictionless experience.

2019 will be without a doubt a year of change in our industry with so many moving parts and predictable evolution of what 2018 brought us, we need to brace ourselves for a genuinely revolutionary year.