It’s tough enough for brands to keep track of the big emerging tech and innovation trends but 2019 is likely to see an acceleration and expansion of this change. From gaming, through to voice, to AI-driven content and social commerce, evolution will be all around us.

To help marketers get to grips with this, some of the senior leadership from our offices around the world have shone a spotlight the big trends to look out for and identified their likely impact on the marketing industry in 2019.

Nathan McDonald, Co-Founder and Group CEO
Social Commerce
Social commerce, once the awkward cousin of e-commerce, has grown up. Startups using a Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) model showed that you could build a brand with a great product, and mastery of social. The DTC crowd will start to be threatened by traditional retail players getting into the action. With more competition for the attention (and wallet) of consumers, the cost of social advertising and influencers is set to increase.

Yet that first click needs to convert, so the platforms are building features to make the path to purchase and sharing as seamless as possible. With more categories of product and service (from furniture to funerals) trying to find their own social commerce angle, we will see new ways to discover, trial and recommend – not just transact.

A new kind of retail experience is emerging, enabled by platforms eager to facilitate the changes shaking up the retail world. So far, the evolution of advertising within social environments has shown that the balance between ‘social’ and ‘commerce’ can be difficult to achieve: user experience, privacy, and regulatory challenges abound. For content to be social AND shoppable it needs to be subtle, because there’s a certain tension between building a brand and getting the sale. Remaining authentic and relevant will work over the long term, because who do you really trust with your credit card?

Benjamin Arnold, Managing Director, New York
Gaming
2018 was a monumental year for the mobile gaming industry. YouTube had its biggest 12 months ever in gaming, with over 50 billion hours of game-related content consumed, while Amazon-owned Twitch also saw exponential growth in its number of creators, viewers and the total volume of content consumed.

Unquestionably, the success of global phenomenon Fortnite boosted overall numbers beyond expectations, but very few in the industry are predicting any sort of slowdown in 2019. As Gen Z continues to subvert Millennial social behaviors, game-focused platforms and eSports, in general, are moving very quickly from the periphery to become the platform of choice. Advertising and partnership opportunities for brands within this industry are evolving too. The likes of KFC and Old Spice have shown over the past few years that good returns can be achieved through innovative and creative social thinking. What’s more, the opportunities for gaming creators and influencers in 2019 are apparently limitless.

Breakout gamers such as Tyler "Ninja" Blevins, who recently claimed to be earning six figures a month just from streaming, are becoming the darlings of the influencer space for youth-focused brands. As a result, both YouTube and Twitch are actively expanding the ways in which they bring in these stars of the future and facilitating their commercial development. Twitch has increased its number of Partners and sanctioned Affiliates by 86% year-on-year, while YouTube is introducing new features such as Super Chat, channel memberships and merchandising. This is all aimed at encouraging larger numbers of aspiring gamers to enter the space, grow their own captive audiences, and then monetize their personal brands to significant effect – for themselves and for the industry at large. Expect even more record-breaking activity in 2019.

Jim Coleman, CEO, London
New Masculinity
In the wake of #MeToo, masculinity has become an explosive topic. Advertising’s hyper-masculine “ideal” has both reflected and contributed to the formation of what’s recently been dubbed “toxic masculinity” – the catch-all term for extreme gender performance in men, covering traits like dominance, emotional unavailability and sexual aggression. In 2018, this problem was really thrust into the spotlight.

“New Masculinity” - one of the trends we identified in our 2019 Think Forward report - is an area we see gathering momentum in 2019 (and beyond) to drag male stereotypes in marketing out of the ’80s and into a more inclusive discourse. Brands play a significant role here - as content producers that speak to the intrinsic motivations driving men on a daily basis, it’s the collective responsibility of brands and agencies to focus on the similarities between the genders, not the differences.

Just this week, Gillette’s ‘We Believe: The Best Men Can Be’ ad has caused uproar with how it’s approached this topic in an attempt to address the current zeitgeist. But perhaps the best role for most brands is one of the stealthy mediator, building on the multifaceted masculine realities, instead of reductive and outdated ideals. Brands should be taking a more nuanced approach to targeting men in advertising, both to detoxify the masculinity movement and to properly resonate with modern male consumers.

Sandrine Plasseraud, CEO and Founder, Paris
From Voice-Activated AI to Mind-Activated AI
The democratisation of voice assistants continues to expand, reflected by the increasing number of voice-based solutions in our devices and daily lives. Global voice commerce is also expected to increase by from $2 billion to reach $40 billion by 2022, according to a OC&C Strategy Consultants survey, enabled by the adoption of smart speakers such as Amazon Echo and Google Home.

Still, marketers will face significant challenges. Brands need to alleviate consumers’ pain points, not add to them, and to ask themselves if, and how, they can fill a real need in their customers’ daily lives through voice-activated technology.

But what if our thoughts alone could control our technology? At We Are Social Paris we have been incubating Mentalista, a startup that has developed an algorithm to analyse images from the brain’s visual cortex. These images are then materialised by electrical impulses and used to programme an action. It has, for example, developed the first football game to be driven by players’ thoughts.

So voice activated interactions are definitely going to be part of our daily lives in 2019 and beyond but we also believe that, in the near future, we will see brain-environment interactions take over part of voice-environment interactions.

Gabriele Cucinella, Stefano Maggi and Ottavio Nava, Co-founders and CEOs, Milan and Madrid
The ‘Storyfication of Social’
As Stories-based formats continue to increase penetration and engagement across all platforms (growing 15x faster than feed-based content), brands will need to take this form of communication more seriously, not just treating it as a nice add-on for younger audiences, but making it more central to their content strategies. Of course, this requires some level of technical understanding: of short vertical videos; Stickers; geotags; and the whole set of “Stories, how to?” questions. More importantly though, brands will be required to evolve their language and storytelling.

They will need to think of their Stories as an interactive journey because tapping, replying and, in general, being active with the interface has become a critical engagement factor. People feel more connected when they can be part of the story and not just spectators. Camera phones will increasingly come to be considered as the lens between realities and Stories are a great canvas to play with these. That's why creating bespoke visual assets will be more important for brands - people love to play with Stories, add their personal creative touch and share the result.

Roberto Collazos Garcia, Managing Director, Munich and Berlin
AI - Rise of the Machines
Interest in artificial intelligence’s impact on content marketing is heating up: the technology’s capabilities are beginning to be understood and more broadly implemented by marketers. As AI tools for social media continue to evolve, marketers are able to better understand consumer behaviours, which consequently leads to richer insights adapted to new situations in real time. The superior speed of machine learning over human analysis offers huge benefits in terms of understanding of your audience, competitors, and content positioning.

Armed with these insights, you’ll be able to create the most impactful social content for your brand based on data. For example, Twitter makes use of neural networks to resize and crop photos in order to make this content more appealing to the user. To achieve this, AI analyses eye-tracking data to learn which parts of a photograph are most attractive and to then decide which part to show to the user.

Akanksha Goel, Founder and Managing Director of Socialize
From Newsfeed to New Feeds
With an increasing preference for privacy, we’re going to continue to see less public sharing across major social platforms, as people switch their activity from their newsfeeds to their new feeds of choice – private groups and messaging apps.

As more people embrace private (or dark) social, we will see a wider set of tools and functionality added to messaging apps to give users more creative options when communicating in chat groups or sharing content directly with friends.

Brands will also invest more in creating experiences on these private ecosystems, with chatbots becoming more mainstream as businesses take advantage of personalisation that can be delivered at scale. The biggest growth in this area is likely to be driven by the roll-out of WhatsApp Business across markets, leading to a resurgence of brands leveraging conversational AI for customer engagement.

And, as brands continue to look for new places and ways to connect with an engaged online audience, we’ll see marketers testing alternative platforms where consumers are sharing more. For example, TikTok is poised to be 2019’s platform of choice in the Middle East.

Christina Chong, Managing Director, Singapore
Keeping it Real
Authenticity. That’s what 2019 on social is all about.
So I should really live stream this. Right now, On Twitch.
But they made me write it down, and “curate” it with proper spelling. They’re "so millennial” as the Gen Z’ers would say.
And when “so millennial” becomes a teenage insult, you know that there's a desire to keep it real. A backlash against the curated, the fake views and fake news.
So how will social media keep it real in 2019?

REAL BUT SMALL: micro-influencers. Influencer fraud is big news. It’s estimated that almost 15% of all social engagement comes from bots. So, increasingly, what the super-engaged small but real communities of micro-influencers will be more and more important to brands and consumers.

REAL TIME: brands will NEED to respond quicker. Real-time response strategy and micro-targeting of media at UBER-fans. You want a human brand, so act like a human.

REAL VIDEO: video everywhere. But not slick, big budget. Low quality, vertical, super-authentic. TikTok, Stories and real lighting.

REAL BUT AUGMENTED: With Facebook and Instagram introducing native AR ads this year, bringing augmentation to reality becomes Pokemon Go easy.

REAL ETHICAL: As Facebook scrabbles to fix its problems, people are really starting to care about where their internet comes from and where their data goes. We’re seeing a growth from curated public-facing stuff to closed groups, video and chat-based private channels - Stories on WhatsApp is the fastest growing feature this year.

So 2019, keep it fast, keep it fun, keep it real.

Donald Wong, Head of Hong Kong
On the Frontier of East-West Mobile Payment
As the litmus test to see if Chinese payment apps could go toe-to-toe against global e-wallets, look no further than Hong Kong as ground-zero in the proxy battle to reign supreme in mobile payment. The Octopus Card has been a local staple for on-the-go paperless payment of the city for decades, but it hasn’t gone outside of the city’s confines, or transformed the city into a cashless one just yet.

Chinese society (if only in the big cities) has practically gone cashless, so it’s only natural for Chinese mobile payment powerhouses AliPay and WeChat Pay to continue the push here, and Octopus to counter with its own “O! ePay” app. The mobile payment push will be amplified by banks as they leverage Apple Pay and Google Pay to incentivise people to skip both paper and plastic and whip out their phones for payment instead. Over the past 12 months, we’ve seen a 30% increase in mobile wallet users from 2.46 million to 3.20 million in 2018 amongst mobile users. With transformation and innovations in shopping experiences, such as WeChat Pay experimenting with unmanned shops and global clothing giant UNIQLO opening its online shop in 2018, commerce will be fanning the flame for electronic and mobile payment adoption as people get more comfortable with it across all facets of their lives.

What happened in Hong Kong in 2018, as mentioned, is just a proxy for the bigger global picture. For 2019, marketers should be looking to exploit this growing trend, which is bound to go global and to reach a larger scale, by coming up with innovative campaigns for brands and merchants.

Pete Lin, North Asia Regional Managing Director
Social Media Metrics Take on New Meaning
Ten years ago, at the time of We Are Social’s founding, the usage of social media for marketing purposes was seen as innovative by some and gimmicky by others.

Four years ago, during the time of our Shanghai office’s launch, we found a diverse mix of expectations from brand managers for their social media programmes. Some wanted social media to elevate their brand image, while others wanted social media to drive direct sales.

Now, with our presence in North Asia having expanded to three offices across Shanghai, Beijing, and Hong Kong, the brand managers we work with have a common attitude: they now see their social media presence as the most essential representation of their brands. This means that the social media metrics of views, Retweets, Likes, and comments, which were deemed unimportant just a decade ago, have now become the barometers of a brand’s health. We no longer expect brands to come to us and ask “how will this Tweet drive sales for us?”, because they understand already.

Suzie Shaw, Managing Director, Sydney
The Rise of AI Influencers
Kylie Jenner is the world's highest-paid celebrity under 30 and is on track to become a billionaire more quickly than Mark Zuckerberg did. Earlier this year, a passing remark from her about Snapchat wiped $1.3bn off its market value, underlining the mainstream power of global influencers. It’s fair to say influencer marketing has now matured, and we’re coming to the end of the beginning of this phenomenon.

In fact, we’re entering a new phase, where clever content creators are building followings behind the next generation of so-called “AI Influencers”, whose poster-girl is “woke” 19-year old, Lil Miquela. These AI characters look remarkably real. They pose for photos, and wear the latest trends in fashion and make-up, just like human influencers. And with strong followings and engagement, they’re now adorning magazine covers and featuring in major brand campaigns from Louis Vuitton to Ugg.

Despite their lack of physical reality, these AI personae are anything but superficial; like characters in any major franchise, they have their own values and evolving storylines, and they have the power to make us question what is real and what is manufactured.