Looking at the year ahead, with so much happening: the ups and downs of the market, the general feeling of unease created by Brexit, international trade uncertainty, protests around the world, Presidential campaigns gearing up, and more, marketing trends seem limited in their potential to meaningfully shape the world around us. Yet, marketing continues to change, though this year it seems like the trend is toward tried and true principles instead of flashy new things. Or at least that is what I hope to see.

Under the massive caveat that larger economic forces could cause everything to change, there are three trends that will shape how marketers look at their craft in 2019:

A sharper definition of purpose.

The idea of purpose-driven brands, perhaps made most famous by Jim Stengel but, at this point, embraced by just about every creative agency, strategic consultant, and LinkedIn influencer, is smart. It’s been proven effective a number of times across a number of industries.

From Patagonia to Walmart, purpose can be used to galvanize an organization, motivate employees, and gain traction with customers.

In the past year, however, we have seen purpose wielded without … purpose. Just slapping a sustainability statement onto your marketing is a misunderstanding of what purpose is.

It’s not about borrowing interest from trendy social causes. Down that road lies customer ridicule.

Really, brand purpose is about being ambitiously necessary.

We are going to—or at least should!—see marketers sharpen the definition of purpose so that it’s more focused and connected to the brand's business. To become necessary, a brand needs to find the overlap between their point of view on their category and what they are doing to make it better (at a fundamentally human level). 

In 2019, we will see less of the inauthentic, if trendy, stunt-style messaging. Purpose will still hold sway, but it will be expressed differently.

"Necessary" is going to be how purpose is sharpened because people want to be doing relevant work and want to be buying from companies that are needed in the world.

More meaningful metrics.

There is a growing recognition that the promise of digital—that a marketer could finally know ‘which half of his marketing budget was wasted’—was, ahem, overhyped.

It’s not that the digital Goliaths haven’t successfully changed the underlying model of advertising (and media, and editorial, and…). They have.

The Google and Facebook duopoly already receive more than half of all the dollars spent on digital advertising, and they commanded 90 percent of the growth in digital ad sales last year. With that growth has come increasingly pointed questions about what is happening under the hood.

This year we are going to see a move toward more meaningful metrics.

First, because it has become clear that the platforms are not always willing or able to report reliably on their own performance.

Second, because the metrics that marketers use are typically no more meaningful than metrics around traditional media and often even worse. They’re just delivered in real time with buzzword-y names so they have a sheen of quality. That sheen will start wearing off.

Take clicks, for example.

Clicks are a decent measurement, especially for conversion campaigns. It's just that they're prone to being skewed by bots, need context provided on the other end (like bounce rate), and don't measure any impact beyond "last click.”

Clicks without context—and without non-digital measures to calibrate the right degree of bot-fueled skepticism—are meaningless.

Engagement also has issues.

Engagement is a great word for marketers. It seems like it means something at first glance, seems to be exactly what advertising should do to outsiders, and is trendy-sounding enough that it's unlikely anyone would question it in an executive meeting.

Except even when it is defined as more than simple dwell time, it's not much more than measuring how long a user is moving or clicking their mouse, scrolling, or typing while on a web page. That's like measuring how often people's eyes are open when they walk near a billboard. It says something. But not as much as it appears to promise.

Digital metrics like these are the marketing version of what finance calls "juicing your Sharpe ratio,” where you create metrics that emphasize your results and obscure the rest of the picture—like which half of the proverbial marketing budget is wasted.

In 2019, marketers are going to take a closer look at what they’re measuring, why they’re measuring it, and what additional context is needed for those measurements to actually matter.

Behemoth brands--and traditional media--fight back.

It has never been easier for upstart, niche brands to gain a foothold in the market.  

“Consumers buy today what performs for them. They are much less brand loyal," says David Luttenberger of market-research firm Mintel. "They are more driven by performance, by convenience, by price."

They are also driven by signaling desires and the cultural value put on local, small, and emerging brands.

Those trends plus the social media-fueled ability of upstart companies to gain traction within specific, issue-driven audiences has seen small brands chip away at the market share of the big guys.

And yet, the positive assets of the big guys: awareness, familiarity, distribution, and scale, still remain a barrier for the upstarts. The finances of the big brands help too, as Dollar Shave Club found when Unilever came calling.

While some big brands in them will continue to struggle because of larger societal trends, like General Mills watching fewer and fewer people eat their morning cereal and Campbell’s as people eschew canned food options, in 2019 we are going to see a concerted fightback by the big guys.

More and more, it appears that big companies are internalizing Steve Jobs’ exhortation to cannibalize themselves before their competitors do it for them. Whether that is through aggressive acquisition, the creation of sub-brands, or line extensions, the big brands are fighting back.

Also, and perhaps more importantly, the automation of purchase decisions via voice-driven technology like Alexa and via saved purchase history on major websites will continue to help brands that are already being purchased.

In 2019, little guys will continue to pop up and thrive. The really successful ones will realize that a digitally-based direct-to-consumer model is a great way to get the success that they have, but it's not enough to get to the next level. It's already starting to happen. Look for a resurgence in traditional media, especially television and outdoor that have significant reach. 

Outside of tech, they will continue to struggle to reach the scale that will truly threaten the incumbents. At least in the year to come.