As 2018 draws to a close, instead of taking a look back to review how analytics platforms have changed, I’d like to look at the trends that influenced developments in the field of analytics — and consider how those trends will continue to influence analytics in 2019.

As The Digital World Turns (or, As Consumer Attention Merges)

The digital ecosystem can often seem to be as dramatic as a soap opera. Smartphones are popular, but their features have reached a plateau of appeal among consumers. Meanwhile, social media platforms copy features from one another at a rate even faster than smartphone manufacturers do. And that’s just within the mobile sector of the digital market. An increasing number of products, including cars and home devices, now give people access to the digital world wherever they happen to be.

All of these developments emphasize that digital access is being commoditized, making it increasingly difficult for brands to grab consumers’ attention. Marketers must be savvy when they conceive campaigns aimed at a desired audience, and when they look for insights from the data those campaigns generate. They should also pay attention to the fact that more brands are jockeying for ever smaller shares of consumer attention, and they should seek the same retail success that digital native brands achieved in 2018.

Related Article: To Capture Customer Attention, Keep it Short and Sweet

Machine Learning Will Evolve to Help Your Business (as It Did for Microsoft)

Years ago, I used to wonder why Microsoft did not acquire an analytics platform to compete with Google Analytics. Adobe had acquired Google’s largest competitor in analytics, Omniture, and I thought Microsoft needed an analytics platform to stay competitive.

Fast-forward to 2018. I never could have imagined how successful Microsoft would be in its effort to grow a developer community to support its cloud services strategy. It launched Azure, added plug-in support to its Visual Studio integrated development environment to accommodate development in several programming languages, and even bought GitHub, an open repository for programming code long popular with developers. Microsoft’s most analytics-related move was its acquisition of R Revolutions, a company that specializes in R programming. All of that activity gives Microsoft a strategic marketplace position for machine learning initiatives that marketers need now.

Marketers should continue to watch Microsoft, Google and Amazon evolve. All three companies will likely expand the offerings they package with their cloud services, providing everything from convenient analysis to educational training, offering marketers new ways to refine machine learning initiatives.

What’s in Your Data Storage?

The emergence of machine learning is pushing providers of data repositories to introduce visualization and query features to help analysts quickly parse data. As I reported earlier this year, MongoDB has introduced MongoDB Charts, a new visualization tool for its namesake database. Meanwhile, dashboard platforms like Google Data Studio now feature connectors that allow more data sources to be connected easily into charts, graphs and other visualizations. As machine learning services grow on Amazon, Google, Microsoft and other platforms, more data repositories will demonstrate how they can ease exploratory data analysis tasks for analysts.

Related Article: Data Ingestion Best Practices

Privacy Baked Into the Data-Driven Journey

This has been a pivotal year for privacy, and not just because of the EU’s enactment of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Companies are realizing that their brand images are strongly correlated to their responses to privacy issues such as data breaches. New regulations, combined with the heightened level of concern about privacy, prevent brands from collecting and analyzing data without the consent of the consumers who provide the data.

Learning Opportunities

GDPR and other pending regulations are moving companies to adopt data governance policies and perhaps even look into options like governance as a service (GaaS) and programming frameworks and services that highlight governance issues for managers. Developers of analytic systems will have to look at how their products can help managers apply the right framework to the right condition in which data is used.

Consumer Trust (or Mistrust) Affects Social Media Metrics

Social media platforms faced many challenges in 2018, with the Facebook data breaches and ensuing allegations of mismanagement topping the list. On top of that, there were purges of fake accounts on Twitter and Instagram and removals of controversial social influencers from many platforms.

Social media companies made many moves to try to prove that their platforms are safe places that exist to fulfill the implied promise social media brought to the world — to give people a way to connect with one another. In all sectors of the economy, consumers want to get to know brands and understand what those brands stand for. On social media, that mindset influences how content is received, and the results are reflected in the metrics.

Related Article: 5 Things Brands Can Do to Win Back Customer Trust

People’s Fascination With Video Ads Will Grow ...

Video is taking over the customer experience. Google reports that people encounter video at every step of their customer journeys. That means that video ads are playing an increasingly important role in the effort to drive conversion, and dashboards must adapt to reflect that development.

... But Can Marketers Trust Digital Ads?

Marketers now are better equipped to question the accuracy of metrics. And in light of Facebook’s admission that it had been misreporting video ad metrics, it’s clear that marketers should question every source of metrics. The Facebook revelation arrived on top of other marketer concerns about digital ads, such as the pricing of programmatic ads and the increasing sophistication of ad scammers. All of this means that advertisers and marketers alike will be under pressure to justify their efforts by demonstrating a return on investment (ROI) — and that, in turn, will position analytics as a mechanism for vetting the ROI of a wide range of campaign elements.

Speaking to an audience of marketers, Malcolm Gladwell once said, “The reason your profession is a profession and not a job is that your role is to find the truth in the data.” For marketers in 2019, finding the truth in the data will involve digging deeper for discoveries of customer insights on the analytic frontier — even with serious regulatory and technological challenges on the immediate horizon.