Biggest Trends of 2018 - The Year of Digital Becoming Mainstream

Guest Column: Sahil Shah, VP Operations & Media - South and West, WATConsult, on the top digital trends of 2018 that took India into full gear

e4m by Sahil Shah
Updated: Dec 13, 2018 8:35 AM
sahil shah

It’s the best time of the year and how. Well on one side it’s everybody’s favorite month; December! And on the other, it’s because of a fantastic year that’s passing us by.

Clearly, much has happened for digital in India over the last one year and a lot needs to be spoken about. In my view, it’s been a key year that has changed the course of digital by starting to impact the lives of over half a billion Indians (truly going mainstream!). But no, I am not here to talk about how the JIO revolution democratized data costs to build more connected consumers or the rise of affordable smartphones that’s pretty much scaled adoption to 350 MN+ Indians. Instead, I am going to talk about some key trends that have emerged in 2018 due to these industry defining shifts in adoption and scale of digital.


Here the top digital trends of 2018 that took India into full gear:


Rise of Bharat

Digital in India has grown to nearly 500 MN users with almost 40% coming from rural India. Which means 200 MN audiences in India, mostly media dark, is a brand new audience a digital marketer can start addressing as a function of “growth hacking” through digital. Both voice searches (400% rise) as well as vernacular language adoption (higher than English, already) have had considerable scale too. To top it all, only 22% of rural India accesses Internet in terms of penetration leaving a huge room for growth and building the next 300 MN heavily through rural India.


Quick Fact: Bihar is the highest YouTube watching state in India by time-spent which only proves that there is going to be steady rise in vernacular content, no. of rural users and heavy video consumption.


Video, Video & More Video

This is no surprise in the almost free data world that we are living in. YouTube has reached a billion home page impressions in a day, Instagram recently launched IGTV for long form vertical video content and Facebook introduced an optional “video only” newsfeed. All of this triggered due to consumers tilting towards video watching more than anything else on the internet. OTT players saw more than double digit growth in all event/show formats, live & non live. The biggies of OTT world; Netflix, Hotstar, Amazon Prime, etc. have started to see immense amount of growth in regional language video content over English; due to huge dearth + demand of/for it. So comfortably video has arrived and is here to stay for the long term.


Apps Breaking the Internet

The app world is continuing to surprise us with more and more apps getting adopted by Indians daily. While there are some functional apps, some flash in the pan ones and some niche ones solving specific problems; the year of 2018 highlighted two big apps sitting right in the top 10 lists of almost every young mobile user in India. First one being, TikTok (previously known as built on content off the people, for the people and by people model and the second one was an addictive social gaming app called PUBG. These two struck chords of millions of young Indians and is on every marketers target list to consider.


Digital Transformation

A lot of introspection has started to happen inside the walls of various (small and large) businesses. Brands that have grown doing digital marketing is a passé now; 2018 was the year when digitization and digitalization took the driver’s seat. How do you win the customer in a digital first world by harnessing the power of data is the key question. And for this reason, businesses have started to rethink their models and automate processes to become more agile and deliver better. There are many industries that are experiencing transformation; right from consumer appliances to healthcare to education and even agriculture. In the years to come, we will start to see the impact of it all for other industries to follow.


Digital Commerce

India’s e-commerce industry has continued to evolve over the last one year. The FMCG & Food industry has gone completely hyperlocal with same day or even 2 hour delivery formats while the retail industry is going through an“omnichannel experience” transformation for a customer. There is a steady rise in non-cash payments that’s been built through assisted e-commerce practices. Digital payments is a segment, everyone from banks to technology companies are targeting as the upside is huge and 2018 was the year when it has started to see considerable growth at scale.


Data Driven Decisions

In today’s time every marketer is looking at building her/his brand through digital as a key marketing and commerce channel. 2018 was the year when data started getting used to a fuller potential in order to take better marketing decisions. For e.g., Flipkart created a record breaking 3 MN video ads by using 200 audience signals for their Big Billion Sale. This just shows the scale and breadth of how data is started to put to use. An increasing number of brands are shifting focus from platform buying to audience buying and 2018 saw a big rise with clients, agencies and publishers all working towards the same goal.

All these trends and much more would not have been possible if digital in India did not grow at the pace it has and through the relentless efforts of publishers, agencies, clients as well as the governmentto adapt to digital in an ever evolving form, making it truly mainstream in India. There’s a lot to work on for the future in the field of digital where predictive marketing, voice (rural & urban), AI, blockchain, AR/VR, robotics, etc.will start to break new grounds. I am no Nostradamus to predict where India will go from here but I do know it will quickly catch up on advanced digitization and digitalization of every kind to become the front runners on digital in the world in the years to come.


(The author is VP Operations & Media - South and West, WATConsult)


Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of

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