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12 Mar 2024

2024 MarTech Insights report: Is 'human touch' being lost?

2024 MarTech Insights report: Is 'human touch' being lost?

What are the latest technology trends in marketing and advertising? BusinessCloud polls its 2024 MarTech 50 companies and judges to find out

Welcome to BusinessCloud’s MarTech Insights report for 2024.

Published alongside its annual MarTech 50 ranking, the report quantifies and reflects technology trends in marketing and advertising.

After BusinessCloud’s readers and an expert judging panel together decided the UK’s most innovative startups, scaleups and established technology firms serving the sector, it polled the companies.

The stats

Do you use generative AI tools in your business?

YES - 89%  NO - 11%

Are businesses now too quick to dismiss the human touch in favour of automated tools?

YES - 56%  NO - 44%

Have you raised investment in the last 12 months?

YES - 44%  NO - 56%

Do you intend to raise investment in the coming 12 months?

YES - 57%  NO - 43%

Do you plan to expand your workforce in the coming 12 months?

YES - 89%  NO - 11%

Do you agree that ALL marketing should be measurable/tangible?

YES - 78%  NO - 22%

Will the marketing & advertising industry be ready for a cookie-less future?

YES - 33%  NO - 67%

The views

BusinessCloud asked the MarTech 50 to describe a particular trend they have noticed in MarTech in the last year.

"The market has matured and is more sharply focused on profitability, as opposed to growth," says Alun Davies, CMO at Bidnamic, which was fifth on the ranking. "As a result, buyers are needing to see a stronger business case for any additional investment."

Sabina Jasinska, chief growth officer at Codec AI - 38th on the ranking - says we are now in “the community age”.

“The fastest-growing brands actively engage in digital and cultural communities to capture attention, foster engagement and drive growth. The most successful among them excel at generating high-value content through compelling collaborations and rapid innovations,” she explains.

“They immerse themselves in the lives of their customers, embracing the cultural impacts expected by their audience… AI aids in identifying influencers to co-create value within consumer communities.”

She cites the partnership between Crocs and Pop Tarts. “Both brands reside on the cultural periphery, with some people unable to fathom wearing Crocs, and Pop Tarts facing challenges in the sugar-free market: despite these differences, through a joint and unapologetic collaboration, they managed to tap into similar cultural areas within their communities, establishing irreverent authority over their respective markets.”

Nick Richardson, founder of The Insights Family - eighth on this year’s MarTech 50 - says more and more companies are becoming aware of the ethics around data and wish to go beyond the minimum requirements of legislation.

Judge Beth Sissons, director at Hotwire, says all businesses are having to work hard to balance business performance with the need to be responsible citizens. “Reducing their impact on the environment, doing good in the world, and treating their audiences’ data better make companies more attractive partners,” she qualifies.

Sian Gaskell, senior partner & head of integrated at Tyto PR - which sponsored the ranking - says there is “growing demand for marketers to be able to connect authentically with as many consumers as possible”.

“This has hyper-scaled the importance of personalisation within marketing strategies,” she adds. “It has never been more imperative that brands deliver a personalised omnichannel experience that engages and doesn’t frustrate.”

Coming trend

As for a trend they expect to see in the coming 12 months, Sissons highlights the European Union’s Digital Markets Act - which will require more transparency and accountability from ‘gatekeepers’ Apple, Alphabet (Google), Meta (Facebook), Amazon, Microsoft and ByteDance (TikTok) - as a game-changer.

The DMA aims to make digital markets in the EU fairer. “There will be a knock-on effect for the rest of the industry,” she explains. “Whilst other platforms will not be subject to the rules in the same way, the hope is that the regulation will enable them to benefit from fairer behaviours when doing business with gatekeepers.

“AdTech and MarTech businesses can build reputation by communicating their independence and differentiators related to the impact of this.”

Richardson, whose Manchester-based business generates real-time market intelligence on kids, teens, parents & families, says consumers will become increasingly resistant to sharing their data. “They will want a clear and simple understanding of how their data is going to be used and interpreted,” he adds.

Davies says MarTech providers will be looking to use AI to speed up the development of new features and services. “The winners in this race will be the providers who also improve the user experience: making it increasingly intuitive for end users to figure out how to drive more value from the product,” is his view.

Is the Force with you?

London’s Codec creates AI to understand audience culture.

Asked whether automation and generative AI tools are improving marketing & advertising, its head of strategy Stephen Spencer answers: “AI is a bit like the Force in Star Wars: it’s being used for good and evil.

“The Skywalkers of marketing and advertising are using its power as a strategic advantage. This involves the transformation of outdated approaches - e.g. levelling up audience intelligence and understanding consumer communities by analysing millions of content interactions every minute, as we do at Codec.

“Additionally, they are automating time-consuming tasks - such as summarising research, creating first drafts of copy, and getting average ideas out of the way early - to dedicate more considered time to fine-tuning thinking, creating value, and flawlessly executing.

“The ‘dark side of the Force’ is employing AI-powered automation for less noble pursuits. They are using this new set of tools to create complexity and quantity rather than simplicity and quality.”

Richardson says ‘big data’ - which provides the foundation of AI tools - can transform strategies, planning, creativity and activation. “That said, it is my opinion to recognise that not all aspects of advertising and marketing are ‘sciences’... aspects of them remain an ‘art’ form,” he adds.

Gaskell says such tools augment the efficiency, efficacy and customisation of marketing and advertising. “These technologies enable marketers to deliver at scale and adeptly manoeuvre the complexities of the digital landscape; efficiently engage target demographics and attain enhanced campaign outcomes.

“This is particularly apparent in personalisation and targeting, data analysis and trends, improving customer journeys, and leveraging conversational marketing and chatbots.”

Sissons says it depends on the part of the industry you are looking at. “Where AI is helping my role, working in PR and marketing, is from a data and insights perspective.

“Tools that generate recommendations about the media and channels to target audiences on are becoming more sophisticated so communications campaigns can be designed with rich insights grounded in truth.

“On the other hand, during the current economic climate when so many marketers are working to tight budgets, using AI to generate copy, images and video is an area many are exploring.

“From a creative standpoint AI isn’t improving the marketing and advertising we can make as humans, but it is opening some shortcuts; for example, ways to find a starting point more quickly, that can help us in our jobs during times of pressure.”

The human touch

Is the 'human' touch in danger of being lost?

“The role for humans isn't disappearing; it's evolving,” says Spencer. “People must adapt and broaden their skill sets. Copywriters can now generate multiple ideas and initial drafts almost instantly using AI, but this doesn't render them redundant; instead, they are upskilling by mastering prompts, refining their editing skills, experimenting with new formats, and dedicating more time to nurturing talent.

“The ‘human touch’ is evolving into more of a ‘human cradle’- shaping inputs and directing technology with one hand, while refining and perfecting outputs with the other.”

“Very good AI is difficult to differentiate from ‘human created’ content,” says Richardson. “That said, when I see content obviously generated by AI, I lose affinity with a particular organisation and/or brand.”

Davies adds: “End users - and search engines - will become resistant to raw AI-generated content unless it has been crafted into an informative, compelling and distinctive piece of work by experienced, creative, humans.”

Sissons says automation can help people reach a minimum viable product more quickly, but is not sophisticated enough to be original - which is where marketers come into their own. “We need to work to ensure the human touch isn’t lost – our industry would be worse for it.”

Gaskell says the intersection of AI- and human-generated content is evolving in multiple ways. “Firstly, AI tools will become more sophisticated, enabling them to generate content that is increasingly indistinguishable from human-generated content. This will lead to greater efficiency in content creation, as AI can assist or even autonomously produce written, visual, and audio content – just as we have seen with the recent introduction of Sora OpenAI.

“Additionally, there has been an increasing shift to collaboration between AI and humans in the content creation processes. AI can provide suggestions, generate ideas or perform repetitive tasks, which can then be enhanced by a human touch and enabling teams to focus on more creative and strategic aspects of content creation.”


A coming major shift in online advertising is the eradication of third-party cookies, which collect data on internet users and allow for them to be targeted with personalised adverts.

Google, currently testing with a small percentage of users of Chrome - the world's most popular internet browser - plans to phase out their use for all users in the second half of this year.

How can the marketing & advertising industry adapt? “Brands will have to look to new sources of insight and data to understand how their audiences are behaving and interacting with their advertising,” says judge Sissons. “In the MarTech 50 list this year it was clear to see companies solving this issue as a theme of innovation.

“Contextual advertising, where campaigns are influenced by the web page you are viewing and other factors, is quickly becoming the go-to solution for a cookie-less world.

“First-party data is also going to become more important in the cookie-less future - but it’s a good challenge for advertisers to solve as consumers become more aware of how their personal data is being used.”

Bidnamic’s Davies has a succinct answer: “By creating compelling copy and minimising the friction from getting permission to use end-user data.”

Richardson says his market research firm’s approach is bridging a gap between conventional market research and cookie-generated data. “And that is why we are launching a new product off the back of the success we have had with Kids Insights and Parents Insights…” he teases.

Any other business?

BusinessCloud then gave judges and companies the opportunity to raise any other points - positive or negative - around the industry or ecosystem of wider business support.

“A very personal perspective is that we need whoever the next government is to build a strategy which is going to deliver growth and opportunities for individuals and organisations across the UK,” says Richardson.

“In my opinion, a number of areas need addressing: an education system to enable young people to be learning the right skills, transport policies which are fair and working, ensuring that we are building a society which is sustainable and can allow individuals to grow and prosper.”

Jasinska says the surge in social media usage, with a 30% increase since the onset of COVID, reflects “an unprecedented level of engagement”.

“People now spend more time than ever on social platforms, immersing themselves in communities designed to meet specific needs. This positive trend, however, presents challenges for marketers: the current landscape is far from rosy, marked by increased pressure on time and budgets.

“Common practices, such as extensive segmentation efforts, often result in wasted time and money. Additionally, the abundance of data has not translated into actionable insights, leaving marketers yearning for meaningful answers in navigating this complex landscape.”

Gaskell of Tyto concludes: “Marketers are operating in challenging economic conditions - consumers and businesses are having to be more discerning how they spend their money, budgets are down, and there is a need to do more with less.

“Combine that with an increasing number of people in the B2B buyer journey, meaning you need to hit a lot more audiences.

“There also appears to be a shift in emphasis to broader demand generation from approaches such as ABM, to cover more ground and drive more sales.  However, marketing is a bolt-on culture and tends to operate in silos – which is not the ideal model when it comes to tackling the environment that we are in.

“The brands who will win out will be those who take an integrated approach – delivering integrated campaigns to harness brand awareness through to demand.”
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