A new content marketing platform is tapping artificial intelligence to match brands with content creators—but it doesn’t consider itself to be in the influencer business.
Built on technology from IBM Watson, the startup Props announced on Thursday that it’s raised $5 million for an official rollout with investors including tech development firm Axispoint and Jump Ventures CEO and founder Hari Ravichandran.
The company, which bills itself as a “post-influencer” platform, sets itself apart from more transactional services with a model in which brands sponsor the promotion of content from filmmakers, writers and other artists with no direct say in the actual creative process. The platform also doubles as a content management and distribution system for those creators and brands that incorporates social channels, SEO and digital ad networks.
“We do not engage in branded content—we don’t require any creators on our platform to mention a brand in the content,” said Props president and CEO Joseph Perello. “For example, if a creator writes a piece about a motorcycle trip up the Pacific Coast Highway—which is something we’re doing—and that content appears on their blog, it’s going to say, ‘Brought to you by Taylor Stitch’ … But Taylor Stitch does not say, ‘You have to wear our shirt, you have to drive by our offices’—none of that.”
Perello believes the lack of creative control from the marketing side will be compensated by the granularity with which the AI matches creator personas with the needs of a particular brand. IBM’s technology maps creator personalities around traits like “agreeableness,” “emotional range” and “extraversion” as well as subject matter covered in their work, then syncs that with what it perceives about a brand’s online presence. The algorithms also take into account characteristics of each creator’s following—attributes like demographics, interests and geographical regions.
Props’ head of artificial intelligence, Oliver Blodgett, a former IBM Watson exec, said the company is also working toward visual recognition and speech-to-text capabilities that will allow it to better account for content from visual artists and podcasters. The company generally looks for three conditions in the creators it enlists: a track record of producing compelling content, expertise on a particular subject matter, and a moderately sized, active social following.
AI and other forms of data analytics have become increasingly important to the business side of influencer marketing as brands struggle to identify relevant partners that will return the most value from a sea of bloggers, social media stars and other online personalities.
San Francisco-based men’s clothing boutique Taylor Stitch, one of Props’ inaugural marketing clients, is looking to the platform for a way to better quantify its content marketing output while preserving a sense of authenticity, according to CEO Michael Maher.
“It makes it so you’re not necessarily just throwing something out there and saying, ‘Oh man, this dude’s got like 200,000 followers—let’s do this.’ Every modern marketer has fallen into that trap where you think it seems like a safe bet, but you end up thinking, ‘That did not do what I expected it to,'” said Brian Larson, Taylor Stitch’s head of brand marketing. “With analytics, you’re stacking the deck in your favor.”