This Artificial Intelligence Startup With $10.1 Million in Funding Will Tell You Exactly What Your Competitors Are Doing
Artificial intelligence startup Crayon is using machine learning to provide actionable insight to marketers using a prevalent, but overlooked, resource: their competitors’ websites. The startup has $10.1 million in funding for its AI product, which tracks companies’ digital footprints. These footprints lead right to critical insights about a company’s strategy, products and marketing.
That kind of intel is gold for marketers looking to win market share and build audiences with better messaging, targeting and content than their competitors. We talked to Crayon cofounder and CTO John Osborne to learn how the company produces serious benefits for marketers.
In a single sentence or statement, describe Crayon?
Crayon is a market intelligence platform that provides strategic insights and inspiration for marketers.
How does Crayon use artificial intelligence (i.e. machine learning, natural language generation, natural language processing, deep learning, etc.)?
Crayon’s customers use the Crayon Intel product to track competitors, partners and customers. For each company tracked by Crayon, the system identifies a “Digital Footprint.” The Digital Footprint is comprised of all web pages that might reveal important insights about the company, including the main corporate website, social media sites, product forums, career sites, online news publications and more.
The Crayon system reviews every page in a company’s Digital Footprint daily, searching for meaningful changes—from subtle messaging updates to major redesigns. For example, from one day to the next, a company might update the team page of its website by adding or removing a key executive. Crayon would highlight this change as an insight. For the team change event captured below, the insight would read, “CEO and Business Development Officer removed from team page.”
Over time, page changes documented by Crayon as insights communicate a story about a company’s successes, failures, decision-making process and strategic evolution. The Crayon system employs machine learning technologies to help it detect and classify page modifications. Continuing with the team change example depicted above, we have trained the system to 1) recognize that a meaningful alteration was published, 2) classify the page as a “team page” and 3) identify the removal of two relevant list items—team members—from the set.
What do you see as the limitations of artificial intelligence as it exists today?
At Crayon, our biggest challenge in employing the machine learning technology described above is the time required to train good models. The process of collecting samples and classifying them is labor intensive and can be error prone.
What do you see as the future potential of artificial intelligence in marketing?
Marketing is about getting the right products and services in front of the right prospects at the right time, so there are endless opportunities to apply AI in new and creative ways.
In the specific case of Crayon, we have already done a great job of utilizing machine learning to uncover and categorize insights from semi-structured web content. As a next step, I believe we will get better at targeting the most important insights to the most appropriate knowledge workers within our customers’ organizations.
For example, if Crayon Intel unearths a pattern or trend in the blog topics discussed by the competitors of one of our customers, the system should be able to direct that insight at someone who works in content marketing. Similarly, if Crayon discovers a new product feature, we should be able to target that insight at folks in product marketing and product management. This sort of targeting will help us deliver more signal and less noise to our customers.
What makes Crayon different than competing or traditional solutions?
Crayon Intel is a giant step forward for marketers looking to make sense of their company’s external environment. In the past, folks relied upon Google Alerts, manual observation (e.g. regularly reviewing a competitor’s website) and point software solutions. These tools and methods all have profound shortcomings in comparison with Crayon Intel. Google Alerts is noisy. Manual observation requires a prohibitive quantity of time and disappoints in terms of breadth and accuracy. Point solutions—software focused on a specific area of the external environment such as social media—only tell a portion of the story.
If a marketer wants the full picture, she will need to link several point solutions together, which is complex and expensive. Crayon, on the other hand, is an all-in-one solution that provides marketers with complete, prioritized insights from across a competitor’s entire Digital Footprint.
Who are your prototype customers in terms of company size and industries?
Our customers run the gamut of size and industry. We provide services to Fortune 500 software companies as well as 50-person companies that sell building materials. The commonality among our customers is that they strive to understand their competition and, more generally, their external business environment.
What are the primary use cases of Crayon for marketers?
Marketers use Crayon Intel to keep tabs on their external environment. Insights generated by Crayon provide marketers with context and help inform key decisions, including what content topics to publish, what sales traps to exploit, what product features to build and promote and what strategic initiatives to consider at the executive level.
Any other thoughts on AI in marketing, or advice for marketers who are just starting to explore the possibilities of AI?
Here at Crayon we are excited by the very real possibility that new and creative applications of AI to marketing will transform the field itself. We look forward to learning from and contributing to the movement alongside other readers of the Marketing Artificial Intelligence Institute blog.
About Paul Roetzer
Paul Roetzer (@paulroetzer) is founder and CEO of PR 20/20, author of The Marketing Performance Blueprint and The Marketing Agency Blueprint, and creator of The Marketing Artificial Intelligence Institute and Marketing Score. Full bio.