Struggling to keep your brand messaging consistent across channels? As Rob May explains, generative AI allows endless personalized content at scale, but also creates a content explosion. His solution is BrandGuard, which uses AI models trained on your brand guidelines to automatically check creative assets. The Chrome plugin integrates everywhere you create content, scoring it for brand match. BrandGuard provides analytics to see which teams need more brand training. Rob shares how this “brand governance platform” helps both global enterprises and startups. With pricing starting low, the tool monitors social media and other outputs to ensure brand consistency. Rob also provides an inside look at startup marketing, from shameless promotion to content experiments. His story illustrates how persistence breaks through, despite many ignored outreaches. This episode offers practical AI applications and actionable advice to master brand messaging across distributed teams and genres.
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Jim James (00:02.229)
Hello, welcome to this episode of The Unnoticed Entrepreneur. This is the show where we interview entrepreneurs who have great experience and wisdom and we ask them how they are getting noticed. And we know that the best way to learn is from another entrepreneur who's got the experience. And today we're going all the way to the Big Apple to meet with Rob May, who is a multiple serial entrepreneur and is currently running a company called BrandGuard.
and we're going to talk about how they are helping big companies and small companies to protect their brand. Rob, welcome to the show.
Yeah, thanks for having me. I'm excited.
Jim James (00:41.205)
Well, I'm excited because as you have shared really on your website, BrandGuard, we have an issue where more and more content is being created. In the old days, my old days, you used to wait till the magazine came out or the newspaper and you could clip it and have a look and see everything was on brand. Then the internet made it more content more quickly.
The content is mushrooming and anyone in charge of managing a brand, keeping the messaging on brand, keeping all the distributed teams, communicating, collaborating on brand is really, really hard. You've come up with BrandGuard, which is a new platform and it's brandguard.ai for anybody that's interested to check this out, which I encourage you to do. Rob, tell us the story of BrandGuard. What do you do and how do you help?
business owners to protect their brand in the marketplace.
So brand consistency is really challenging, particularly in an age of AI and trying to personalize everything. It's like, how do I cater my messaging for different demographics, different geos, but still stay on brand because we're in a marketplace that's very crowded. It's hard to get people's attention. You need that brand consistency to break through, particularly if you are the kind of company where brand's really important, where there's certain values that matter a lot to your customers, certain attributes of your brand.
And it's become harder for two reasons. Number one, most brands are omni-channel now. So they're selling all over the place, they're reaching customers all over the place. Some of those channels move really, really quickly, like social media. You can't respond 48 hours later to something that happened on Twitter. Like that doesn't make any sense. But at the same time, if you have a junior person managing social media and they're gonna put up a kind of funny image or something like that, or they're gonna tie into an internet meme, like should they be doing that? Is that appropriate to your brand? And having humans check everything is time consuming.
So we built a tool that we call a brand governance platform. And what it does is it monitors all the creative, your ads that go out, your landing pages, your website, your core creative process out of Figma or Canva or whatever you use, your emails. To sort of use AI models, we teach machines to understand your brand. We ingest your brand guidelines, we look at previous samples, and then we give you scores like, this is really on brand, this is not, you might wanna tweak this, et cetera. Allows people to sort of do a better job of...
maintaining brand consistency. And when you look at what's coming with generative AI, and the fact that we have a customer that wants to create 100,000 landing pages every day that are hyper-personalized. And then imagine you start doing that with video, you wanna create 1,000 customer videos every day that are targeted at different market segments. You just can't keep up reviewing all this. So people rely on us as a first automated pass. You can automatically reject stuff that's bad, automatically approve stuff that's really good, and you can still have humans.
monitor and tweak the stuff that's in the middle. So it's, yeah, it's been one of the fastest growing companies I've worked on in my career.
Jim James (03:46.073)
That's amazing. You just launched the company just in November of 2022, so just not even a year ago. You've already raised funding, so plainly you've hit the zeitgeist now, which is around content creation and that being a little bit out of control. Rob, when you talk about generative AI, why don't you just help those of us that are not in the industry
understand what that means and how it's being used by brands. Because that's to some degree, the Holy Grail, isn't it, for many people in marketing about AI is that it creates content for you and by you almost on autopilot. Can you just share with us a little bit about the background there?
Sure. So if you think about, so I've been working in AI since 2015. And so you have seen a lot of this sort of build up. And what's interesting to me, the two examples I'll give about how AI can help with like content marketing and content creation is let's say you have an image, it's a cool image. It represents your brand and you want to put a tagline over that image because you're going to put it on a blog post or on social media or maybe in a Google ad or Facebook ad.
But ideally, you'd like to vary the tagline, depending on who you're targeting. If you're targeting a man versus woman, an older person versus a younger person, a person in the Northeast versus the Southwest, you might wanna use different wording. You could ask ChatGPT something like, here's how I describe my brand. How would you make a seven word tagline for this, for this kind of person in this location? You could get, you know, a hundred different or a thousand different variations of your ad with slightly different taglines that were personalized on and then you could run all those. That's really cool.
you can do the same thing for images, right? Let's say you're selling pet food. Well, if I show you a pet food ad that has a person who is your race, your gender, your age, with your type of pet, you're much more likely to buy my pet food and convert than if I just show you, you know, the one model that I took pictures of. But I can't go out and shoot models of, you know, 40 different people of different ages, races, and genders. Like that's very expensive and time consuming.
Generative AI is going to make it possible where you do that photo shoot with one model and then you swap out, you know, other people, not even images of real people, but generative AI can create fake people that look very real. So you can take these things and you can suddenly see how you can personalize marketing at scale, which has been the dream, and allow small businesses to have the power to do what only big businesses could do previously. So it's really, really cool.
And obviously big businesses can do that in massive scale, but then it creates this content explosion problem of, wow, how do I verify that 2000 images and all their associated text and everything are on brand and use the right words and look good and all that stuff.
Jim James (06:35.481)
Rob, so thank you for that really great explanation. As you say, personalization at scale, without needing to have a scaled company in your own right is really liberating actually for business owners, isn't it? It gives us the chance to compete with big companies, even if we're small, using tools like Synthesia, for example. They've got amazing tools and avatars that they're creating. I'm not sure they can do that for animals though. Can we create animal avatars?
I don't know that anybody's doing it probably because there's maybe not a big enough market use case, but technically it shouldn't be a problem if we were to take that on.
Jim James (07:11.461)
Yeah, yeah. Because you're absolutely right, because Binky, my Beagle and I, I'm sure we'd buy products if he was featuring in the adverts. But Rob, more seriously, with the content, for a practical point of view with BrandGuard, if someone has created all this content, and for example, you can create multiple clips, you know, lots of tools now, like Riverside create multiple
video, for example, and Veed and all these others do as well. What's the practical step? Does someone have to load these contents into the BrandGuard platform? Or are they somehow connected with a tool like Zapier? How does that work?
Yeah, that's a good question. So there's three ways you can use the tool. We have a web application. You can upload content directly to that. We keep a lot of brand analytics. What's been approved? What's been rejected? What's on brand at what levels? We have an API. So we will have some announcements soon about plugging into other tools via that API. There's some agencies that are adopting that API. And then, but the big one is the Chrome plugin. So we have a Chrome plugin, which allows you to score assets wherever you're working. So if you're...
creating, if you're using generative AI tools like writer.ai or Synthesia, if you're using Figma or Canva, HubSpot, wherever you're creating this content, we can score it there in the Chrome plugin and tell you how it's on brand, where it's off, and all that kind of stuff. So it greatly reduces the approval time of people going back and forth, getting things approved and making sure what's on brand and what's not.
Jim James (08:53.245)
Rob, that's amazing. The Chrome plugin will be just liberating because you don't want people, maybe VA team in the Philippines, for example, is doing the work for you, right? And then they would be using, let's say Canva with your own brand guidelines and that would connect automatically. From a control point of view, somebody has created some content, they've got it checked by BrandGuard and it fails. What's the remedy?
It's a good question. It really depends on the workflow that the customer wants to adopt. So we have some technology that, if you're technical, I'll explain. We've tied an LLM to an image diffusion network so that they understand each other. So if you upload an image...
Jim James (09:41.499)
An LLM is just explain that so we can follow up.
Yeah, a large language model like chat GPT or they're actually a bunch more on the market. You can use hugging face technology, you can use cohere. You can use bard, but use one of these tools. And so we tie those together. And so when something fails, let's say you upload an ad, and we'll say it fails because x, y, z, and we'll give an explanation, right. You know, and it can be a simple like, like we face some really challenging things. Sometimes we have a brand that one of the brand guidelines is
No child can be shown using technology in an image without an adult present. So if you uploaded something, we can say, this fails because it doesn't meet this brand guideline. It shows a child using technology alone, and that's forbidden for this brand. So we can do things like that. But we don't make a direct recommendation how to fix it yet, because it's a little bit of a harder technical problem. So, but we can tell you why it fails, and then we rely on the human to fix it.
Jim James (10:41.637)
Okay, so the remedy is as well that there's a notification of some kind and people then would be able to not allow that to go out and there'll be a workflow within someone's HubSpot or Slack or whatever other tools they're using for managing that. That's brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. I can really see that now. I will ask the million dollar question or is it a million dollar question? Is it affordable, Rob, for the average SME entrepreneur
Own a business.
Yeah, we thought when I started this company, I would have thought, I thought, oh, this will be some of the top 5000 brands in the world we'll care about. And we'll charge them a million dollars a year and everything else. And we don't we don't have any of the, you know, like Fortune 50 yet, but I we're talking to some of them. And I think those will be like really big deals where you have multiple tiers of brands and it's really complicated, you know. But but for now, I mean, we have a 40 person startup that uses the product. And so it starts at about five hundred dollars a month for people that, you know,
You just need to check their social media feeds and you want a little help and some automation. And then I'd say average price is about four to $5,000 a month for a mid tier to larger company with a large branding team. But yeah, it's pretty horizontal product. It sort of runs the gamut.
Jim James (12:01.133)
That's wonderful. So you're presumably you're paying either on volume, I guess, of channels or content.
Yeah, the number of assets that we have to look at in a month and then whether we have to do video or not. Video is a lot more expensive than text than images. But yeah, it's unlimited users. So everybody in your company can have access to it.
Jim James (12:21.537)
Rob, that's wonderful. So really very scalable with the business. I do want to just ask you something because you dropped in the word monitor there, but is this monitoring content that's out there on the internet already or is it only, if you like, evaluating content that your team are creating and thinking about posting?
Yeah, so we don't go out and search for content that you've posted. But if you connect a channel, we can monitor that channel going forward. And the best way to think about it is there are tools, brand safety tools, that look at where your ads, for example, show up online. We're kind of moving that process earlier in the content supply chain to make sure that the content matches, that it's high quality, that bad things don't go out in the first place.
everybody who's working on the brand, whether they're a contractor or a third-party collaboration or somebody internal, everybody's work is being vetted to make sure that it meets the brand standards. And we're automating that process because it's a very slow process today.
Jim James (13:24.851)
right and rope.
Jim James (13:28.493)
Yeah, exactly. In the approvals process of getting people internally to agree to even, for example, a press release or to a new ad, when it goes up the chain, especially in regional communications, where you've got a country manager, a regional manager, and then maybe an international marketing director, for example, can take absolutely ages. So is it the case then with BrandGuard that, if you like, the procurement manager or the business owner has a dashboard of some kind
where they can see the assets and the performance of the assets, because what you'd also want to do is to see, you know, if you've got a part of the creative team that's kind of running amok doing their own thing or certain assets that consistently are in danger of crossing the line, how does that work from a governance point of view, Rob?
Yeah, so there's two pieces to the tool. There's a training portal where, you know, we have to train these machine learning models, like what is appropriate for your brand. And in a training portal, you upload assets of like, these are good assets, these are not on branded assets, but somebody created them, they're often, we only need 30 to 40 examples to build a good model. And then we ingest your brand guidelines. So that lives in one piece of the system. And then all the things that you upload and want us to score live in another part of the system.
Even if you score them in the Chrome plugin, we ingest those and then you can see it in aggregate. And it's interesting because one of the requests that we're getting that we're going to introduce in Q1 is more analytics about brand performance because we had a very large customer who does a lot of presentations to their customer base. And they came to this and said, well, it'd be really interesting if people are making all these presentations that are public facing. We have all these offices around the world.
Could you make sure that the presentations are always on brand and screen them for that? And the way they decided to roll it out was not to... There's no workflow if it's not on brand. It's basically like, upload the presentation before you show it to the customer. We tell you how on brand it is. And if it's not on brand, you're not required to do anything about it, but it tells us as a brand team how well we're doing at educating people and all this kind of stuff. So they really just use it for the analytics piece where they can say like...
this department or this group, and this kind of gets at your question, right? They're doing more off-brand stuff than anybody else. We need to have an intervention or whatever those teams do, do more education or something like that.
Jim James (15:49.332)
Jim James (15:53.873)
Yeah, that's really interesting. I'm going to ask the question about multilingual, Rob, because, you know, I, I personally spent a lot of time in, in Asia and worked on multilingual campaigns, you know, whether it was Basque Indonesia and Mandarin and English. How does BrandGuard help or tackle multilingual programs?
Yeah, we do all the European languages today, sort of out of the box. But we don't do any Asian languages yet. We've had that request, and I think we'll get to it. But most cases, those are separate and distinct marketing teams. And so we'll roll out to the North American and European teams, and then we'll save Asia Pacific for later.
Jim James (16:35.997)
Yeah, no, Rob, I'm talking to Rob May here, he's the founder of a company called BrandGuard. Which is brandguard.ai for those of you that are excited by this. And I think that as the explosion of content that's upon us with AI, whether it's books or videos or texts, controlling what our teams are saying about us and what we say about ourselves is really essential. So this is a welcome tool. Rob, you've made it sound like a bit of a textbook case. You've built this business.
In a very short amount of time, you've already raised finance, you've got good customers. Has there been something that has happened that you've done from a marketing perspective that maybe didn't go quite as planned? Not in a way to embarrass you in any way, but just sharing our mistakes is often as valuable as sharing our successes.
Well, so part of the reason we've been able to do this fast, you know, this is my fourth startup. So most of the team has worked with me at a previous company. There's a lot of shared trust. We know what we're doing. We've built a lot of enterprise software. So we're moving really fast. Warren Buffett has a saying that I love that says, you can't make a baby in a month by getting nine women pregnant. And when you're an entrepreneur and you're trying to move fast, you have to realize what can you parallelize and do stuff in parallel because you know you're gonna need it. And what has to be serialized still, right?
And marketing is one of those things where you kind of still have to serialize it. You have to run your experiments early on and you have to figure out what channels work for you, what channels reach your customer. So the way we approach it is I always start with top of funnel first. People get obsessed about their funnel conversion. And I'm like, if you only have a handful of leads every month, focus on getting more leads and then when you, when you've got a good established top of funnel, let's focus on fixing the funnel. So what we did was we ran a bunch of experiments and
Some of them worked and some of them didn't, but probably the one that failed the worst so far is I'm a big fan of what I call content marketing on the tangent. So you take your target customer and what's something that they care about where you can be a source of truth that ties back to your business, but it's the difference between like I'm not out there saying like, hey, what should you look for in a brand governance platform? I'm interested in taking somebody who needs a brand governance platform, but doesn't know about it.
and reaching them with something else. So we'd ran an ebook about the future of AI and marketing and generative AI and how to use it. And I thought, well, the ideal will be experts in the future of marketing and AI, we'll soft sell in that ebook. Mostly it was about all this stuff. We interviewed a bunch of people and then the soft sell will be, oh, and by the way, you should think about a brand governance platform. And we ran some campaigns, almost nobody downloaded the ebook.
Jim James (19:17.277)
I expected we would get four or five thousand downloads and we got maybe two hundred. You know, and you compare that to campaigns we've run since then where we have gotten thousands of downloads. And I think the problem with that first one was I actually think it was way too far off of our target market. I think we hit a lot of. You know, sort of consultants and thought leaders that are great and maybe like in the long term will help evangelize us.
But we actually didn't hit brand managers very well. And I think it was too high-minded and meta and not pragmatic enough for the day-to-day challenges that they're facing in managing a brand or thinking about marketing. And so it was a pretty big flop. We were pretty disappointed, but lesson learned.
Jim James (20:03.289)
But really useful learning and it's a very interesting point about, if you like, the product marketing fit or product market fit on the marketing message and I think quite a lot of people in their own mind have invented something that solves a big problem and go to the market with a, hey, I can solve a big problem and yet the customers on the whole are solving today's problem, you know, and are not planning so far ahead. Rob, you've
Jim James (20:30.713)
mentioned, of course, you've had multiple businesses and this is on its way to being, I think, at least as successful or eclipsing your other ones, I'm sure. As an entrepreneur, is there something that you would say has worked, switching tax, you know, something that you find really does move the needle when it comes to getting noticed?
You have to be a little shameless in promoting your business when you're a startup, right? And I think the thing that I missed most, so I'm an engineer by training, right? I didn't come up a marketing path and I had to learn to be a CEO and learn to evangelize the company. And as an engineer, you think about, well, I told the customer one time what I did, they should decide if they want it or not. But people have to hear these messages over and over. And you have to, sometimes it's hard. You feel like, oh my gosh, I'm a broken record. I keep saying the same thing. And I'm like, yeah, that's how it should feel. That's what you've got to do.
You've got to be consistent. People have to hear about you three, four, five, six, seven times before they go. Yeah, I should probably check that out. And so you feel a little bit like you're bombarding the market with stuff. When you're really not, people miss so much stuff because you're like, I'll give you an example of a simple thing that people don't do that they should do. Resurface, when you have one and two and three year old blog posts or tweets, whatever, resurface those on social media.
And you know, you're thinking like, no, but I already posted those. Yeah, but most of the people that follow you now haven't seen them. So you keep recycling this stuff. But I, I think the thing that works best for me was, particularly my first startup, I dedicated about 25% of my time to talking to emailing and trying to educate journalists about a new space and what it was. And I would just email them like, and it wasn't always like, Hey, you should write about me. Although I did work that into some of the pitches, but it was like, Hey, you wrote this thing. Did you ever think about
you know, this angle of it. And you know, if you need a quote about this, I'm here and happy to talk to you. 80% of the time, they didn't respond and 10% of the time they responded to don't stop contacting me and but 10% of the time, you know, people would respond and we almost shut down that first company because we weren't growing fast enough after a year. And then Tech Republic picked us up and wrote an article about it that got picked up on tech meme, we signed up 10,000, you know, consumers the next day and then
By the end of the week, VCs were calling me. Hey, what's going on? I heard about your company, your fast growth, right? Whatever. And so it's, you know, it was a year of 25% of my time, you know, and when you're working 60 hours a week as an entrepreneur, like that's a lot of time, like just crafting messages, researching journalists and all that. And so, yeah, it was a lot of work, but it worked out.
Jim James (23:04.165)
Rob, that's amazing. That's a great story that you have to keep going. But as you say, to repurpose and whilst for you it's repetitive for many people, it may not be seen the first second, maybe forgotten the third time, and they need the repetition to build the consistency, to build some sense of trust in that brand. Rob May, CEO of BrandGuard, that's brandguard.ai. If you want to find out more about you and to talk to you, where can they do that?
Well, two things you can email me, email@example.com. If you wanna talk about something, I do a lot of angel investing, if you wanna pitch me on your company. If you wanna read a lot of my writing, I have a sub stack where I talk about AI and it is investinginai.substack.com. Write about what I'm seeing in the AI markets, how I think about investments there, running companies there and stuff like that. So if that's of interest to you, I would encourage you to check it out.
Jim James (23:57.717)
Rob, you're obviously a man with a great number of talents and thanks for taking the time to know how busy you are. So thanks for joining us all the way from New York today, Rob May.
Thanks for having me. This has been fun.
Jim James (24:08.605)
It's been great fun and wow, a whole new area. And we're talking about AI and what I love about this conversation with, with Robert Braingard is that this is really a practical application of AI. It's not, uh, AI is going to change the world. It's one specific problem, which is the content creation around AI and that being distributed amongst different workforces and different, for example, VAs and teams and managing the
consistency of the brand by using brand guide. I can just see the applications for that straight away. So it's really wonderful AI being put to use in something that we can use today. And also frankly, very, very affordable, especially if you think about the cost of being off brand or letting your brand go out of control. So once again, a great, great interview with a brilliant entrepreneur. So I hope you found this a view. So I know I have. Please do follow the show because I wouldn't want you to miss another wonderful entrepreneur sharing.
and do rate it and leave a review on the player because it also really helps. And until we meet again, my name's Jim James. We've got Rob May has joined us from New York and thank you very much for listening. And I encourage you to just keep on communicating.
Jim James (25:24.617)
Hope that's not too awkward for you at the end there. Do a little bit of a wrap up.
Yeah, no, it was good.