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Tanjo’s Animated Personas Are Like Sim Characters for Market Researchers

by Muriel Vega

Marketing research often relies on chosen subjects’ opinions within a controlled environment. But what happens if they stretch the truth, if they feel off that day, or if they’re not connecting properly with the product? Your company will get incomplete, misleading feedback.

With North Carolina-based Tanjo‘s digital animated personas — essentially an AI-driven simulated personality — marketing teams can simulate customer behavior and how they will react to brand or product messaging prior to deploying the campaign in the real world.

At the heart of the product is the deep customization of customer segments. CEO Richard Boyd explains how they collect data from the census, government and Nielsen’s partner program in order to build “models of consumer behavior.”

“Then you put it into a game-like simulation, and now you can interact with complex behaviors and even go way into the future to try to anticipate what the United States going to be like 10 years from now,” he says.

“That’s a much more powerful tool for testing ideas and it’s a fraction of the price that people are spending today on market research.”

Serial entrepreneur Boyd has been entrenched in the machine learning and AI world for nearly two decades while building and selling two computer gaming and simulation companies.

“Having worked with the technology and training these brains for over four years puts us in a pretty unique segment in the market because a lot of people jumping up right now, raising their hands saying that they do machine learning,” says Boyd. “But they don’t have the depth of experience we have and don’t have the mature technology we have.”

The animated personas, calibrated to fit your company’s demographic and target audience, will react to your campaigns in real time, without environmental-driven biases that real people might bring to the table.

Based on the same machine learning concepts of centralizing data, Tanjo also offers a customizable “Clean Brain” tool to compile all your organization’s knowledge and help the team avoid repetition, automate tasks and centralize past documentation and history. Over time, the brain learns old and new data about your workflow and collaboration patterns, and alerts employees to relevant information as they create reports or send emails.

“We started with this idea of building something very much like IBM Watson where we would train it on all human knowledge. But we learned painfully the lesson that IBM and other people have learned, is that you need to bound the context and make it a lot tighter in terms of the knowledge base for the system and it will get a lot smarter, faster.”

“So if you put it inside an architecture firm, it can learn by reading lots and lots of examples from the building codes to architectural diagrams. It will then understand architecture really well.”

Tanjo can integrate the brain with any pre-existing environment, including Microsoft or Google, and be as immersive as needed for clients. “We have examples of the full spectrum to just a little icon. It sits in the corner, waiting for you to make recommendations. In the case of the accounting customers, they have to produce these documents at the end of an audit. This system will actually begin writing that document and will put the first draft together for them,” he says.

What sets them apart from the growing competition, according to Boyd, is the brain’s independence — the tool is standalone, does not live in a cloud, and thus can be housed within a company’s firewall — helping firms stay secure and avoid security breaches.

“You don’t have to send your data over the firewalls and wonder where it’s going, which often happens with software as the service. For financial institutions and others, it’s important for people to have that level of control. We believe that the market is coming around to our way of viewing things, which is you need a machine learning capability.

The startup charges a licensing fee for their digital personas, with a higher fee for the clean brain tool.

So far, Tanjo has raised $2.5 million in funding and plans to start raising a $5-7 million Series B toward the end of the year. Boyd shares that they expect to be profitable later this year; the new funding will help them scale faster to keep up with the industry and customer demand.

“It’s mostly going to marketing and staff. What’s great about the animated persona product and the brain is that they both scale dramatically. They’re like any pure software product does — it’s just about building up the distribution,” he says.

Boyd shares that the team has shirts that display, “Talk to us about our 10X ROI,” to illustrate their philosophy of being methodical about measuring return on investment. “How many technologies can you implement where you’re comfortable that you’re going to get a 10X return?” asks Boyd.

“Usually in most cases, depending on what we’re doing, it’s a 10X annuity. If you invest one time, let’s say you invest $100,000 with us, you can expect $1,000,000 return and get it every year.”

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