Percolate’s James Gross Makes Case for Branded Content at Social Scale

Social media has flipped the entire landscape of brand communications and engagement with users on its head. The medium presents brands with an entirely new challenge and opportunity - if only most brands knew what to do with these social tools and platforms.

That’s how James Gross sees it and it helps explain why he and co-founder Noah Brier launched Percolate nearly two years ago to “help brands create content at social scale,” he told ClickZ in an interview recently. The growing and unmet need for a technological answer to branded social content became abundantly clear to Gross during his time at Federated Media when brands constantly asked “what should I tweet about?”

“You have to sort of break down and realize brands aren’t good at tweeting because they don’t consume anything. Brands struggle with this because they’re not human, they don’t have brains,” says Gross.

“Percolate is built for that in mind. How do you help marketers systemize all of their content?” he adds. “If you’re the CMO of a Fortune 500 company, you need a way to systemize all of your content.”

Percolate’s role is to pull all of that disparate content into its platform, meta tag it, index it and help brands re-use those assets from a workflow perspective. “The goal of the software is for marketers to be able to systemize how they go about creating content,” says Gross.

It begins with brand ideals and brands need to create and leverage content that represents those ideals by sharing relevant stories, he adds. “How do you as a brand limit this intersection of what’s culturally relevant to your brand now and where you stand as a brand?”

“Brands struggle to create content in social because they don’t consume it… Brands are really struggling here. It’s a very difficult medium to try to communicate in,” says Gross.

“Brands don’t have brains. It’s not an insult. Brands don’t have brains. They can’t contextualize the world. They need humans to help them do that,” he says. “If we can build out a brand as an interest graph, we can help them create content.”

What makes social platforms unique is that brands acquire their users, Gross explains. But because brands traditionally only listen to what’s being said about them, and don’t think about how to better position itself, they need technology to help them scale.

“Brands are great at building brands because they’re a magnet, they’re not a mirror,” he says, adding that brands can’t scale on social without better technology.

“The basic model in all of these from a business platform is allow brands to grow their audience, natively communicate” and drive traffic to that content through sponsored posts or tweets and the like. “You follow or like a person that communicates with you in real time by creating content,” he says.

“Brands are very good at creating stock content, content where they work with their agencies … and they go off and create big beautiful media” like TV ads or splashy billboards, says Gross. The problem is not only is the cost to produce and create that content very high, it also needs to live for a long time to have any chance at making a return on investment.

“The largest touch point you’re going to have with your audience is social,” and that begs the question about what need exists for agencies in social, Gross says. “Can you actually outsource social?” he asks. “With social, the argument can be made that this is much more strategic to business.”

Agencies may not be the best way to get your brand to tweet 19 times a day across every country, for example, notes Gross. With Percolate, “you’re augmenting a human being by outsourcing” those tasks to technology, sharing relevant content (owned or curated) and reformatting that media in real time to be optimized for each site.

Percolate raised $9 million last month in a series A round of financing led by GGV Capital. The company primarily licenses its software to Fortune 500 companies, counting 37 current clients among that group today, including American Express, Diageo, GE and Xerox.

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