The Next Big Thing

Image recognition start-up can tell what brands you use from your Instagram pics

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 April, 2015, 8:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 April, 2015, 8:00am

Hong Kong-based start-up Brand Pit is targeting a potential growth market helping brands conduct market research on social media, using its new image recognition technology.

According to a 2013 report by US-based consultancy Gen2 Advisors, 52 per cent of companies currently use social media for customer experience monitoring.

"[Social media monitoring] has not had the scale of success in market research that many people had predicted," wrote Ray Poynter for market research blog GreenBook, highlighting the problems of finding the signal through the noise when it comes to social media chatter, and of establishing customer characteristics (such as age or gender) based on a user's social media profile.

Brand Pit’s image recognition technology scours photo sharing networks such as Instagram and Facebook and extracts information from them that will be useful to brands.

"The internet is going very visual, lots of people are posting images and videos instead of text," said Brand Pit co-founder and chief executive TT Chu.

Last year, Instagram, which was bought by Facebook in 2012 for US$1 million, overtook Twitter in terms of monthly active users, with more than 300 million people around the world using the app to share photos.

Chu explained that existing social media analytics tools are largely text based, which, while effective to a degree on Twitter and similar sites, are far less useful on networks like Instagram.

"Existing analytics tools all rely on hashtags [for Instagram]. People are lazy, they don't really hashtag stuff in their photos."

"We're able to identify brands, products and generic objects [as well as] the age, gender and race of the person in the photo and determine whether the photo is outdoors or indoors," said Chu, who didn't give details of the software's operation.

This raises issues of privacy. The relatively small scale of current social media monitoring by brands, as noted by Poynter, could mean that many users may be unaware of such activity. As it becomes more common it could add to broader concerns over online security after revelations that governments were routinely monitoring internet traffic. Chu acknowledged privacy is an issue, but said that Brand Pit only accesses public photos and does not relay any specific user information.

"We don't tell brands who exactly posted photos of your products, we tell them about groups of people," he said.

Brand Pit, which won a gold award for business marketing at the recent Hong Kong ICT Awards, relocated from Tokyo to Hong Kong last year to join Swire Properties' Blueprint start-up accelerator, a move Chu said worked out much better than expected.

The company also previously took part in the StartmeupHK Venture Programme, an annual competition organised by Invest Hong Kong.

Chu said StartmeupHK "provided us a lot of connections, linked us up with a lot of start-up organisations, all the circles we needed to know".

"Hong Kong is a great hub for international businesses," said Brand Pit’s chief operating officer and co-founder Mayuko Yamaura.

While Hong Kong and Japan share many of the same problems in their burgeoning start-up economies, Chu said culture remains a greater hurdle in Japan.

"The problem of people not understanding start-ups is far more serious there," he said. "Basically the only reason you would [form a start-up] is that you're a loser or a criminal."