Understanding Pinterest: A social media ‘outsider’ or marketing gem?

Think ‘Pinterest’ and your mind probably wanders to images of wedding venues, luxury couches and recipe ideas. Although it is a visually powerful platform, it does not traditionally scream ‘post your ad here’ and unlike other social networks it is often considered to be a bit of an outsider.

However, with more than 200 million active ‘pinners’ worldwide using the site on a monthly basis perhaps it is not the social media introvert marketers might think it is.

Pinterest is home to 100 billion pinned images and two billion ‘boards’ (collection of pins). Plus, 130 million visual searches are made on the site every month with most relating to furniture, home décor and style.

In the UK, 4.3 million ‘ideas’ are saved each day and 10 million users are visiting the site monthly. Which is why retailers such as Ikea and Made.com are exploiting the advertising opportunities Pinterest has to offer.

According to the platform, 90% of weekly active pinners say Pinterest helps them decide what to purchase and 70% use the site to find new products.

Users also associate Pinterest with taking action. For instance, 98% of pinners report trying new things they find on Pinterest, compared to 71% across other social media platforms.

But while it is not difficult to see why the platform might provide a major opportunity for some, there are challenges for others.

Brands need to think very hard about the imagery they use, plus there are external factors. Google still runs the web’s biggest image search library and could easily encroach on Pinterest’s model, while the company will also need to convince brands of its point of differentiation if it is to compete with Google and Instagram for ad dollars, as well as others looking to take a slice of the crowded digital ad market.


What’s in it for retailers?

Pinterest is mainly useful for companies that are able to create boards with content that champions both visual appeal and consumer value, not just those in the home décor sector.

The platform is essentially a visual discovery tool and the general consensus from Pinterest is that retailers must be able to honour that if they want to turn the network into their social media marketing arsenal.

There are a number of ways retailers and brands can use Pinterest to boost sales and engage consumers, such as promoted pins, which are regular pins but retailers pay to ensure they are seen by more potential customers. For instance, when businesses pay for these pins they should appear where consumers are more likely to notice them while they are in the middle of actively deciding what to do or buy next. The promoted pins they see are based on their interests and activity on Pinterest.

The platform’s recent expansion into ‘shopping ads’ this year also provides an avenue for advertisers to directly target Pinterest users who have already ‘pinned’ products they like.

Through shopping ads, businesses can turn their products into visual and actionable adverts that are automatically pulled from an existing product feed.

According to Pinterest, shopping ads have enabled Ikea Canada to scale its advertising with a 1.3x lower cost per order, while retailer Lowe’s return on ad spend was 76% better than its initial goal.

Visual platforms play into the hands of retailers such as Made.com, which prides itself on its striking visual appeal and ability to target consumers at a precise moment in their Pinterest journey.

Made.com’s chief commercial officer Annabel Jack says the ad algorithm works by targeting a user at a specific time, showing them a particular picture that might be relevant to images they have just pinned.

“We have to make sure we target people in the right way to ensure they’re getting a genuine experience. Not a lot of brands would be set up to do that, but we have invested a lot into our own images, as well as our customers’ images, and are quite well positioned to do that,” she says.

“The value for us in Pinterest is that it’s a wonderful visual platform, which allows us to build our brand because it’s very connected to what we’re about as a company – which is being the leading brand in Europe for design. It totally feeds into our hands in terms of being able to give the customer a very visual experience.”

Capturing consumers in ‘consideration mode’

Pinterest’s retail virtual strategy lead Amy Vener says consumers venture to the platform when they need inspiration, usually months out from an event, opening up the opportunity for retailers to capture them in that ‘consideration mode’, which she believes is the key to success.

Vener says consumers come to Pinterest with preconceived ideas before making a decision meaning the pinners’ mindset is often in that planning phase, whether it’s what they want to cook for dinner that evening or a longer-term decision about interior design.

“When a retailer is able to put the right product in front of someone at the right moment early in that process of discovery and speak to them personally, that drives incremental new demand to the retailer.”

“Consumers on Pinterest are open to ideas. We have found that unlike other platforms where consumers might approach it ‘in the moment’, the way they’re using Pinterest is with this planning mindset, and usually for a particular life event.”

Pinterest is very much a visual discovery tool, which is great for the likes of brands in the home and garden sector – Pinterest’s biggest market – so it makes sense that Ikea is one of those retail giants using the platform’s ad services.

Ikea’s media manager for UK and Ireland, Tania Douglas, says Pinterest is a platform that allows the company to reach an “engaged audience” such as those planning a new kitchen, those seeking inspiration for an important event like a wedding, or people who are simply interested in the latest home interior trends and inspiration.

“Rather than having to fight through the ‘mish-mash’ of clutter we see in other social platform feeds, Pinterest allows us to create and share content that is relevant to the consumer’s frame of mind in that moment an ad is served,” she says.

According to Douglas, there are a number of ways Ikea can advertise on the platform but what it is going for is how it can provide ideas and inspiration that match what consumers are seeking out. “Pinterest offers an engaged audience that is seeking out ideas and inspiration for their home. We are able
to reach them in their moment of need with relevant and inspiring content. This is something we can’t do with such clarity in other platforms,” she says.

Non-branded dominance

Vener says 97% of searches on Pinterest are non-branded, meaning they are ideas. Pinterest is unique in its ability to generate new demand because of the ability for the consumer to get something visual and personal.

However, big partners such as Ikea, as well as smaller retailers, are also offering unique ideas and interests that match what consumers want. “Home décor is definitely one sector we’re seeing a lot more of but there’s also this smaller business, disruptive side,” says Vener.

“A lot of smaller apparel brands, which are doing interesting things because they don’t have the recognition, use Pinterest to generate leads and customer recognition, by getting in front of customers who have an interest in what they have to offer.”

Additionally, Jack says the fact consumers are not using brand names in a search and are instead searching for inspiration is great for Made.com because it creates a level playing field.

“What we’re trying to do as a brand is make sure we have as much content up there as possible that is relevant to the searches consumers find valuable. It’s not a daily search platform, it’s a planned search platform,” she says.

“For someone using Pinterest, they have a clear idea of what they want to be shown so relevance plays a huge part in that. It’s a very personal search. Consumers are creating a search, curating their search, finding things they like, and attaching that to a Pinterest board.”


The limitations

Yet despite the opportunities there are still limitations. Pinterest offers relatively few analytics and Ikea’s Douglas says she would like to get more data on the scale and reach Ikea achieves with Pinterest, as well as the frequency of page visits it sees via the platform.

“We base a lot of our decisions around media channels on the reach we will achieve and it is key in growing our brand. Ideally, we would like to receive more information around this rather than just impression data,” she says.

“We would also like to have a better insight into what users are looking for in Pinterest, so we can continue to create more relevant and useful content.”

There are also still concerns about social commerce. According to eMarketer, just 12% of Pinterest users have gone on to purchase a product they have seen on the platform, although 50% have ‘considered’ a purchase. Plus the likes of Instagram are moving rapidly into that area with ‘buy now’ buttons.

Google also appears to be taking image search more seriously and it is testing a new-look image search for desktop that appears to be very similar to Pinterest. When users search for an image, results will appear vertically rather than horizontally and are often accompanied by a small caption or badge describing what the picture or product is. Also, just like Pinterest, if users click on the image they will receive more information about the product, which they can order online.

Convincing advertisers to get on board could also be a tough sell. The digital ad market is dominated by Google and Facebook; convincing advertisers to move money away from these two is proving tricky for many platforms trying to win marketing dollars. And there are a number of companies trying to do that – Snapchat, Twitter, Verizon, AT&T and Spotify to name just a few.

Pinterest will need to be very clear about its point of difference and why its audience is worth reaching, particularly given the scale of Facebook and Google.


Measuring impact and success

Instagram is clearly Pinterest’s biggest rival when it comes to advertising on social platforms but what makes the latter stand out is relevancy and understanding.

“Obviously Instagram is a visual platform as well but the way Pinterest works is that every activity a consumer makes in terms of looking at a piece of content, saving that content onto a board and being able to click through to a retailer – all of those signals of intent allow us to understand what interest they have today, as well as what they might be interested in as they move toward the future,” says Vener.

However, Jack at Made.com admits Pinterest hasn’t been a huge driver in terms of contribution to sales, though it’s still early days. She also says because Made.com’s ad spend is as quite small, the retailer doesn’t necessarily see a big return.

“But we feel Pinterest is very aligned to us as a team and business because at the end of the day it’s helping inspire people on design which is truly at the heart of what we do as a brand,” she says.

Article written by: Erin Lyons