Pinterest's Power As A Platform For Predicting Preferences
A huge challenge for marketers is understanding their consumers. How can they find and target the right person who is most likely to derive value from their product or service? How can they connect with the next die-hard fan that will be an organic brand ambassador and word of mouth champion?
Finding and reaching these target consumers is the foundation for effective, optimized marketing. Spaghetti on the wall traditional media methods of blasting entire demographics (18-34 year-olds who live in Los Angeles, CA) are helpful in generating broad awareness and perhaps stimulating aspiration or conversation, but ultimately they are about as well-aimed as casting a giant net into the ocean to try to capture a specific type of fish.
Technology has helped accelerate and centralize crucial data about consumers that provides troves of useful insight into their preferences, shopping habits, likes, and dislikes. The guesswork is continually decreasing and the 4 pillars of valuable big data (veracity, velocity, variety, and volume) are being strengthened by platforms such as Pinterest.
Pinterest has access to a bevy of data about consumers’ tastes, dreams, and interests -- more so than any other platform -- even Amazon, which is a place for more immediate and practical purchases and wishlists than Pinterest. For a marketer, Pinterest boards are enthrallingly specific. When people like things on Facebook and Instagram - there are so many confounding variables at play for the intent and motivation behind that action of liking. Is it due to reciprocity? Because their friend always likes their content? Is it due to the quality of the content itself? It is because of the “influencer” or person who posted it?
The possibilities underlying the causation are endless. When it becomes easy to lump all platforms into “social media” because there is a network component, Pinterests’ previous head of engineering, Jon Jenkins quickly clarified: “Pinterest isn’t fundamentally about connecting people to other people. It’s about connecting people to interests. And while you might think Pinterest is a big popularity contest, long-time users typically are not using Pinterest to put on a show or posture externally. People view it as an act of self-expression.” This largely reflects the culture of the mostly privacy-loving “Pinfluencers” that are on the site to curate what they love as opposed to show off what they have (ahem, Instagram).
Understanding the taste and preferences of consumers is highly valued by marketers. To connect with customers, understanding desires and aspirations is often the key to conversions. On Pinterest, not only do consumers serve up intent in clearly defined categories (i.e. “Patio Furniture I Love <3”), but also the specific visual items pinned to a board often can reveal their desires. Pinning reveals aspirations and desires.
When the proliferation of social media has led to backlash against advertisers that try to make people feel “less” through aspiration, creating positive aspirational environments has been a driving force in advertising creative. This trend has been reflected in the launch of a myriad of counter-campaigns, such as Dove’s Real Beauty campaign or American Eagle’s No Photoshopping commitment. In this setting, Pinterest is at an advantage by being able to dominate contextual advertising. It can give advertisers an opportunity to show audiences very specific products within a safe context of other similar products that they have already Pinned or are highly likely to Pin based on their pinning behavior, avoiding potentially offensive or irrelevant Pins. Furthermore, the most Pinned objects are often highly attainable aspirations in life, from a mouth-watering recipe that can be prepared in 5 minutes to a creative D.I.Y. Christmas ornament, making it a prime platform for most consumer goods.
In an in-depth piece of Influencers, the observation follows: “The site captures our aspirations rather than our activities, and the dreams we share with it are modest on the whole. Meander through Pinterest’s boards, pins and feeds, and you’ll find wishful thinking that centers not on outsized achievement or unattainable heights of glamour, but a yearning for something far simpler. We fantasize about making our beds and arranging our bookshelves. Finding a winter hat and pairing belts. Writing with better penmanship. Baking. Knitting. Cleaning. Drawing. What makes Pinterest’s superstars special is precisely that they’re ordinary.”
The fact that Pinterest users are a large portion of "ordinary" frequent shoppers and household decision makers makes them a hot target for marketers. As a whole, Pinterest users skew female and college-educated, with an average household income of over $75k per year. With new boards featuring weddings, jewelry, and home decor popping up every day, Pinterest can provide tremendous amounts of value to marketers looking to target specific audiences and in the future, become a middleman in brokering these connections as a personalized, discovery-driven e-Commerce platform.
This massive collection of Pinned inspirations combined with advancements in technology creates the opportunity to better understand the science that behind Pins. The insight marketers are looking for may be embedded within an image or the rationale within a caption. In a trends article I recently published, I highlight increasingly sophisticated computer vision that can learn how to determine what videos are more likely to be rated “creative” or not by audiences. As this technology progresses, more sophisticated insights about taste and preferences can be derived. Pinterest has already begun beefing up its data science team, focusing on making insights about Pins at scale: “Pins can’t exist unless they’re assigned to a board. Out of those boards, we try to identity interests through collaborative filtering, associative rule mining, natural language processing to provide discovery. I can pin five shirts I like and Pinterest derives my interest in fashion.”
This hard to pin down and often ambiguous definition of "taste" can be a goldmine. Facebook may have more users and likes, and is still trumping Pinterest in the growth of its referral rates to e-Commerce sites for now, but it still lacks a lot of valuable data that Pinterest has. Even though Facebook took home the crown on Cyber Monday for larger shopping cart sizes of $123 to Pinterests’ $97, Facebook is still a social network first and a profile of user tastes second (as much as it may try to prompt users to fill out their profiles).
On the flip side, the core of Pinterest is getting users to collect, create, and curate their tastes and preferences. In fact, Pinterest is so good at getting users to engage in these specific ways on their platform that behavioral economist, Nir Eyal observes, “[On Pinterest] users are not prompted to think about ‘what are you doing?’ In fact, they are not prompted to think at all, they are prompted to feel. Pinterest has mastered the art of minimizing cognitive load, in other words, reducing the mental effort required to do what the site wants users to do. Reducing cognitive load is what good design is all about.”
The strategic design and user experience of Pinterest positions it to continue its growth in several categories:
#1: Curated & Predictive Recommendation Engine
As much as Amazon, Google, and Facebook may try, their platforms simply are not yet designed to gather the type of information that Pinterest is designed for. With storytelling is central to marketing, Pinterest creates an inspiring environment where users are in a browsing state in which they are open to dreaming - to aspiring. Here, products and images are a welcome part of helping them craft their own personal narratives and stories through Pinterest boards. Amazon is too transactional, Google is too text and information heavy, and Facebook is more about sharing and connecting then it is about following your fancies.
The key factors that have Pinterest positioned to lead the industry with accurate, curated recommendation predictions are:
Organized boards that users predefine for Pinterest
High volume of data to be used as training sets for machine-learning
#2: Referral & E-Commerce Discovery Platform
With the data around specific tastes and preferences, Pinterest easily can transition from predicting and recommending Pins into a more sophisticated, mature e-Commerce discovery platform, potentially selling directly to Pinterest users without needed to refer them to an external site.
#3: Product Marketing And Development Analytics & Insights Platform
Finally, all the data available on Pinterest can be extremely valuable for companies even further up the funnel: at the planning stages of product design and marketing. Trends in pinning behavior can help inform new product categories for brands or the messaging and imagery of the creative in marketing campaigns. For example, if Pinterest users begin pinning cosmic images, brands may want to consider astrology themes for their products or marketing.
From using data about the pins themselves to trends in pinning behavior of Pinterest users, the platform’s growth in users only increases its value to brands. With a sophisticated understanding of user interests, preferences, and aspirations, Pinterest is poised to be a leader in contextual recommendations and discovery.