Knowing what you don’t know: is Pinterest the dark horse of search? 🐴
In recent months I’ve noticed just a handful of clients citing Pinterest as a priority, particularly when it comes to media spend. Perhaps unsurprisingly the usual dark-blue and light-blue suspects steal the limelight. However with their recent announcement of 200 million monthly active users and a compelling proposition around search, I’m expecting that to change in 2018.
Sure, Pinterest is better suited to some brands and sectors than others. Most people probably think of it as a destination for wedding inspiration or ideas for re-decorating the guest bedroom; and those are some very popular uses of the platform. However, when I caught up with the Pinterest team in London it got me thinking about how they’re building something that’s really shaping online search behaviours.
It’s no-longer just an online mood board for cocktails in jars.
So why should brands be showing Pinterest a little more ❤️?
In a sense the three things I’m going to discuss aren’t particularly new news, but their impact on the consumer purchase cycle is significant.
1. The basics covered for advertisers
Like any social network of scale, Pinterest now ticks the monetisation boxes of:
- a ‘promoted content’ option (Promoted Pins)
- the ability to target audiences built from your data (aka Custom Audiences) as well as lookalike audiences (or Actalikes as Pinterest calls them)
- the relevant analytics dashboards
After I wrote this section I realised that these have now become “entry-level” factors, which social networks must have if they want to attract advertisers’ media budgets (rather than points of differentiation). But anyway, Pinterest offers them.
2. Winning on visual search
Voice search is one of the most talked about topics in tech at the moment. And when the big players like Amazon, Apple and Google start ramping up activity, you know there’s plenty of potential. It’s reported that, well, ‘a lot’ of Google searches are (and will be) initiated by voice search.
Now, while the tech behemoths are battling to win on voice search, Pinterest looks to be playing a smart game by focusing on visual search. Have you tried the search function within the Pinterest app recently? If not, I recommend you give it a whirl.
Above you can see I took a photo of my running watch. In a couple of seconds Pinterest served me up numerous picture of the same style of watch. “It’s the Shazam of pictures” as my wife described it.
That’s a smart bit of tech, but as I mentioned, image recognition isn’t really new news. However, the potential impact on the early stages of a consumer’s purchase journey is fascinating.
Let’s say I’m at a swanky bar and I spot a chair I really like the design of (ok, it’s more likely to be a coffee shop these days). Historically I might have taken a picture on my mobile for later reference or possibly Googled for “chair with curly arms, a green back, black legs that get thicker as they go down”. Although I get results that are factually correct, they’re nothing like the one I saw. The legs were curlier, and the back was a different green… you can see the problem.
This visual search feature in Pinterest, coupled with the enormous database of imagery it holds (1bn pins+) and the way content is served up, changes things. Potentially I can go from spotting an item to finding it (or one very similar) to purchase, in no time at all.
Sure, you can argue this removes a little of the romance of combing shops/ antique sales/ the rest-of-the-web to find a chair like the one I spotted… but my guess is that for most people this feature is a real win.
3. Knowing what you don’t know
In our internet-driven culture, one of the biggest challenges is breaking out of our individual online-bubbles. ‘People who liked X also liked Y’ is often very useful and Amazon holds so much data that they know more about our shopping habits than we do.
But what about having the chance to discover Z? And what do I do when I’ve only got a rough idea of what I want, and need some brand new pinspiration? (sorry, I couldn’t help myself).
Let’s use the example of a new winter coat. I can search on Google or Amazon (Goomazon) for ‘winter coat’ and be shown a set of results/products which they think I’ll be most interested in. I might get shown a few thumbnails (Google) or a long list of ‘pack shots’ (Amazon).
Here’s what I actually got… well we’re off to a rather strange start. Even though I’m the only person who uses my laptop… I’ve been served up women’s coats!
Skipping that small detail(!), perhaps I might narrow my search to ‘black, big collar’. Goomazon will (probably) be very efficient at narrowing my results. But it all feels very transactional… and really I’m nowhere near that stage yet.
How do I decide on the ‘specifications’ for my coat in the first place? What about all the designs and styles I might like, but I don’t know exist? How do I know what I don’t know?
Not only can our brains analyse images 60,000 faster than text (apparently), but Pinterest presents me with what feels like much more of a journey of discovery. I’m not worried about price or size or availability… rather style and colour and cut. It helps that much of the content on Pinterest is displayed ‘in situ’ (i.e. someone is wearing the coat so I can imagine it on) as opposed to the product-only or ‘head cut off’ style on Goomazon (as above).
This ‘pre-qualification’ phase, if you like, is so important in shaping purchase behaviours. Once I’ve spent some time browsing and thinking about what I’d like to purchase (the fun stuff)… I can then get laser-focused and efficient about finding the item, checking the size, comparing prices and fulfilling my order (the boring stuff).
Smart brands will make this a very seamless experience by using features such as ‘Product Pins’. These not only link you to where the product can be seen online, but also provide real time pricing, availability and information on where to buy your product. Handy for consumers and brands alike.
So, just a thought… how about Pinterest as a discovery front-end to Amazon?
In conclusion – search, social or both?
Whenever you see a list of digital platforms (you know, those slightly annoying rainbow wheels with a thousand logos on), Pinterest always get bucketed in the social network category. For sure it has many social network elements to it.
However, as I’ve discussed above, the role it plays in search is fascinating and that will only become more so as the breadth and depth of content the platform holds increases (brands already publish 75% of content on the platform).
The really interesting question for me is how many brands include the likes of Pinterest in their search strategy or customer journey mapping? How does is sit along the other routes in terms of the time, effort, resource or budget dedicated to it?
It’s something we’ll be investigating in the coming year.