A Brief Personal History with Pinterest

I created a Pinterest account in 2012 during my senior year. The girls in my class became addicted to the site, and we curated boards for “prom dresses” and “future dorm room” with vigor. We followed one another, as well as older stylish girls we knew, and pinned each others finds. The stream of pins on my home page were only from people I followed and there was never a price listed next to the items. I used Pinterest for inspiration, escaping the class lecture, and research for new purchases.

Fast forward to 2016. Pinterest is valued at 11 billion dollars and has become a major advertising machine (2.8 billion ad spend). My feed is full of promoted pins, “Picked for you” by algorithms that determine my preferences from my own pinning choices. As users curate pins, caption them, and organize them in named boards, they see thousands of images, or impressions as marketers call them. The exposure to images and links to buy products familiarizes consumers with the product and grants a sense of ownership to the user, even though it’s only digital. You can share and save pins, claiming them as a representation of your individual personality, style, and aesthetic.

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Pinterest: a marketer’s tool

As digital marketers gather more data about consumers online, pins become valuable data points for targeting users with personalized ads. This is a guide for using the platform as an effective advertising device. Since Pinterest is about matching users with images that suit their preferences, they have to continue innovating technology that will analyze preferences and provide pins users want to see. A McKinsey article on the consumer journey written in 2009 advises investment in Internet marketing efforts:

“To look beyond funnel-inspired push marketing, companies must invest in vehicles that let marketers interact with consumers as they learn about brands. The epicenter of consumer-driven marketing is the Internet, crucial during the active-evaluation phase as consumers seek information, reviews, and recommendations.”

Pinterest began to take off in 2012. Pinterest has shaped the way people online shop by making it a more creative and personalized experience. The online shopping journey, shown below, remains the same, but the tools with which users experience the process has expanded.

Perusing pins on the main feed develops initial awareness of products. Recognizing that a stylish friend pinned the same sweater you noticed yesterday increases familiarity with the product. Pinning the product grants a sense of consideration and at least fantasized purchase, as the product is no longer floating among millions of others but resides in your personalized board. Making the product accessible on your board increases likelihood of a purchase, especially if the pin is properly linked to the retail site. According to Millward Brown Digital, “Ninety-three percent reported that they use Pinterest to plan for purchases, and another 87% reported Pinterest engagement has helped them decide what to purchase. ”

Pinterest: an easy step toward purchase

Since the platform itself has been updated, efforts to provide links to Pinterest on retail and interest sites has also increased. You can select a Pinterest icon beside a photo, product, or article and pin it to a board, once you login into Pinterest and the site access. Measuring actions like this on Google Analytics can also help companies measure which conversions on their retail site can be attributed to Pinterest.

Screen Shot 2016-12-09 at 12.44.13 PMDetermining appropriately personalized product offerings is not as easy as you would expect. For instance, even if I pin several pie recipes to my “food in my belly” board in anticipation of Christmas dinner, I might become irritated if my feed becomes full of pie recipes. I might rather see fitness pins or fashion pins, things that reflect my ideal self. This is especially important cross-culturally, as reading preferences is not very easy.  Pinterest has not become popular in other countries like Facebook and Twitter because it’s about ideas and products, not people talking to other people. Other issues of web design like font and speed were also issues. Since addressing these concerns, engineers have standardized, sped up, and universalized the interface. WIRED notes that, “The point is to make Pinterest much bigger by making it less of a big deal—less flashy, easier to use, and more of a utility.”

Even as the platform updates to be more navigable, the brand relationship creator has been on the right track since its beginning. Browsing hundreds of aesthetically pleasing photos whets a consumer’s appetite to buy and pinning a product forges the relationship. This innovative site may not have been created as an advertising method, but it has certainly become that. It will only continue to be widely used though, if customers don’t recognize the advertising efforts and instead continue to enjoy the content.


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