Pinterest’s Amy Vener: How brands can spark purchasing through the social media funnel

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Pinterest can be a strong place for marketers to start the purchasing funnel. (By Ibrahim.ID / CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Pinterest has become a highly successful purchasing funnel, yet many brands are not taking advantage of this powerful social media platform. In fact, 72% of Pinners say that Pinterest inspires them to shop when they aren't actually looking for anything and 98% report trying new things they find on Pinterest.

In addition, Pinners are 39% more likely to be active retail shoppers and spend 29% more than people who don't use Pinterest.

FierceRetail sat down with Amy Vener, retail vertical strategy lead at Pinterest and formerly of Walmart, to learn more about how marketers can harness Pinterest to engage users and begin the purchasing process. 

FierceRetail: What are some of the latest consumer trends you are seeing in digital retail?

Amy Vener: The media landscape has reshaped the way people shop, and mobile shopping is at the top of the list. Consumers want to be able to discover ideas that are personal to their individual tastes, and once they discover these ideas they want to be able to shop—anytime, anywhere. Today, the digital shopping experience isn't great. Discovery is hard, and taking an action once you do discover something that you like is even harder. There is enormous pressure for retailers to make the shopping experience seamless and to give consumers new levels of convenience and choice.

FierceRetail: What are retailers doing to capitalize on these trends?

Vener: Retailers need to understand the attributes of the customer—how, when, and what they buy—and use that information to personalize products and services to the shopper from the first moment of discovery, creating a consistent experience across channels. With the rise of consumer expectations around personalization, we’re seeing the most innovative retailers approach our platform in new and inspiring ways. We’ve partnered with Target to integrate our visual search technology into their mobile apps and desktop website. With Lens, Target will make it easier for their guests to discover relevant products based on their personal style. A customer can take a picture of something they like in-store or elsewhere in real life and discover visually similar products available to buy at Target. This is the first integration of Pinterest Lens into a retail environment.

Technology can help create more relevant shopping experiences and shorten the distance between inspiration and purchase. For example, The Home Depot’s ‘Built-in Pin’ campaign used Pinterest insights to identify trending colors and home decor styles and featured them in a fast motion video that shows how the look can be created. The Pins give in-market consumers the confidence to create stylish looks in their own home—making the inspiring feel achievable. 

FierceRetail: Do you think retailers are doing enough to harness social media? 

Vener: Retail is rooted in creating visual experiences that inspire and delight consumers, showing them new possibilities for their lives. Everything from window displays to pathing through the store is meant to help people discover something new. With the rise of online shopping and mobile devices, the visual experience has been sacrificed, making it harder for retailers to inspire shoppers to make unexpected discoveries. People want to search for and discover new ideas from their mobile devices, even if they don’t have the right words. 

FierceRetail: What is your take on last-click attribution as a measurement? 

Vener: Innovations in online shopping have been focused on the transaction instead of replicating the in-store discovery experience. As a result, basket sizes are decreasing, brand loyalty is quickly disappearing and retailers are struggling to reach consumers earlier in their decision making process. Retailers need to engage with consumers early in their shopping journey rather than relying on the last signal of intent prior to the transaction as a way to reach them. 

FierceRetail: What should retailers be measuring?

Vener: Today’s shoppers pass through many phases before deciding what to buy. But when it comes to online advertising, most advertisers only measure the last click right before a purchase. That can undervalue platforms like Pinterest that start influencing shoppers’ decisions much earlier in the shopping process. When Neustar MarketShare ran a Multi-touch attribution (MTA) study for Pinterest ads, their model showed that Pinterest deserved 30% more credit than a standard last-click model would have reported.

Multi-touch attribution (MTA) helps brands evaluate campaigns across multiple platforms, throughout the entire path to purchase. That means advertisers get clearer insight into what’s driving sales, regardless of whether it happened at the first moment of inspiration or right before someone decided to buy. 

FierceRetail: How is Pinterest measuring the shopping journey?

Vener: Pinterest guides people through the shopping journey, from that first moment of inspiration to the final purchase. This benefits marketers, too. Today’s path to purchase is more fragmented than ever before—but marketers can use Pinterest to reach people throughout the entire process. We know that people start planning on Pinterest three months before they use other platforms. They discover new ideas and evaluate their options. In fact, 70% of Pinners search, save and click on the ideas they find—they’re not just browsing. And once they find an idea they love, they take action on it. 

On Pinterest, more than 2 billion searches happen every month, making it the place to reach people while they’re actively considering what to do or buy next. And 97% of our top searches are unbranded, making Pinterest a place where people are open to hearing from brands they haven’t considered before.

Pinterest really is the starting place for people making shopping decisions. As Neustar MarketShare revealed, Pinterest has a higher ratio of first-to-last touches among marketing channels, and the highest ratio relative to other platforms. The study found that 40% of the customers reached on Pinterest were new to the brands advertising on the platform. And Pinterest was 30% more effective in generating sales.

FierceRetail: Do you think there are any misconceptions that merchants have about selling on Pinterest?

Vener: One misconception is about what Pinterest is and the value we provide to our users. Other platforms are designed to connect you with your friends. Pinterest is a place for you, for you to explore your interests, for you to plan your life or make decisions. In fact, more than 200 million people around the world use Pinterest to plan the meals they’re going to cook, to figure out what to wear or how to style their homes, and not to connect and share with friends. In other words, other apps might be where you go to share dinner party photos; Pinterest is where you plan the dinner party. 

What’s more, Pinterest helps marketers get in front of their most valuable audience. According to comScore, Pinterest reaches 83% of all women ages 24 to 54 in the United States. This demographic is responsible for 80% of household buying, and they control more than 50% of the wealth in the U.S. 

Finally, because Pinterest is such a visual platform, there are some misconceptions that creating content on Pinterest is hard. The truth is, while there’s no single approach that works for everyone, there are a few tips that we recommend to help businesses put their best content forward.

FierceRetail: What does Pinterest see as the "future of shopping?"

Vener: There’s been a lot of technology innovation over the course of the last few years, from chatbots to voice assistants that have impacted the consumer shopping experience. For retailers, some of these innovations pose a challenge. At the core, retail is about introducing consumers to new ideas that inspire them to make a purchase. The future of retail centers on the ability for people to have discovery experiences. For Pinterest this comes in the form of visual search, that is people using their eyes, like they always have, instead of tapping text or calling out commands.

Thanks to cameras in everyone’s pocket and the 100 billion Pins on our platform, we are creating digital consumer shopping experiences that mirror what it’s like to shop in the physical world. For example, if you’re shopping for running shoes in a store, you begin by visiting the shoe department, then pick out a running shoe.

Visual technology powers everything on Pinterest, from the content recommendations to the way we serve ads. Image recognition and machine learning fuel innovative new products like Lens and Shop the Look. This technology delivers unique visual marketing solutions to retailers. Unlike text or voice, visual search sits squarely in the native shopping environment consumers already understand; like with the running shoes above, it’s similar to how they shop in physical stores today. 

Shifts in consumer behavior can feel subtle when they’re happening, but they have long-lasting effects on our expectations, buying habits and brand relationships. Retailers can get ahead of these changes and ensure a future of continual discovery by investing in the power of visual search. Even in a world of competing voices, the one that leaves a lasting impression is visual.