What Pinterest knows and how it could power new ads

We live in a consumer society and we all have our wants. Until recently, most people have kept their material desires to themselves for the most part. Going around talking about all the things we wish we had has been considered tacky, makes us look ungrateful and overly materialistic. If you’ve ever asked someone what they want for Christmas, you may have gotten an answer like ‘oh, anything is fine’ or ‘I don’t need a gift.’
It’s hard to imagine a public place where people would brazenly talk about what they secretly covet. And where other people would willingly listen to these lists of wants, interacting with them 24 hours a day. But that’s what’s happening now on Pinterest and it opens a new, unique source of insights into our private motivations.
When you first sign up at Pinterest they have a list of interest categories to help you get started pinning and creating boards. They include categories like ‘products’ and board suggestions like ‘my style’, which are filled with pins of products and shopping ideas.
All of the product pinning is offered in the name of self expression. What we buy says something about ourselves and on Pinterest, users express themselves with boards named “Want Want Want” and “Shut up and take my money.” The coffee snob might say if you want to know him, you need to know that he loves coffee and identifies with the idea of taking a little extra time and effort for the things he values. So here’s a pin of his favorite fine coffee-making contraption.


It’s all internally justified because along with self-expression, users are adding value by curating their boards, identifying the best products so others don’t have to. And it does add value. This Is Why I’m Broke’s boards are hilarious and I’ve often never seen those products before seeing them there. Follow This Is Why I’m Broke’s board This Is Why I’m Broke on Pinterest.
It does bring up an interesting application for Pinterest as they seek to make money off of the 30 billion things that are already pinned on the site. They are controlling a very unique and potentially powerful source of data on consumer buying behavior.
For all the talk about big data these days, B2C companies are still left trying to figure out consumer preferences and tendencies indirectly. They take in lots of data points in an effort to infer what customers may want to buy. The resulting targeting options for advertisers typically amount to looking at the attributes of the people that are buying and then assuming that other people with similar attributes will be likely to buy as well. By contrast, Pinterest can say exactly which individuals are interested in a product with almost perfect accuracy.
In addition, seeing affinities between interests is much more definite based on Pinterest’s data. Brands could look at those who have purchased or pinned their products and see what other things they’re interested in, improving their knowledge of customers and opening up new partnership opportunities. A company that finds a strong correlation between their product and another company’s could bid on related keywords for paid search ads, for example.
Companies could also gain insights on how consumers perceive their brand. What is the cost of the other products on the board? How are products organized together within the user’s boards? What words do the users use to describe the pins and the boards? It’s all there in the data.
As expected, Pinterest is moving into Sponsored Pins as their first advertising product. The targeting options there are still basic, the same kinds of things you might find on Facebook and Twitter. No offerings on business intelligence have emerged yet. It will be interesting to see if they can find a way to leverage the enormous amounts of data they’ve collected on buyer intent to come up with a new kind of ad product we’ve never seen before.

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