Oct 5, 2016
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How Pinterest is cracking the social commerce code

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holiday-retailer2016e-ss-1920When it comes to broad brand awareness, the value of social media advertising is clear. But why have channels struggled to keep users on their platforms for a direct purchase? Despite the massive reach, engaging content and success of social advertising, in-channel purchasing has been a bit of a hurdle for marketers and advertisers alike.

However, with over 100 million monthly active users globally, Pinterest is one channel that is poised to overcome the purchase hurdle. (Disclosure: Brand Networks, my employer, is a Pinterest Marketing Developer Partner.)

At its core, Pinterest is an innovative visual discovery engine, a chance to identify and save new ideas that represent a user’s interests. What’s more, updates over the past year have helped the platform evolve to accommodate the entire customer purchase cycle — beyond just discovery.

Imagine the purchase cycle in its most basic form: Discovery and awareness flow to the point of purchase, and finally, retention objectives take over. Pinterest is transforming into a social commerce hot spot as it aligns with each of those key purchasing stages.

For brands looking to connect the dots between social media and sales, especially with the 2016 holiday season rapidly approaching, Pinterest is one of the key places to be. Here’s why:

Built for discovery

Pinterest is fundamentally different from social media platforms. Where social channels are focused on connecting people and sharing real-time status updates, Pinterest is built around the process of discovering new products, saving the ones you like and planning for the future.

In fact, people on Pinterest are planners often looking for ideas for things to try at least two months ahead of an event. When it comes to holiday shopping, they start in September, substantially earlier than the general population of consumers.

Jon Kaplan, head of global sales at Pinterest, recently shared with eMarketer that users are conducting two billion searches every month on Pinterest to find things to buy or do. That’s a massive opportunity to connect with an audience that already has buying on the brain.

And thanks to advanced methods for discovery, such as the visual search tool, which powers 130 million visual searches per month, Pinterest is getting even smarter about how it presents products to users.

As the first digital platform to recreate the shopping experience that makes holiday gift-buying so enjoyable, Pinterest is making it easier for users to discover even more products to add to their shopping lists. This translates to a unique opportunity for marketers to influence a much larger group of buyers than they could with in-store displays alone.

A seamless purchase experience

Not only are users searching; they are also buying. Research firm Millward Brown Digital reported that 93 percent of visitors to Pinterest use the site to plan for a purchase, and 87 percent of visitors make a purchase after seeing something they like.

This is especially exciting for brands around major shopping rushes like the holidays. During key shopping moments throughout the year, Pinterest could become a “one-stop shop” where users can plan and purchase. This is a big opportunity, especially given that Pinterest users tend to spend twice as much as the general public on the holidays, with 67 percent of Pinterest users planning to use the platform to plan for “all things holiday,” according to Pinterest.

Gone are the days where we build our holiday lists with pages ripped from seasonal catalogs. With 1.1 billion holiday Pins saved in 2015, Pinterest boards are the new go-to digital holiday gift guides.

Knowing that the desire to buy is there, Pinterest introduced ways to seamlessly facilitate in-platform purchases so users can buy what they see at the moment of inspiration or decide to go to the store to see it in person. When it launched its foray into auction-based advertising last year, Pinterest rolled out a robust auction CPC bid type.

Pinterest advertisers are also experimenting with buyable Pins, where users can purchase an item from a Pin with the click of a button, while integrations with reputable payment systems like Apple Pay securely handle the digital transactions. With buyable Pins, the platform has invested in key functionality to bridge the gap and built a natural shopping experience that acts as an extension of Pinterest’s roots in discovery.

Retaining customers with data-driven experiences

Facilitating a single purchase is not enough. Pinterest knows it will provide more value to brands if it can continue to bring customers through this purchase funnel time and time again. To do so, the platform is investing in tools to understand user data and behavior, find potential new customers and insert the most relevant content into each user’s feed.

The targeting features available through Pinterest audience types help Pinterest advertisers approach new and past customers who may be in the planning stage of an event or creative project. Audience segmentation tools like Visitor Retargeting, Engagement Retargeting and Customer List Targeting help brands utilize CRM (customer relationship management) data and reach highly specific audiences identified via their email address.

New technology and talent are also helping Pinterest expand its knowledge about what drives a user to purchase. The company recently brought on the team behind Math Camp to understand more about users and the content that matches up with their specific, known attributes. Similar to Amazon or Netflix, Pinterest is investing in ways to improve its recommendation engine, which delivers targeted products to a user’s feed based on search and Pin history.

Pinterest is taking key steps to becoming a go-to platform for shopping as it aligns its functionality with each aspect of the purchasing cycle. The ability to convert sales is a key differentiator for the platform — one that should make it an essential investment for any brand during the fast-approaching dedicated shopping season and beyond.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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