The Future of Visual Search and Marketing : Pinterest

I have been an avid user of Pinterest and passionate advocate since high school. Namely, as an artist, I found it an unparalleled source of inspiration and discovery. That evolved into recognizing its far-reaching marketing implications, which I foresee transforming how we find products and brands we are passionate about, how we make purchase decisions, how brands identify and profile consumers and competition, and how brands cultivate community.

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Marketing Insights

Pinterest allows me to organize and collect inspiration as well as literally create boards of purchasing consideration sets. For marketers, the network of pins is a dream: pins are pinned, re-pinned, and re-pinned again, creating a long thread of pins, users and boards, followers and related pins. If harnessed, this network of data could help brands find and analyze competition and get into the mindset of their target and potential consumers. What other products do they like? What is their common aesthetic? What how-to’s, DIY’s , or other content do they find valuable? Who influences them?

The power, for me as a user, is in finding special people—other users with similar tastes and interests. I discover new and exciting material and products by following a thread and identifying key people along the way. This discovery process is heads-and-shoulders more rich than a typical keyword search in Google, leads to spontaneity and serendipity, and naturally introduces a curation element when you find people like you.

Pinterest has been offering richer and more robust capabilities for marketers recently, including the “buy it” button, sponsored pins, analytics, a database of success stories, and a growing community of marketing developer partners. One of the most interesting and inspiring stories I found was Artifact Uprising, which creates real goods from digital images. This captures the spirit of transforming ideation into reality. It not only shows how Pinterest can enhance brand’s marketing strategies, but also literally create and fuel business growth.

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As the years have past, I have welcomed new features and capabilities with excitement (i.e. the pin-it plug-in making it easier to pin off-site pictures, the introduction of private boards, the ability to search not only pins, but also boards and users, as well as building-out pin & board suggestions).

The user experience has only become more natural and empowering. In contrast to other social media sites, sponsored content is not obtrusive or annoying. In fact, it is often enlightening and welcome, because more often than not I am looking to find a product. The “buy-it” button on pins only adds a level of convenience, it doesn’t detract from the authenticity of the platform. This is reflected in the results: conversion rates and CTR have been shown to increase, while CPA has risen less sharply. Marketers are coming on board, with ad spend rising 7.7x since January.

“The power of the Pinterest platform is in tapping into the consumer’s purchase mindset at all stages of its process from inspiration, discovery and now all the way through the purchase itself.”

– Greg Andersen, president of Rapp U.S.


Internally, the amount of data they have is really exciting. It could be used to track trends and spur predictions a la Google Analytics. Check out this blog post on how Thanksgiving pins began in August this year. Using data (pins and searches) like this could potentially transform our perception of user buying patterns, consideration periods, and help assess product interest and market size.

Visual Search & Finding What You Weren’t Looking For

Some recent articles by the Wall Street Journal and AdWeek have touched upon what Pinterest is working towards: visual search. Pinterest is a visually-based discovery platform, what is a more natural evolution than visual search? Pinterest is working on leveraging data to create closer associations between pins, allowing tighter links between offered content and user identity. As I discussed in my Visual Content presentation as well as my follow-up blog post. visual content has exploded, become omnipresent, and is critical for brand resonance. Visual search will only compound this 100x over, embedding visual content as the central piece in marketing and product promotion.

Pinterest is perfectly positioned to take visual search on and to be the herald of a new age of exploration. It’s already begun, check out this article on their blog. This addresses the most frustrating element for me as a user: when you find some product you love but can’t actually trace it back to its origins to buy! Or if you find an image with various elements but you want the shoes– now you can zoom in on that one element and go from there, giving you more power and control. Not to mention this can lead to more traceable ROI on those brand personality or atmosphere images, where the brand doesn’t explicitly “sell.” As of right now, visual search will only leverage organic pins, which in turn encourages authenticity.

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It’s no secret that Pinterest is breaking all records for growth, now valued at $11B. I believe the trajectory is only goes up and the demographic of the user base, currently 100M monthly users strong, will only broaden. Discovering and saving products and spending time on pursuing your interests is a universal need and I’m excited to see the new products and features that will develop as the platform matures.


  1. Hi Alexandra, as a fellow avid user of Pinterest I am very glad to see visual search capabilities are on their radar – I think being properly developed, this feature will really come in handy for those looking for interior decor / fashion styling / design inspirations. One example: I constantly ran into is looking for good fonts for my graphic design. Unlike a black turtle neck sweater or a white leather sofa bed, there are limited ways on how you can describe a font that you don’t know. It would be awesome if Pinterest can eventually evolve and tackle problems like this. Also, I think Pinterest’s success is also quite telling on social media trends for the future – content curation requires much less effort for each individual but higher rewards in relation to those efforts. I am interested to see if more social media platforms are to adopt this model and / or use it to attract more users.

  2. Nice post. I’ve been following Pinterest essentially since it came out. Honestly, I’m surprised it hasn’t done better than it has. I think part of its problem early on is that its key business model was undermined because of intellectual property issues, which may have stymied its growth by constraining its available resources.

  3. ashleighpopera · ·

    Awesome post! As a fellow avid Pinterest user, I definitely agree that Pinterest has huge potential to change how we find products, brands, and inspiration. I often use Pinterest as an alternative for Google when searching for certain things online, and I have bought several products that I originally found and pinned on Pinterest. However, like you mentioned, I’m also not often on Pinterest to look for a specific product, so its great to see that Pinterest is making these subtle changes to enhance their business approach while maintaining the authentic, creative design of the platform. I think their recent addition of the “buy it” button will further encourage users to make purchases as well as encourage more companies and marketers to create a presence on the site. I’m also a big fan of their use of analytics to provide users with “suggested pins”. The suggestions they’ve given me have been great so far!

  4. I agree that Pintrest is gold mine of data for marketers and will only become more and more valuable as it improves it’s B2C and B2B experience and offerings. I also think Pinterest has done s greta job of seamlessly monitoring their platform without sacrificing the user experience. Your point about the “buy-it” bottun only resulting in increased convenience rather than a nuisance really resonated with me because many other platforms have experienced the opposite results from monetizing their platforms. I find the idea of visual search so exciting because it will not only create more convenient and efficient search but I think it will also increase customer engagement. Overall awesome post!

  5. Great post Alex! I am also a Pinterest user and have found that I learn about more innovative ideas and new companies/services on the site than on any of my other social media platforms. I also love how Pinterest added the feature that is similar to a gif, so when you scroll on the page, the image becomes a short video, which capitalizes on the huge growth in social media video content lately. Thanks for the post!

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