Pinterest Exec: 'We're Looking to Sell Products'

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The company is focusing on unlocking intent data and eventually allowing brands to combine first-party or CRM data with Pinterest activity data to deliver relevant messages.
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Pinterest knows nearly everything about my wedding. I pinned photos of every item that needed to be purchased for the ceremony and reception on my Pinterest board last year. But I can't say that I bought anything based on a recommendation from Pinterest. The company is trying to change that. Don Faul, Pinterest's head of operations, said "businesses have been imperative to us from the beginning," during an onstage interview with AdExchanger Managing Editor Zach Rodgers at AdExchanger's Industry Preview conference today.

Faul went on to say Pinterest is "fundamentally looking to sell products" and help marketers leverage its user data. The company is focusing on unlocking intent data and eventually allowing brands to combine first-party or CRM data with Pinterest activity data to deliver relevant messages.

Additionally, Pinterest is looking to drive more personalized recommendations. Yesterday, the digital pinboard acquired Kosei, a recommendation engine that uses machine learning to help brands estimate which products will interest their customers. Kosei could help Pinterest recommend more relevant pins to users.

Pinterest is about your aspirations. It knows what products caught your eye, which styles you like, and this information could be extremely useful to a marketer. However, Pinterest's value as an ecommerce tool makes sense only in theory, maintained Forrester research analyst Nate Elliot.

"Pinterest's marketing value lies more in the future than in the present," Elliott wrote in a blog post. "By 2016, Pinterest's ad offering could trump that of other social sites -- but today, most brands struggle to successfully use it as a marketing tool."

For example, Coca-Cola has only posted three times on its Pinterest board in the past seven months, Elliott pointed out. Also, Pinterest's Promoted Pins (what it calls its paid ads) offers limited targeting criteria to marketers. Faul acknowledged that the company's targeting capabilities are limited to basic demographics, and expanding those capabilities to include specific interests is "a priority" for Pinterest.

Amazon, Netflix, and other companies have proven that targeted recommendations can be a powerful way to drive sales. But customers are already accustomed to personalized recommendations. Pinterest has to show marketers that it has a better way to surprise and delight customers than other ecommerce sites. And despite its current limitations, Pinterest may be on to something, Elliott maintained. "Once the site broadens its targeting capabilities," he predicted, "it'll be time to spend."

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