Brands know what you like. Do you care what they like?

Brands spend millions of dollars trying to figure out more about their customers. Specifically, where those customers are at any given moment. And brands are spending an even greater amount of resources trying to learn the habits of non-customers.

As consumers, we’ve accepted these practices over the years. Coupons, surveys, direct mail … the list of contact points continues to grow. With consumers spending more and more time with their digital devices, brands are getting very efficient in creating a rather specific profile for each and every one of us.

In the digital ecosphere, you will find brands using every channel at their disposal to build brand equity including social channels like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. With social channels, brands have been forced to be more transparent and more approachable. The content is not always sales driven, and the tone of voice tends to be conversational. Overall, brands are trying to be more engaging. However, for the most part the content is still being generated by the brand.

What makes Pinterest different is the focus. It has done an about face.

In most social media channels, the users are firmly in control. Yes, brands post content but consumers have to interact, comment and “like” what the brand is offering up. Pinterest gives brands the opportunity to highlight – or pin — content they like and display it for the public.

For the first time we as consumers can build a relationship with a brand, with a much deeper knowledge of what that brand stands for, and what the brand is interested in. Pinterest gives brands the means to expand their digital personality, and to shape their identity more completely. Pinterest allows brands to build and display a deeper, richer brand essence.

And by doing so, brands come across as more authentic … and more engaging. When’s the last time you saw a company promoting anything that doesn’t affect its bottom line? Some big brands are leveraging Pinterest with mixed intentions and focused strategies.

Asos

The online fashion department store Asos has created pinboards for music festivals, celebrity watching and beauty tips. All the boards have some content generated and uploaded by users, along with repinned content.

Whole Foods Market

Whole Foods Market has a huge amount of content on Pinterest with pinboards centered on vegan interests, containing pins of T-shirts, recipes, even restaurant recommendations. Other pinboards are titled “What building inspires you?” “Creative Christmas projects” and “How does your garden grow?”

At least a third of the content has nothing to do with food, but all of it tells the story that Whole Foods is more than just a grocery store. It’s a collective or community that has a broad variety of interests – some similar to its shoppers and some new and different. With more than 55,000 followers and growing, the strategy is obviously working.

West Elm

Modern living retailer West Elm also does a terrific job of promoting not only its products but content based on color inspiration with 39 different pinboards in play (see the pinboards “Coral” and “Aquamarine” for examples.) The “Stripes” board gets pinned with everything from wallpapers to tents to art to vintage photography, but none of those pins reference products or services.

Other West Elm pinboards titled “Faceted,” “Moroccan style” and “Repetition” may not feature inventory, but they build on the idea that West Elm has a broad understanding of design and provides lots of resources for design ideas. This builds consumer perception that West Elm is an expert in modern living. The roughly 58,000 followers seem to agree.

What’s Next?

The first phase of brand engagement via Pinterest is focused on retailers. And the spammers and scammers have dived right in, as well. Whether Pinterest becomes relevant in the long term for business-to-business, professional services or other categories is still in play.

What we do know is that already, American users of Pinterest spend an average of 1 hour and 17 minutes on the site every month. That’s well ahead of Twitter (36 minutes), LinkedIn (17 minutes) and Google+ (6 minutes). In fact, Pinterest already gets more monthly usage than all of these other platforms combined. It is second only to the social media monster, Facebook, where each U.S. user averages a whopping 6 hours and 33 minutes every month.

Want more Pinterest facts? You can find some nifty infographics on … that’s right, a Pinterest board.

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