Analysis: Why Pinterest hasn't fully nailed brand interest in Asia

Earlier this month, Pinterest CEO and co-founder Ben Silbermann said during the first quarter of 2020 (Q1 2020), it saw “a record number of people” turn to Pinterest for ideas on how to make living at home more convenient, fun and inspiring. The company reported a 26% year-on-year (YOY) increase in global monthly active users (MAU) to 367 million for Q1 2020. In particular, its international MAUs jumped 34% YOY to 277 million in this quarter, and revenue for this segment grew 136% to US$35 million. Meanwhile, its US MAUs increased 6% to 90 million and revenue for the region grow by 27% to US$237 million.

CFO Todd Morgenfeld said the spread of COVID-19 has certainly had an impact on its business and the businesses of its advertisers, but it remains optimistic about the future. “While we’ve been adapting to the current environment, we will continue to invest in our strategic priorities of content, ads diversification, use case expansion and shopping,” he added.

Pinterest has been a source of inspiration to many consumers, and according to its website, there are currently 200 billion pins saved and 85% of its users are from mobile. While its number of international users has grown, there is still a common conception that the platform is mainly popular among US consumers. Last July, Pinterest opened an office in Singapore to serve Southeast Asia and India, as part of its Asia Pacific expansion. This is the company’s second office in the region, with the first being introduced in Tokyo in 2013.

In a statement to Marketing, Pinterest's spokesperson said in a bid to target consumers in Asia, the company has been focusing on seasonal moments such as Deepavali and Ramadan to showcase the various ways in which Pinterest can be used during these festive seasons. These include Hari Raya recipes, styles to wear for Deepavali, home decor ideas and greetings or quotes to share. "Throughout the year Pinterest also highlights emerging trends on the platform such as the 90’s fashion come-back, eco-friendly lifestyle, journaling, or one pot recipes," the spokesperson said.

She added that Pinterest recently launched the Today tab in Indonesia and India, and it plans to engage further with local creators and partners to create a daily feed of local, trendy, and inspirational content. 

"Pinterest’s goal is to help users discover new ideas that can be helpful and actionable, especially during these unprecedented times. Pinterest will also be focusing more on video this year, and helping creators publish content across various verticals such as beauty, food, and fitness," she added.

Some of the brands and publishers that Pinterest has worked with in Asia include Traveloka, Love, Bonito, Hipvan, Fab India, Asia Food Network, Karina Bedi, The Keybunch and Food From My Kitchen. Meanwhile globally, Pinterest's spokesperson said the platform has hit "all-time highs in engagement" over the past weeks.

"Searches have been up nearly 60% year on year, with new sign-ups, click-throughs on links from Pins, and Repins (saves) up about 40%. People came to Pinterest to stay inspired and find ways to adjust to the new normal.  For example, comfy-chic WFH outfits, home office ideas, ways to declutter your home, or games with the family," she said. She added that in India, Pinterest partnered with MyGov India to ensure that people were receiving accurate, and up-to-date info whenever they searched for COVID-19 on Pinterest.   

Industry players weigh in

Despite this, industry players told Marketing that the platform is not one of their main focuses. Pomelo Fashion’s CMO Jean Thomas told Marketing that it is not using Pinterest at the moment and doesn't currently have plans to focus on the platform for the time being. He explained that as a platform, Pinterest is not particularly tailored for the Southeast Asian market. Thomas said:

It is not as popular here and does not have an easy platform to do ads.

According to him, Pomelo’s focus has been on platforms its customers gravitate towards most and thus are able to offer better returns on a channel such as Line, YouTube and Instagram. Instagram has been Pomelo’s go-to platform as most of its target audience are on that platform.He added, “Instagram allows for a variety of content that our customers are able to identify with, from user-generated content campaigns to behind the scenes stories of our latest collection launches."

Likewise, Zalora’s group director brand communications, Christopher Daguimol, said although Pinterest is a visual first platform and has introduced new features in the recent years, Zalora still focuses on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube, which currently has a wider reach and more advanced interactive features.

“Fashion is a visual heavy industry and we have been rolling out visual centric features in our app - from introducing visual search, allowing users to get the look and soon introducing AR and VR as part of the Zalora app experience,” Daguimol said. He added that the company has been working closely with Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, and also launched its TikTok page a few months ago.

“Brands need to go beyond just image-based. We are seeing video as the most relevant content consumed by most people nowadays,” Daguimol explained.

Recently, Pinterest announced a new feature known as shopping spotlights, bringing expert recommendations of influential fashion and home tastemakers as well as publishers directly to users. In addition to editors’ picks, they can also easily shop curated ideas based on current Pinterest trends. Earlier this month, it also tied up with Shopify for a new app that includes a suite of shopping features such as an ads buying interface, tag installation, catalogue ingestion, and automatic daily updating of products.

Marketers are not the only ones who are of the view that Pinterest is less popular in this region, despite its efforts to woo users in general. Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN) Singapore's managing director, media group, Prerna Mehrotra said the team has not seen a strong uptake in the region yet, adding that usage in Asia Pacific markets is not as prominent as in the US or Europe. "In terms of daily usage, it comes after Twitter and adoption is critical in driving uptake in the region," she explained. Nonetheless, she added:

Pinterest visual search, however, is becoming increasingly popular among today's consumers, especially the younger audience.

According to her, Pinterest has seen more than 50% growth in the Asia Pacific region but daily usage is still low, and the current user base is very small as compared to other players such as Instagram. Client vertical will be a deciding factor in whether Pinterest takes off in Asia Pacific, Mehrotra said, with a focus on beauty, culinary, lifestyle and travel, where the platform has a role to play in the consumer journey. 

"But if consumers are looking for inspiration and consuming content, [Pinterest has] stiff competition with the likes of Instagram. "Pinterest's partnership with Shopify will definitely help, but other players are moving as well, with the example of Facebook announcing its move into the SME space.

The deal was struck earlier this month where the Pinterest app on Shopify includes a suite of shopping features such as tag installation, catalog ingestion, automatic daily updating of products, and an ads buying interface. For Shopify merchants, this enables an easy set up and access to distribution across Pinterest with or without ads, as well as reporting and results tracking to maximise reach. According to Pinterest, the app automatically creates a connection between the individual store and Pinterest, so the merchant doesn’t need to edit code or add development resources, making it seamless for businesses of all sizes. Once installed, the app will allow a merchant to deploy a tag on their website, upload their product catalog and quickly publish in-stock Product Pins. Businesses will also see a shop tab appear on their profile as an additional way for their products to be discovered.

It will be interesting to see if Pinterest starts to open its data for programmatic buying," Mehrotra said, adding:

Until it increases its user base and enhances its data capabilities, we do not see it competing with players bigger players.

Agreeing with Mehrotra is VaynerMedia's senior media director Hannah Taylor, who said whether or not Pinterest will take off in Asia remains to be seen. However, with the recent shifts in consumer behaviour and with users spending substantially more time on social media, it has been reported that Pinterest has seen record levels of engagement globally. This, partnered with Pinterest's expansion plans for Asia Pacific announced last year and the opening of their Singapore offices, definitely makes it one to watch, Taylor added.

Meanwhile, Aashay Shah, client strategy director at Neo Media World and Mindshare Asia Pacific, said the content that  Pinterest provides has scope for further localisation to cater to the needs and circumstances of the Asian population. He explained that most of the time, a user would be unable to find that home décor item or that shoe design that caught his or her eye in a local marketplace. "Fulfilment becomes a challenge and the opportunity for Pinterest is to work with local communities in order to capture demand and allow fulfilment which will grow adoption of the platform," Shah added.

He also said that Asia presents unique challenges to international brands in the form of cultural integration and localisation. "Asia, which is a diverse region, has been touched by western influences. However consumers will spend on products and services that meet local needs," he said. He added that its recent strategy to launch on-site eCommerce is one step forward in enhancing its growth trajectory in Asia.

According to him, Pinterest is one of the very few channels that drives high proportion of non-branded search. The user mindset is such that it is keen on exploration and discovery of what is new and unconventional. Thus, navigating the platform can be an enriching experience by influencing user’s active or passive decisions to purchase, Shah said.

Pinterest needs to further drive local community integration with brands, sellers and also ease off the product feed management, availability and fulfilment of the product it has to offer.

What are clients' concerns spending on Pinterest?

With budgets shrinking, professionally managing multiple social media pages and product feeds is a challenge for any brand. To tackle this, Shah reiterated that Pinterest's algorithm needs to be tweaked to ensure that the inspiration it provides is available locally.

One important metric that brand managers look at today is organic traffic to their website. Metrics that are secondary are visits and the 'save' function on their local product pins.

"Once these brands see a graphical increase in traffic and engagement, brand managers will then consider committing marketing investment towards the platform in Asia," Shah explained.

Meanwhile, DAN Singapore's Mehrotra said Pinterest plays a role in the discovery stage and most of its searches happen on non-branded items. Citing an eMarketer report, Mehrotra said much of Pinterest’s user experience still revolves around viewing photos and curation of product content pertaining to an interest or aspirational pursuit, but it lacks certain capabilities around conversion - particularly the ability to buy within the platform. Meanwhile, Facebook drives the majority of social referral to eCommerce sites.

"While Pinterest developed a data partnership with Shopify, that came in late as Facebook was leading the way with the collaborative ads and a strong partnership with Lazada and Shopee. On the monetisation front, Pinterest does not really seem to have an edge versus competition, whether it is on its ad platform or data," Mehrotra said.

Regarding the issue of shoppable ad formats, VaynerMedia's Taylor said this has been an area of focus for Pinterest across other regions and she hopes to see it follow suit in Asia. "With brands being more cautious than ever with their spending and having to undergo ad spend cutbacks, advertisers are being challenged with making every dollar count. Therefore, focusing spends on proven platforms and formats that allow for return on advertising spend measures via shoppable ad formats," she explained. To this point, Pinterest's spokesperson explained that it has not launched advertising in Asia Pacific, so businesses are unable to run ads in these countries.

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