Platform Views: Visual Discovery in the Real World and on Pinterest

Reading Time: 5 Minutes

Visuals are powerful. It takes just 13 milliseconds for the human brain to process images, 60,000 times faster than it takes for text.

Often times, there will be something – when you’re scrolling through your feed, on the subway, at a friend’s place – that catches your eye, but words don’t do it justice (or you fail to find the right ones). That’s where Pinterest comes in.

In 2017, Pinterest launched three visual discovery tools that let you use objects you see on the platform and in the real world as starting points for search. For instance, Lens enables you to use the camera within your Pinterest mobile app to uncover ideas from products you see offline, such as food, clothes and furniture.

Given that Pinterest helps consumers explore new possibilities and discover products they may not have planned to buy, there are a myriad of opportunities for advertisers on the platform.

In this Q&A, Adaptly chats with Michael Akkerman, Head of Marketing Partners at Pinterest, to gain insight into Pinner activity, the new Lens product, and tips for advertisers running Promoted Pin campaigns.

Kyle Benedetti, VP of Partnerships, Adaptly: What are the main differences between how and why people search on Pinterest versus a search engine?

Michael Akkerman, Head of Marketing Partners, Pinterest: People go to traditional search engines when they know prescriptively and explicitly what they are looking for. They’ve done their research and already made a brand or product decision, now it is about taking that last step and simply executing. On Pinterest, however, people are still in a discovery mindset, what you might call ‘upper-funnel’ or in-market shopping. They have an idea or interest in mind and want to explore further, but they haven’t committed to any one brand. The fact that 97% of our over 2 billion searches per month are non-branded indicates that people are still deciding what brands, products, and services to interact with. According to McKinsey and Company’s latest research, this early consideration stage is when brands can really acquire net-new consumers.

KB: How does search behavior on Pinterest’s site compare to search through the app?

MA: Pinterest activity is over 80% mobile and when we look at the behaviors people exhibit on the platform, they spend nearly half of their time intrinsically searching, and the other 50% of the time browsing and discovering inspiring content in Home Feed. According to an Ahalogy study, 42% of Pinners now start a search on Pinterest rather than a traditional search engine, and we see this intent across Desktop, Mobile, Home Feed, and of course, Search.

KB: What was the impetus behind creating Pinterest Lens?

MA: Humans are visual creatures. We eat with our eyes and say “I see what you mean“, and more than half of the human brain is dedicated to visual processing. We are building a visual discovery engine and we wanted to create a way for people to connect what they are passionate about on Pinterest with what they are seeing and experiencing in the real world. We have all had times when we couldn’t articulate an object, a style, a color, a place. We know the conversion ratio – A picture is worth a thousand words – and Lens helps us discover and search specifically when we don’t have the words.

KB: What has been your most surprising finding in how Pinners have adopted Lens?

MA: Two examples come to mind. One of my coworkers was on the subway and saw a woman wearing a great leather jacket. When she approached her about where she got it, she said it was from a thrift store. Not one to let that stop her, she used Lens and found similar jackets on Pinterest that she was able to buy right then. The second is selfies. We’ve seen that lots of people are using Lens’ image recognition to see who they look like.

KB: Evan Sharp [Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Pinterest] has said, “For now, Lens works best for finding home decor ideas, things to wear and food to eat.” How do you envision people using Lens in the future? What objects in real life could they use Lens to recognize?

MA: I would say that those are very fundamental human needs that Pinterest generally and Lens specifically are trying to answer in a safe and no judgment environment. What do I want my house to look like? What do I want to eat? What clothes do I want wear? What’s my style and identity? That’s Maslow’s hierarchy of needs right there. From a less psychological standpoint, I had a rogue eggplant in my fridge that I didn’t know what to do with. Using Lens I found a recipe for a delicious Mediterranean eggplant ragout. Lens will allow you to put meals together based upon what you find in the supermarket, or outfits when you are clothes shopping. It will help you see how objects fit into your home design or get additional information and reviews when at a dealership looking for a new car.

KB: How can brands optimize their content for search on Pinterest? (Like PEO, instead of SEO.)

MA: I actually prefer Discovery Engine Optimization or DEO. The thing to focus on is value-added content.

KB: What are some ways advertisers can close the loop on people searching for their products via Pinterest, i.e., drive them to conversion? How can they make the process as seamless as possible?


  1. Focus on engaging creative
  2. Include a call-to-action
  3. Ensure you have a mobile-optimized website
  4. Leverage shopping Campaigns and include up-to-date product inventory feeds

KB: What strategies should brands have to conquest and combat competitors on Pinterest?

MA: The goal really should be giving helpful and value-added content to people. If a brand focuses on connecting with their consumer in an authentic and helpful way, they will be successful. Additionally, most advertisers find Pinterest drives a disproportionate amount of net-new customers, ranging from 70-90%. This means that on Pinterest, it is more democratized than other channels like search for smaller companies to compete with  national or international brands.

KB: What should businesses keep in mind when incorporating Pinterest in their marketing mix, especially if they’re reallocating ad spend from paid search?

MA: The biggest advice is test and iterate but commit. Unlike traditional paid search you need to commit for at least a 90 days test period to really understand both the immediate and earned media value of Pinterest. Similarly, as Pinterest drives consumers from awareness, through consideration, to action, having a sequenced marketing message and understanding that Pinterest will most probably be additive and complementary to your current paid search program is key.

KB: What’s the biggest tip you have for measuring the success of ad campaigns on Pinterest?

MA: 1. Implement a 30/30/1 attribution window (30 Day Click | 30 Day Engagement | 1 Day View)
          2. Incorporate earned/downstream media
          3. Think differently.