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Pin It to Win It
Brands Discover Pinterest

by Sam McMillan

Hit the Pinterest homepage at and it’s hard to see what all the fuss is about. At first glance it looks like a highly-caffeinated editorial meeting for Us magazine. Images of cupcakes, beefcake, celebrities and inspirational sayings abound. And recipes. Lots of recipes. Call it food porn.

So why are brands as diverse as Whole Foods’ Whole Planet Found­a­tion and fashion forward shopping site Rue La La clamoring to get their boards on Pinterest?

Well, the numbers don’t lie. In a few short months Pinterest has climbed the ranks of the top-trafficked sites, joining Facebook, Amazon and Wikipedia, to become a search engine that rivals Google—and drawn over 20 million unique visitors in the US, who looked at 1.5 billion page views in one month. Stats like that get the attention of brands who want to reach customers, build loyalty, and foster engagement. But it’s Pinterest’s ability to drive sales by enabling a visitor to click through an image, and go directly to an e-commerce website, that has marketers stampeding.

Lisa Weser, senior director of brand communications at Anheuser-Busch, discovered Pinterest two years ago, “When you had to request an invitation to join,” she says. “I knew it was going to be big when I spent two hours on the site in a single visit.” Since that time, Weser has become a passionate advocate for the site. Pinterest users are an ideal brand demographic Weser explains. “They are overwhelmingly affluent, educated and female. They represent a desirable demographic when it comes to purchasing power and influence.”

To speak to their audience on Pinterest, brands must learn to lower the volume. “Audiences are exhausted from the non-stop chatter of Twitter and Facebook postings,” Weser believes. Pinterest represents a societal shift toward a preference for visual story­telling that enables brands to show without shouting.

It’s a more quiet medium Weser thinks, and it facilitates an experi­ence that’s akin to leisurely flipping through a magazine. In addi­tion to the enviable demographics Pinterest delivers, a recent report from Digital Trends indicates that the average time pinners spend on Pinterest is over an hour. Combine that with the organic pin and share mechanism built into Pinterest boards that connects consumers to brands (and their e-commerce sites) and it’s no wonder that, in Weser’s words, “Every brand wants to reach them.”

That includes mom-and-pop retail stores without huge e-com­merce platforms. Lori King, a social media consultant in Bend, Oregon, advises her brick-and-mortar clients that Pinterest can drive traffic to their shops with contests, in-store giveaways and creative discounting schemes. Her advice: “Maximize your exposure. Connect Pinterest boards to Twitter and Facebook. Tag other pinners you are following and create an ecosystem. Be descriptive in your postings and ensure your boards become a reference for all things related to your business. Use images in every post—better pictures equal more pins. The time and effort that goes into creating a board will pay off when people start using it as an environment for inspiration.”

Rue La La is a member-based private sale site with over seven million style conscious fashion forward members. Associate creative director Rachel Solomon says, “Pinterest followers come to its boards to discover the elements of what it takes to live a life of style. Our brand takes a curated approach to what’s new, and what’s hot. We use Pinterest to share what we’re think­ing about at the moment, to show we are ahead of the curve.”

Solomon has one piece of advice for brands about to put up a Pinterest board: “Be authentic.” That means tapping into the essence of the brand and then, “Posting the things you genuinely like. Don’t put up things that are self-promotion. At Rue La La we create boards that are genuinely fun, genuinely joyful. Our mem­bers really appreciate the things that bring them value and joy.”

Rue La La drives traffic to its site with campaigns, contests and by strategically repinning boards that share its brand ethos and foster deeper community engagement. “For example, we may put up a blog post that says, ‘five Pinterest boards we like right now.’” Solomon says. “By linking out to other boards we engage the community. Pinning other boards becomes an extension of our brand values. By re-pinning boards we love, we make a statement about what our brand stands for.”

A recent sweepstakes called “Shoe La La”—in connection with a major show boutique of the same name—asked members to show off their shoes. “Members simply took pictures with their smartphones and hash tagged them with #shoelalashowusyourshoes,” Solomon explains. “Then we collected the shoe pictures and awarded a prize to the winner.” The responses created a visually appealing, crowd-sourced Pinterest board that leverages Rue La La’s brand strategy. According to Solomon, the Shoe La La board, “Made our members part of what we are doing on our site. Pinter­est is a way for us to connect with our members and demonstrate that we have our finger on the pulse of what’s happening in fashion and can stay ahead of the trend.”

Seven years ago Whole Foods Market CEO John Mackey heard a talk given by Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel-Prize winner who made microcredit a household name. Mackey’s response was to start Whole Planet Foundation to fund grassroots entrepreneurial efforts by the people where Whole Foods sources its products. Designed to help make small incremental steps out of poverty, Whole Planet Foundation has to date made loans of $32 million in 53 countries, financing 250,000 microcredit clients. McMillan
Sam McMillan is a San Francisco Bay Area-based writer, teacher and producer of interactive multimedia projects for a number of Bay Area production houses, and can be reached at