Pinterest Aspires to Be the “Connective Tissue Between Inspiration and Action”
March 3, 2021
Pinterest’s Chief Revenue Officer, Jon Kaplan, discusses the company’s evolution from serving as a platform built mostly for product discovery to becoming a full-fledged shopping vehicle – and how over time that may encroach on Amazon’s territory. Kaplan gives insight into interesting and unexpected consumer use cases Pinterest discovered during the Pandemic, and highlights how the company is turning its unique brand of customer intelligence into a product to help marketers get ahead of trends.
Mike Shields (2s):
Hey guys, this is Mike Shields and this week on Next in Marketing. I got to talk to Jon Kaplan, Chief Revenue Officer at Pinterest. We talked about the company’s huge ambitions in e-commerce or the plan as he put it to make the whole platform shoppable, which we seem to put them right in Amazon’s crosshairs. Jon also explained why he has his doubts about whether the third party measurement will endure in the post-privacy world. And whether the industry’s attempt at a universal ID solution, will have any real chance. Let’s get started.
Everything we know about the media, marketing and advertising business is being completely upended, thanks to technology and data. We’re talking with some of the top industry leaders as they steer their companies through constant change. Welcome to Next in Marketing, presented by AppsFlyer.
Mike Shields (45s):
Hi, everybody. Welcome to Next in Marketing. My guest this week is Jon Kaplan as the Chief Revenue Officer at Pinterest. Jon, thanks for being here. How are you doing?
Jon Kaplan (52s):
I’m great. Thanks for having me, Mike.
Mike Shields (54s):
So, I’m excited you’re here because it’s an exciting time for you guys and the world, hopefully, but as we seem to be maybe having some approach and some hopeful news. But you guys had a pretty interesting year and, like a lot of, not that you’re, wouldn’t be growing, but you grew a lot in terms of audience. And I think social networks often kind of, you think of them is hitting a ceiling, everyone, you know, by now everyone’s thought, I wanted to be on Pinterest or not, I’m not sure about that, but you guys saw a lot of growth. Can you talk about how that happened? Why that happens and maybe like, who the new people are and what they’re doing?
Jon Kaplan (1m 30s):
Sure. Yeah, your right. We had a strong 2020 and a strong finish to the year. By the end of the year, we had about 460 million people using Pinterest every month. And that was still growing, in the mid 30 range.
Mike Shields (1m 49s):
What was that like end of 19, if you remember, roughly?
Jon Kaplan (1m 52s):
We would have been about 300, 350 million growing, maybe in the 20’s, in that range.
Mike Shields (2m 3s):
Yeah, so that’s a big chunk. I mean, and I know that part of that is probably international, right. But what do you attribute that all to?
Jon Kaplan (2m 9s):
Yeah, a big part is international. You know, we grew international by 46% year over year in Q4 as an example. But you know what I, more broadly, I would say, you know, we added a hundred million people to the service, just over a hundred million people in 2020. And I think first, like people flock to this service because I think they needed us more than ever in this moment, to be honest with you. You know, as the pandemic hit, I think people really discovered and rediscovered Pinterest as this kind of useful, positive and productive place. And they were using it for a bunch of new use cases, you know, a lot of things that were new to the experience that they had to kind of navigate through and they found Pinterest to be helpful for that.
Jon Kaplan (2m 59s):
I think that was kind of a first point. I think the second thing is that this kind of shift to e-commerce is a big shift, was a big shift last year. And we were just, our investments in making Pinterest a shopping platform were paying off. I mean, we were making a bunch of investments to improve the experience, to get more and more product catalogs onto Pinterest to get more shopping advertisers on the platform. And just more broadly to make shopping more pervasive across the entire experience. And so I think that, you know, that experience, plus the new use cases were two reasons why we had a really good year for a user perspective.
Mike Shields (3m 45s):
I want to come back to the shopping subjects, that’s a big one. But like in terms of you know, this hundred million new people that not only there. There are new people that are probably coming out and do different things maybe than they were existing audience, but then you have this pandemic were some of these people’s lifestyles are being upended, like what do you guys see? What are these people doing that was maybe different or more of than the past?
Jon Kaplan (4m 7s):
Well, at first I would say like, we saw a couple of different phases play out during the course of the pandemic.
Mike Shields (4m 14s):
Right, there’s been like 10 pandemic, really? 10 pandemic so far.
Jon Kaplan (4m 19s):
Truly. I think that first phase when we are all just entering into lockdown, and this is early April. You know, we saw people having to kind of deal with a radically changing set of circumstances. You know, just to give, so it’s hard to remember back then, but, you know, we were.
Mike Shields (4m 36s): Coming up on the anniversary.
Jon Kaplan (4m 37s): Yeah. I know, sadly.
Mike Shields (4m 39s): Yeah.
Jon Kaplan (4m 40s):
But you know, people are learning how to cook and what activities to plan for their kids’ and how they set up remote offices and gyms? So those were, I wouldn’t say largely utilitarian used cases. That was how it began. Phase two was interesting. And I know it happened relatively quickly. I would say in May and June, we started seeing people evolve, knowing that it was going to be going to take place for a longer period of time than they really thought. I think people start to, you know, evolve, how they are going to be kind of remixed their lives and figure out what’s next? And then we saw things like backyard weddings because they couldn’t have a proper wedding in other places.
Jon Kaplan (5m 25s):
Summer road trips were peaking because you could jump in your car, but you couldn’t get on a plane. And even back to school, we saw a huge focus on technologies, as opposed to maybe traditional fashion as a primary thing. So that’s kind of phase two, and then interestingly, I just think people started to look forward to some level of normalcy. We called it looking forward to look forward. And we saw people kind of planning really early for like bigger events, like the holidays and we saw that happening as soon as May and June.
Mike Shields (5m 59s):
Like people needed it this year more than ever.
Jon Kaplan (6m 1s):
Absolutely and they wanted to go big or they wanted to make it something special, something to look forward to, something to bring a little joy into their lives. And so we saw that that activity happening earlier than ever in a holiday, as an example.
Mike Shields (6m 15s):
Are you seeing anything interesting right now that’s predictive? Like, are people gearing up for like, you know, there’s some optimism, Oh my God, this summer, it could be a totally different world if the vaccine gets going, like, can you tell things are looking different?
Jon Kaplan (6m 26s):
Yeah, I think, yes. And we’re actually producing insights every single week across 10 categories for our advertisers. So we are seeing some interesting things. The one I would call out is travel. My prediction is that this is going to be a blowout second half of the year, as it relates to travel. I think.
Mike Shields (6m 49s):
People are just going to go nuts when they get the green light.
Jon Kaplan (6m 51s):
They are just dying to get back out there, back to experiencing different cultures, different locations. And actually just to get away for a little bit. So that’s kind of of my big prediction.
Mike Shields (7m 5s):
Interesting. Okay. So let’s go back to shopping specifically. Because I remember, we’ve talked about this over the years before, you know, platforms kind of find their place or their, and they evolve over time. I think at one point you guys spoke about Pinterest, as you were sort of in the middle of the funnel, like you were not necessarily, people use you to search for categories, not specifically products, but you were not like, I don’t know what I want, I have no idea what to think about, show me something. It was, you were a little bit in the middle, but I wonder if that’s changed over time. If you can go back before COVID and as, as you are thinking about, okay, how do we become more of a shopping platform? Was the behavior changing?
Mike Shields (7m 46s):
Were you trying to build yourself as like, what lead to that? If that changed.
Jon Kaplan (7m 50s):
Well, you know, first of all, I think the beginning point for all this was the feedback we were getting from pinners and the feedback was, you know, Pinterest when I find a great idea or a great product, I want to be able to buy it, easily. And that was conclusive, they were frustrated by the experience of not being able to transact once they found that great item to be able to buy. So this is what, you know, this is why you and I have talked about this for awhile now, is that we’ve been building out the experiences. And I would kind of break it out into a couple of different areas. First, I think we had to get all of the products ingested into our corpus, all of the product catalogs from all the retailers have to create a great shopping experience.
Mike Shields (8m 41s):
And early on, you can, people can pin stuff from Crate and Barrel all day long, but if you don’t have that stuff in there, they’re gonna either be having to go to Crate and Barrel, or are you gonna have to prove how that worked or you’re just going to be making people annoyed, I guess.
Jon Kaplan (8m 54s):
Yeah,in some cases like the product wouldn’t actually be available, it would lead to a blog, right? And so the first step was to basically have a verified merchant program of products that are from that merchant and they are in stock, we know the price of those products so that the shopping experience can be a positive one for pinners so again, that partnership that we struck with Shopify to be able to ingest catalogues from their partners, as well as our own direct efforts was kind of step one. Step two was building out the shopping experiences, the surfaces where a shopping occurs on Pinterest and today, you know, you go into a bunch of different parts of Pinterest.
Jon Kaplan (9m 41s):
There’s a shop tab, there is a related products area when you are looking at an image, there is an ability for you to shop your board. So you save things to your board and then you can shop those items as well as the other things that are visually similar to that. So we have seen the number of pinners who have been engaged with shopping surfaces increase by almost a hundred percent year over a year. So that’s kind of phase two. And then building out just a shopping app experience that allows advertised to promote their listings as well. And we are seeing a big increase there as well.
Mike Shields (10m 17s):
Now, was the plan versus the people telling you this, because I feel like at one point you wanted to have shopping there if people wanted it, but you were, Pinterest is going to be about expressing yourself and putting together wishlist, life events, planning, but it wasn’t necessarily to have a whole shopping section. I don’t know, but you know, how much of that was planned versus the way that people started to pushing you?
Jon Kaplan (10m 40s):
It really was based on how people were pushing us. And I think what we’re kind of getting to is this realization that we can be both. We can be this planning platform that inspires people to find new ideas, but we can also take them through a journey to go buy those things, when they’re ready. And I think that’s the big change for us. Is that now, whatever you wanna do as a user you can come in and have a purely shopping experience and kind of, a performance advertising experience as an advertiser, or you can have a, more of an inspirational browsing experience. And so for us, we can be that connective tissue for advertisers between inspiration and action.
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