NEWS17 March 2021

Pinterest CMO: ‘People misunderstand insights… it should inform our intuition’

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UK – Many businesses have a misconception of the role that insights should play, according to Pinterest chief marketing officer Andréa Mallard speaking at MRS Impact 2021, who argued that while it can enrichen an idea, it cannot tell a business what to become.


Mallard was speaking during a ‘CMO Agenda’ session this afternoon at the MRS’s annual conference.

"I think people misunderstand insights work," she said. "I always think of insights as something we use to inform our intuition or inform an idea. It can’t tell you what your business needs to become."

To underline her point, she referenced a quote by Henry Ford: "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses," he famously said, somewhat derisively.

"I always think consumers tell you exactly what they want," Mallard countered. "They wanted to go faster. They gave you their solution: a horse. But you shouldn’t listen to their solution, you should listen to their need, and their need was 'faster'.

"For us, we try to listen very carefully to what consumers are asking for, but not how they’re asking for it."

With 460-plus million people using it every month, Pinterest is a vast and rich repository of data and insight. Its scale has enabled the organisation to forecast what’s going to be big in the future, whether that’s how searches for ‘podcast design’ will grow 130% in 2021, or that searches for laptop wallpaper with grow 30% among Generation Z this year.

"At that scale we’re quite literally able to see the future first," Mallard said. "Even in that most unpredictable year, 2020, of all the predictions we made in 2019, based on the shape of the data and behaviours we were seeing, 80% turned out to be true. That shows the robustness of our data."

One of Pinterest’s distinctions from the social networks it tends to get categorised alongside, is that it is very much about people’s interests, rather than a platform for their views.

"What’s different about Pinterest is that you don’t go there to show off how great your life is to your friends, or to fight about politics," Mallard said. ‘You go there for yourself – to get inspiration for your own life."

Asked where Pinterest gleans insights into what is important for its users and how it should evolve, Mallard said the company could "see that in qualitative and quantitative ways".

"Qualitatively we do a lot of traditional in-person focus groups, un-focus groups and one-on-ones with people in their homes,” she said. “Both with ‘super pinners’, the people who have been with us since the beginning and love it, and then extreme rejectors – people who don’t think Pinterest is a place for them. We always like to go to the extremes, not just the average user, but the less-than and more-than average user to understand the hurdles.”

Pinterest’s volumes of qualitative data are augmented by the findings of its in-house consumer insights team, which is constantly talking to people.

"But remember, this is a quant engine of and by itself,” Mallard said. "So if we want to know if people are confused, or we want to understand why no one’s using this new amazing feature the way we thought they would, or they’re using it in a very different way…

"We’re always trying to balance and marry those two in order to inform our intuition about what we need to do next.

"This idea of insights and having the user at the centre of our decision making feels very inherent to the Pinterest culture. I think we have a really good balance of that massive quant layer with this really critical qual layer, the why behind the what."

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