person shopping online on laptop
The COVID-19 pandemic’s global reset has brought unexpected prominence to the Pinterest platform, where the insights team has a front seat to viewing the changing consumer trends. — Getty Images/Rouzes

This spring, searches for gifts for essential workers have been trending on Pinterest — as have searches for meditation apps and queries on the best tops to wear for a video conference.

Since the coronavirus upended life as we know it worldwide, consumer searches on the visual search engine have soared 60% from the year-ago period.

The surge of activity on the site — which allows users to save images to virtual pinboards of products and ideas from home décor, fashion and beauty to weddings, travel and Latin jazz — has unleashed an unprecedented treasure trove of data on consumers’ states of mind and consumption inclinations.

Pinterest has long worked with brands to match their advertising campaigns to “Pinners’” interests to narrow the distance between consumer discovery and purchase via the platform with tools like Pinterest Trends.

But brands are now seeking counsel on how to pivot their strategies, like a “back to school” campaign becoming “back to home” in the throes of our new reality. And Pinterest is in close conversations with its clients as trends change week to week, and as brands look to enhance and intensify their advertising strategies, Yogesh Chavda, head of insights for Pinterest, told CO—.

The pandemic’s global reset has brought unexpected prominence to Pinterest’s insights team, led by Chavda, who joined in January, as the value of taking the precise temperature of consumers is at a premium right now.

Indeed, if ever there was a time when the consumer psyche was at a more delicate inflection point amid a life-threatening crisis and economic uncertainty, it’s now. And for brands, if ever there was a time to exercise targeted, tonally-appropriate, emotionally intelligent marketing, it’s now.

Chavda’s team is busy working on ways to enrich, accelerate and package the current surge of consumer-insight driven trends for its advertisers, many for whom business is on pause, in ways that will benefit the brands long after the storm has passed.

“What has happened is my team’s role in the company … became the center of attention very quickly,” he said. “We had to accelerate our [ability] to identify these types of insights and present [them] in a systematic manner.”

Pinterest is also delivering those trends in new ways to its 335 million international users, as Pinners seek ideas from credible sources to help them adjust to their newly transformed lives.

For one, the site moved up the launch of its Today tab, designed to be a daily source of not just inspiration, but timely and sought-after information based on Pinterest searches and pins. This includes COVID-19 related content from the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on topics like hand-washing during the coronavirus epidemic.

One thing became very clear very quickly. [Consumer] behaviors were not only shifting, but how the behaviors were changing, Pinterest was seeing earlier versus other sources.

Yogesh Chavda, head of insights, Pinterest

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Demand for hyper-nuanced consumer insights

With Pinterest users hungrier than ever for data from reliable sources, the moment called for it, Chavda said. “We had to react to [the] news unfolding.

“One thing became very clear very quickly,” he said. “[Consumer] behaviors were not only shifting, but how the behaviors were changing, Pinterest was seeing earlier versus other sources.”

While it would take a traditional market research firm a week to obtain the findings from a consumer survey, “we can start seeing things within 24 hours, because we have first-party data with millions of users on our platform,” Chavda said.

Pinterest’s self-described human-curation model serves up that data in real time. In early March, for example, when local governments started issuing stay-at-home orders, Pinterest saw the real-time impact of the news on consumers, who were suddenly creating boards tied to themes of taking care of others and taking care of oneself, with language like, “Don’t panic,” Chavda said. Thanking essential frontline workers also emerged as a theme, with consumers asking, “How do I gift them, to show them that [I care]?” he said.

Tracking the arc of unfolding trends amid COVID-19

Pinterest has been tracking the arc of consumer sentiment during COVID-19 as it adapts its

monthly trend report to focus on Pinners’ needs during the crisis, with themed insights on topics that are top of mind for consumers, such as home, health and wellness, parenting, food and do-it-yourself personal care.

  • Of the billions of monthly searches on the site, Pinterest has also tracked a surge in queries on workouts one can do sans equipment, as searches for home bodyweight workouts soar.
  • With schools shuttered, “work from home with kids” searches have leapt, as topics like “how to teach fifth grade math,” pop up.
  • In beauty and personal care, Pinners’ activity reveals they’re tackling everything from home haircuts to homemade eyebrow waxing recipes.
  • Working-from-home-themed searches like, “how to turn a bathroom into a conference room" are also trending.

Looking ahead, Pinterest sees an uptick of self-care-at-home themes, from gardening to establishing calm. “We’re at a point where a lot of people are feeling closed in by more than six to eight weeks [of lockdowns],” Chavda said. “We are anticipating how they are feeling from a mental health perspective.”

 screenshots on pinterest pins
Since the coronavirus quarantine was placed into effect, Pinterest has seen an influx in searches, like "home bodyweight workouts" and "how to teach fifth grade math." — Pinterest

Helping Hyundai and Bed Bath & Beyond to Viva paper towels message to the moment

Pinterest captures consumer “‘intentionality” in ways other social networks like Facebook and Twitter can’t, Chavda said. That’s because consumers look to the site for inspiration and are actively contemplating what to buy next.

Now marketers are increasingly plucking Pinterest’s insights on consumers’ crisis-informed mindset to shape their ads on the site.

“We are partnering with our advertisers to give them clarity as to how pinners are behaving in the context of their verticals,” be it home, fashion or entertainment, he said, “and the right time to communicate with tonally [appropriate] messaging, demonstrating that they are sensitive to consumer needs.”

Brands’ resulting Pinterest ads reflect just that, imparting trends surfaced by the insights team. They include destressing-geared campaigns such as REI’s ad, “How to Spend Time Outside While Social Distancing”; staying-at-home-themed messaging like Bed Bath & Beyond’s “Build your best work-from-home space”; and campaigns that impart empathy with a concrete solution, such as Hyundai's, “We’ve got you covered” ad, offering payment relief for consumers who’ve lost a job due to COVID-19.

Viva paper towels already knew that its customers were seeking ideas and solutions from credible sources to help them adjust to a new normal while also planning for the future, Jenn Nobui, household care general manager for Kimberly-Clark North America, told CO—. “This includes how they are staying safe, well and keeping their homes clean,” she said. “Pinterest insights provide a window into how people are thinking and feeling week to week, and Pinterest has helped the Viva Brand tailor our strategy to best support people as they tackle a variety of cleaning tasks while experiencing quarantine."

The time will come when consumers’ Pinterest searches and boards become more optimistic and hopeful, Chavda said. “We anticipate they will start looking for what they were doing in their old normal — signals we’re looking for now.”

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Published April 30, 2020