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What's a picture worth in digital marketing? Q&A with Curalate CEO

Note to digital marketers: it's time to get visual. Pinterest, the white-hot, image-sharing service, drove 41 percent of social media traffic to ecommerce sites last year. On average, shoppers referred from the network spent $140 to $180, according to Shareaholic’s Social Media Traffic Report. Despite the opportunity, many marketers lack a visual content strategy, says Apu Gupta, co-founder and CEO of Curalate, a visual content analytics platform. Gupta shares how marketers should leverage brand and user-generated images to deliver organic customer experiences.

Pinterest released an API last year. What does that mean for digital marketers?

This is a very specific, brand-facing type of API and it allows a brand to pull in a stream of “pins” that are based on popularity. It’s a very specific use case, but the API is helping marketers think about Pinterest in a very different way than they’ve traditionally thought about social platforms.

We often talk with marketers about “unlearning” Facebook. Everyone says that social democratizes brands and consumers, but when you actually look at what marketers do on Facebook, for the most part it’s an extension of what marketers did with traditional marketing. They talk about their brands, and the only difference between traditional media and social media is that, in this case, they can measure immediate response. They post something, and see that people respond with a like or a share, but marketers are still talking about themselves.

What we’re finding on platforms like Pinterest and Instagram and Tumblr is that the vast majority of the conversations are what we would call organic in nature. Let’s say you’re The Gap. People go to your website, find the sweaters and the jeans that they love and then they pin that to their own boards on Pinterest. It has absolutely nothing to do with what The Gap is pushing out on its own Pinterest page. What the API acknowledges is that marketers need to tap into that organic behavior.

What should marketers be doing to make these conversations with customers more organic?

As a marketer, you have to be somewhat committed to thinking about how you can become a better content marketer. How can you produce content so that people can browse that content and share the content that means the most to them? Retailers and publishers tend to do really well on Pinterest because they’re already producing a lot of images, but we’re starting to see other brands do really smart things with that. The Lowe’s and the Home Depots of the world produce a lot of how-to content: how to fix a leaky faucet, how to turn a crate into a drawer. It’s really fun, engaging content, and the images around that content get shared tremendously. It’s great for their brands because it leads people right back to the website of the brand itself.

What intelligent, data-driven actions have marketers have taken based on analyzing visual content? 

We’re starting to see examples in two buckets: with user-generated content and with social data. On the user-generated content side, Urban Outfitters is a great example. On the brand’s homepage, there’s a section called "UO on You." It’s all photos that people have taken of themselves in Urban Outfitters clothing — out and about, having the time of their lives. What’s great about it is when you click on the images, instead of the images taking you back to Instagram, the images take you down into the product page where you can buy the product that those people are wearing. It’s different from reviews. It’s very authentic, because Urban isn’t putting clothes on a model, saying ‘This is how it should look.’ It’s a sweater that somebody bought from Urban Outfitters with jeans that somebody bought from The Gap, because that’s how real people dress.

In an even more evolved state on social, brands are using social data to make business decisions. Nordstrom has made some really smart moves. It takes products that people care about on social media and features those products more prominently in physical stores.

Brands also can merchandize their e-commerce sites more intelligently based on what people are doing on social. We saw a great example of this with H&M last year. They had a pair of ballet slippers on their website, displayed in bright yellow from a side angle. People went out of their way to click through on that shoe, change the color to pink and view it from a top-down angle. They shared that version of the shoe 100 times more often than the default yellow shoe. What that says to H&M is that they’re showing the product the wrong way. Their consumers don’t care about the yellow. Show them the pink. It’s those kinds of insights that social never really could give us before.

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