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The Best Market Research Tool You're Not Using

Forget about the typical reasons that brands pay attention to Pinterest. Instead, think of Pinterest in a new way: as a compelling market research tool. Let's evolve the prevalent social mantra: It's not what you say about you; it's what your customers say about you. In today's booming Visual Revolution, it's not what your customers say. It's what they show.

In reality, the nearly 50 million Pinterest users are actually master product crowdsourcers who are deep in development on one of the best CRM tools ever. Even better for brands, these aspirational pinners are singlehandedly reinventing market research.

Pinterest’s social discovery platform digitally updates many of the projective techniques that market researchers have relied on for years. Collaging, photo scans/diaries and private communities are tried-and-true tools that have worked effectively to amplify self-expression and creativity in IDIs and group settings. While these methodologies have long been powerful in uncovering hidden feelings, aspirations, and motivators, as the Image Economy goes viral, the input from respondents both escalates and improves. As Instagram, Hipstamatic, Lightt, and Vine go mainstream, participants become more comfortable, creative, and authentic via visual expression. We noticed this "worth a thousand words" trend emerging along with the launch of the iPhone. At that milestone, we made a concerted strategic shift toward using more visual tools in our research.

For example, in a "traditional" research study for a tech giant, imagery revealed two key symbols: a photo of a Swiss Army knife fully opened, and a gleaming shot of a Santiago Calatrava building in Spain. Respondents wanted both functionality and innovation. These perceptions were better expressed via imagery. Had we been using real-time Pinterest to iterate during this study, we could have used visual prompts to deepen our discovery as we conducted our in-person work. Recently, we have used Pinterest to pin the day’s in-person learnings -- and the next morning, present the re-pins, likes and comments generated overnight. We have also used Pinterest to help assess the impact of potential acquisitions.

These image-based methodologies are now available to your brand 24/7.

Here's how marketers can best use Pinterest for market research:

1. Project recruiting.   Imagine how useful it would be to "know" respondents before conducting IDIs, groups, usability labs or ethnography. Looking at a board for "Recipes" is akin to opening the fridge during an in-home. Also: filter participants against specs; uncover polarizing attitudes, or professional respondents.

2. Project homework.   This is the mother lode of pre-screening and prepping. Sort potential participants by persona, psychographics, product preferences. Discover "wants, needs, desires" and where your brand fits.

3. Customer perception and insight.   All things aspirational show up on Pinterest boards. The platform is a Wish List for both today and tomorrow. Pinners plan weddings, babies, houses, parties and vacations as they dream of them. Marketers can use this visual Magic 8 Ball to better predict trends, sales, and product. Pinterest allows your customers to show you new ideas and lead you down a different -- and possibly more intriguing -- path. For example :Did Four Monks vinegar ever imagine teaming up with Dawn?

4. Your brand’s Web site and social marketing materials.   What's getting pinned from your Web site? What’s ignored? Are your visuals optimized for Pinterest or are they pinvisible? Where do your pins land? On what kind of boards? One of our clients, who specializes in the pet industry, discovered that the brand was being pinned and re-pinned on boards related to women/entrepreneurs. This opened up a whole new direction for the company.

5. Product development and innovation.    What triggers this product-driven mindset? Check out some of Pinterest’s default board names: more than three percent of pinboards are labeled "Products I Love," "For The Home" and "My Style." Want to find out how to leverage equity in your products? Is there another style, fragrance, color, texture, taste consumers prefer? Is a competitive brand beating you to innovation? Is one product heating up and another lagging?

Keep a close watch on the Descriptions. What verbs are pinners using to describe your products and images? A recent academic study revealed that what distinguishes Pinterest from other social sites are four simple yet powerful verbs: “use,” “look,” “want,” and “need.”  Are your visuals showing up as Pinspired or Pinstrosities?

We market researchers are already well-trained in listening and observing. We already know how to sift, sort, and harvest the growing fields of data delivered by social media. But what we haven't had -- until Pinterest -- is a visual tool that captures and curates the lifestream of customers in real-time.

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