A picture is worth a thousand search queries. At least that’s what Pinterest, Google and Amazon would like you to believe. Why type in a description of what you’re looking for when you can just aim your camera at your object of desire?
This has become a timely question. While Amazon’s Alexa is spurring talk about voice-based search, visual search is evolving quickly, too. In May, Google introduced Google Lens, an AI-driven visual search app that reads and translates visual information. Point Google Lens at a restaurant sign and it will show you reviews, what hours it’s open and then let you make a reservation for a table. Lens, which will show up on Pixel phones later this year, is the latest advance in visual search. Pinterest and Amazon have both been offering that functionality for years.
The implications for retailers are clear: Consumers can point to items, find similar ones and buy them. No wonder Target has joined forces with Pinterest for visual search. Furniture shops like Wayfair and West Elm are following suit, allowing users to match found or taken photos to products available on their web shops.
And fashion brands like Neiman Marcus and Macy’s are looking to Pinterest performance metrics and visual search as opportunities to recommend and sell entire lines to their clientele.
Visual search isn’t just a tool for consumer discovery. Here are seven ways all marketers can retool their digital offerings with visual search:
1. Create Comprehensive Visual Analytics. First things first. Take stock of all brand photography on your website, e-mail and social media and begin tracking its performance across the web. This means tapping into visual search tools like Curalate or Tailwind that catalog your content and match it pixel for pixel on blogs, Pinterest, Instagram and other sites. That way, even if fans are pinning your products without explicitly naming your brand, you can find exactly who shared your images and how far they spread across the web.
2. Launch a Visual Content Planning Program. Next, start using that data to make decisions in your content planning. If you’re a fashion brand, is the green sweater outperforming the yellow sweater in organic visual content? Or is it that unbranded image performing stronger among high-end shoppers vs. mainstream customers who didn’t know where it came from? Use this data to decide what products become your future hero creative and who should see them next.
3. Look for Upsell Opportunities. Visual inspiration sites like Pinterest, Google, Amazon, and Instagram often prompt customers to jump from one product to the next — and not limited by brand. Learn more about the types of products viewers look at following yours to understand if you have gaps in your own product lineup, where you might be losing market share, and where there is room to upsell unexpected pairings.
4. Protect Your Brand in the Visual Domain. Without specific text to search against, it’s very possible your logo is being used in all sorts of contexts you can’t imagine — both positively and negatively. Some tools like BrandWatch and Logo Grab offer logo-specific search tools to catch instances where you or your products might show up in imagery that wasn’t sourced from your website.
5. Find Advocates. Just as you may not know how your brand imagery is being used, you also may have no idea how broad of an audience is using it. You might be surprised to finding influencers and everyday product advocates who already feature your line in their posts without ever mentioning it directly.
6. Conquest for Larger Share of Basket. Target, West Elm and Wayfair are already hoping that being early adopters of visual search will net them a leg-up against brands that are slow to market. West Elm, for example, has partnered with Pinterest to allow users to find “similar products” on its site, regardless of the brand that created the image. Visual search can also protect you against unwanted competition by identifying counterfeit retailers selling your wares under different names.
7. Refine the Customer Journey. Knowing that a photo was taken from your brand website and posted to an independent design blog, whose readers then found the photo and shared it to Pinterest, which in turn led 20 consumers to click through to purchase via your ecommerce site can help structure future partnerships and refine your understanding of your savviest customers.
Looking ahead, we’re not far from a time when everything we see can unlock a bank of online knowledge. If you’re taking a nature hike, Google will tell you what type of flower or mushroom you’re seeing. If you spot someone with a killer pair of shoes, you can quickly see what type they are and where to buy them.
Search lenses have the potential to detail product specs, instructions for use and pairing recommendations by activating a whole host of online knowledge APIs, location data and mobile AR capabilities. In this way, the camera truly becomes the keyboard, speeding you from real world discovery to online product comparison and checkout in just a few moments.