Q&A with Pinterest’s Arthur Sevilla

Arthur Sevilla (@arthursevilla) is Pinterest’s CPG Vertical Strategy Lead. Committed to inspiring brands to think beyond media metrics and value the context of consumer engagement, Sevilla is a passionate brand builder. Before joining Pinterest, he spent a decade at Kraft Foods and Mondelez International, in global equity and innovation roles within the grocery and confectionary categories. Most recently Sevilla was a director of global e-commerce where he set the strategic roadmap for the 2020 ambition of $1B in revenue and executed Oreo Colorfilled, the first DTC activation for the iconic brand. We recently spoke with him to discuss his role, top food trends, and best practices for food marketers on Pinterest.

ING: Arthur, what’s your story? How did you end up at Pinterest? What is your role there?

AS: I started my marketing career in analytics building marketing mix models at IRI from weekly scanner data. I got bit by the CPG bug and recognized I needed a business degree to go into brand management, so I went back to business school and started my formal CPG career at Kraft Foods and Mondelez International when it spun off in 2012.

I spent a little over a decade, across a number of roles: in base brand building, innovation and international growth. Ultimately, my last role was within the inaugural e-commerce team at Mondelez International—and it was in this role that I realized that the digital disruption of CPG was upon us.

Partly driven by my time in France, the UK and certainly while I was in China, I saw how digital platforms were engaging with consumers and changing the way CPG manufacturers were able to connect with them. I spent two years at Mondelez building a winning e-commerce strategy, but along that journey it became clear to me that there was one digital platform that really differentiated itself and that was Pinterest. It was—and still is—a platform that I think is yet to be fully realized by the CPG industry.

I believe I have the best job in the marketplace. As I became more familiar with the Pinterest platform, and the unique role it serves in people's lives, I was excited to join and guide our next phase of CPG growth. I serve in a unique role within the organization. As the Pinterest CPG vertical leader I do not fit directly into a sales organization, nor do I have product responsibilities; rather, I am a strategist that helps guide both sales teams and internal product teams to think more like brand marketers. I guide our organization to be more empathetic to the brand-led business objectives our Partners are facing and how Pinterest can help them achieve their goals.

Sometimes I find we get caught up in the tech world, talking about what technical capabilities we can deploy. My job is to turn that on its head and speak from the consumer side and the business side, the brand-building side; to guide our understanding of which business objectives brand leaders are trying to solve and see how Pinterest can uniquely deliver those goals.

ING: Is your role one that Pinterest has created recently?

AS: I’m about 16 months into this role, and the role was newly formed a few months prior to me joining. Pinterest has created 8 vertical prioritizations right now, with retail and CPG being our largest. I come from the CPG industry and lead the CPG vertical. In a similar fashion, we have professionals in Detroit leading our auto vertical; in Los Angeles leading our entertainment vertical; in Seattle leading our technology vertical, and so on.

We’re a fairly new team and a fairly interesting function in the tech world, pulling industry experts to help shape and guide our internal product development as well as our external messaging and solution buildout.

ING: Got it! How do you think CPG companies in particular can best utilize Pinterest as a platform?

AS: I think it’s important to recognize first what Pinterest is and how we are differentiated in the marketplace. There are a number of digital platforms that brands engage with, and Pinterest is in a very unique position: we are a visual discovery engine, in contrast to a social media platform or a search engine.

A visual discovery engine has essentially three parts. I use those words very purposefully. “Visual” is the first word there; that’s because the unit of engagement of Pinterest lies in the image, whether it’s a static image or a moving image (e.g., a video). The picture is our language. If you open up your Pinterest app you’ve got a home feed, curated to your needs and your interests. Through your engagement with those images, we understand what you’re interested in and are better able to serve curated content that meets your particular tastes.

We are also a discovery platform. That discovery part speaks to the mindset of the consumer. There are other platforms out there that people use when they already know exactly what they want. There’s an amazing platform out of Seattle; when you know what you want to buy, you go there and you buy it! There’s another platform that I use when I want to connect with my friends; I go there and I use that a couple times a day too. They are great platforms for those specific functions. But what happens when you have an idea of what you want but don’t exactly know how to execute on that idea? When you just want some guidance, some discovery, some inspiration? That’s what Pinterest is! It’s a discovery platform. Through the visual nature of who we are, we help guide consumers through their journey of discovering and doing what they love. That’s our mission: to help you discover and do what you love.

The last portion of our purpose is serving as an “engine”. As a visual discovery engine we want you to go do stuff! We don’t measure your time on our platform; we’re not here to keep your head down in your phone; we’re here to inspire you to do something: to go make something, to travel somewhere, paint your house, buy that outfit, redo your pantry. We’re enabling that by being an engine of action.

ING: Who do you think is doing the best job right now? Do you have any standouts that are really killing it?

AS: The brands who most successfully utilize Pinterest are those who understand how to engage with our consumers. We’ve got plenty of case studies on our blog. Think of any brand that wants to achieve awareness of something new about their brand. We help them develop a three-part strategy, finding the right audience, finding the right context to make sure the content is relevant to the audience, and finally finding the right time to engage with that content and that audience. When you get these three pieces right—the consumer, the context and the right time at which it is relevant for consumers to be engaged—that three-part equation really does drive significant positive results.

ING: One of the most interesting things about Pinterest is how you can use the platform to get inside developing trends. We imagine you’re very close to the formation of these trends. Can you speak a little bit about Pinterest’s ability to predict and or see these trends developing in real time?

AS: I think that speaks exactly to the unique intent signals that we capture on the platform. Pinterest is a platform for yourself. We actually have an internal phrase: “Pinterest is about yourself, not your selfie.” We’re not here to help project some version of yourself to the world. We are here to help you discover and do what you love. And we know what you are interested in—what your specific tastes are based on what you are searching and saving, along with your board descriptions. Pinterest understands the individual tastes based on honest intent signals. We call this the Pinterest Taste Graph. Analyzing what is new on the platform helps us build out some trend forecasting.

In Q1 of every year, we publish a research piece we call the P100. Across 10 categories, with food being our largest category, we identify the top ten trends that we see upcoming in the year.

How do we get these trends? Through analysis of intent signals, we look for significant growth year over year. We also want to make sure the velocity of the growth rate is increasing, that it hasn’t peaked yet, and we also want to make sure that there’s a substantial amount of consumers who are engaged in that trend.

We’ve identified a few trends in the food space that I think are pretty interesting. Health in general is a macro trend that is impacting the entire food industry. We saw a lot of interest in the Whole 30 diet about two years ago, but we believe that Whole 30 has somewhat peaked and may be on the way out, while the Keto diet certainly is rising as the new health trend.

We’re a little bit late into the year now, but in January or so we very much called spice and heat an ingredient of significance, whether that be Moroccan spices or Sriracha. If you look up and down the grocery aisles now there is not one category that probably hasn’t introduced some Sriracha flavor product, so we believe heat is definitely a 2018 trend that is still going.

Looking forward in the future, I personally have a couple predictions—and this is not to replace the formality of our reporting—but I think air-frying is going to impact snacking. Air-fryers were a massive gift last holiday season and that cooking method is really going to come into the grocery stores in the years to come. And—this is just my point of view, but I have my eye on peas as a snack: snap peas and edamame are going mainstream. I’m also calling ginger out as a flavor profile that will grow in 2019.

ING: We saw you speak at this year’s Sweets & Snacks Expo; as soon as we heard you and walked down the floor, we said, oh! Here’s all the stuff that Arthur was talking about. There’s the peas, there’s the spice…it was like everything you said we were seeing out in the aisles of the show.

AS: That was very cool (laughs). When I passed by the Mars-Wrigley booth and I saw the heat-flavored Starburst, I was like, yes they see it too!

ING: How are consumers using Pinterest while they’re physically in stores? If you’re a CPG company, or a retailer, that’s got to be a really powerful attribute of your platform.

AS: The Save feature is really a powerful tool on Pinterest. It enables consumers to come back to an idea they find interesting and helps them organize their ideas. In fact, we just launched the opportunity to create sub-boards within a board, which helps really active Pinners organize their thoughts.

Consumers are using Pinterest in the grocery store—we’ve taken a couple of qualitative surveys, and there’s a heavy use of Pinterest as a secondary list creator. So, say I have a recipe that I want to buy ingredients for, or an individual brand has engaged with me and I want to be reminded to purchase that item in store.

89% of all Pinners say that Pinterest has shown them something that they want to go purchase in the store. So we’ve been influencing purchases in store. The second part of that journey is, what happens when people are already in the store? 40% of those consumers say they actually pull up the Pinterest app when they’re in store to help them through the shopping process.

Those are significant numbers, considering that we have over 200 million consumers worldwide every month actively engaged on Pinterest. It would be wonderful if we could capitalize on that and target via specific geographic location. We certainly see the opportunity and I will say that it is in our pipeline, but we have nothing formally to announce at this time.

ING: You guys are doing some cool stuff, including a new feature called Lens. Can you tell us about where the idea came from and how the tool works?

AS: It is an interesting feature that reinforces Pinterest as a visual discovery engine. Visual discovery is who Pinterest is. We are the eyes of the Internet; capturing and understanding the image is at the core of who we are. We are constantly innovating in that.

We believe the camera is the new keyboard. It is much easier to take a picture and say, “oh, I like this,” or “what is that?” versus describing it with words into a white box. Right? If you don’t know what it is, how do you describe it appropriately? It’s much easier to take a picture. Therefore, we’re spending a tremendous amount of engineering resources to learn and understand how to analyze our visual universe.

Lens is a feature available through the Pinterest app. Simply open the app, select the camera, take a picture, or upload any picture you have in your photo library, and Pinterest will then ingest and analyze that image and serve you images related to that image, whether it be directly or indirectly related. This is a consumer-only feature right now. We’re capturing a tremendous amount of data and we’re frankly learning as we go. There is a machine-learning aspect to this, where the picture that the consumer engages with is associated with a specific recommendation from our algorithm. We’re getting smarter and smarter, such that we can truly identify the 100 billion pieces of content we have on the platform and associate all those things that are similar to it.

Lens is a great feature; there is more to do, and we are learning and excited about it. There is no commercial application yet, but I’m sure as we fine-tune and gain increasing confidence of that capability we’ll then productize it appropriately.

ING: How can Pinterest best be used as a marketing platform for brands? How do you see marketers succeeding and what is the best way for them to approach the platform?

AS: I ask every brand I work with to start by defining their business objective. When you start there, it is easier to build a winning strategy. What are you trying to achieve when speaking to a consumer? Do you want to say something new? To deliver an awareness message? Do you want to encourage them to try something in a different way, or to actively go buy something?

So, let’s say you want to communicate a new product. Who do you want to communicate it to? We have a tremendous amount of insight into the Pinterest audience. Every one of our 200 million users globally has a unique taste graph profile where their unique interests are identified through their honest intent signals. We can target consumers based on their unique interests, keywords in search or based on what they purchased in the past in partnership with Oracle audiences.

Once you define your objective and your audience, let’s talk about the moment we want to engage them. Is this a new breakfast product? A new summer product? Do you want to engage consumers during the back-to-school planning session? Is football something that you want to associate with? Is Cinco de Mayo a holiday of relevance to you? Or is your message more evergreen? Depending on the moment and the time, we can help you speak to that audience in relevant context.

In this new age of digital disruption for CPGs we can no longer assume that a one-size-fits-all message will be effective. We have to recognize that modern marketing requires respect of the context of the engagement and consumers are expecting a personalized relationship with brands. That personalization is based on who they are as an individual, and that scale is required because a manufacturer can’t target 200 million people individually. You have to create groupings of individuals to find that scale and efficiency. But do so based on honest intent signals.

If you start with your business objective, deliver a message that is relevant to your consumers and find the right time period, Pinterest enables digital engagement that will deliver an effective, efficient return on your investment. We’ve seen that time and time again. Pinterest is maturing as a critical digital platform and I know we are making strong resonance in the marketplace, which, frankly, is seeking an alternative to the duopoly that currently exists.

Do you want to grow your brand’s presence on Pinterest? At Ingredient, we can help you develop a strategic social media plan and figure out how to best utilize a visual discovery engine to support your brand’s goals.

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