TechFaster: Today we’re sitting down with Apu Gupta, the co-founder of Curalate.
Apu Gupta: How is it going?
TechFaster: Thanks for joining us. Could you just tell us a little bit about Curalate and what you guys do?
Apu Gupta: Yeah. At Curalate we believe that images are the new currency of social media engagement and what we do for brands is basically help them understand what images are driving engagement with their consumers. At the end of the day what we’re most concerned with is trying to help brands form more meaningful relationships with consumers and we think that the way to do that is by unlocking the power of imagery.
TechFaster: Where do you see the visual web going next? What’s the next step for marketing in the visual world?
Apu Gupta: What’s so interesting about the visual web is that it’s just so new. Brands for a long time – obviously we’ve had images, but traditional social media has really revolved primarily around text. When you think about how we used to engage with brands, it’s a lot of hash tagging and app mentioning and things like that and what has happened and Pinterest really is a poster child for this, but it’s not exclusive to Pinterest, is that consumers are finding it incredibly easy now to speak about brands using images.
So today consumers go and they go to their favorite retailer and they find a sweater and they save that sweater and they say, I love this sweater and it’s an incredibly positive emotion and it encourages other people to want to engage with that same sweater and to discover that brand and to want to interact with that brand. But the problem is that when these consumers talk about the brand using the brand’s pictures, they almost never mention the brand. In fact, only about 10% of the time is a brand explicitly mentioned in these visual conversations.
So every single social media platform that exists today, every single tool that exists to try to measure these conversations falls apart when you get to the visual web. So at Curalate what we cared about was that we need to first help brands understand these conversations and then help them grow those conversations and we think these conversations are happening across a lot of different platforms. Pinterest is a great starting point for us, but we ultimately want to be able to help brands understand brand engagement with images wherever they occur.
TechFaster: What platforms other than Pinterest would Curalate also work with?
Apu Gupta: I think ultimately we want to work across a really large swath of platforms. I think you know all the usual suspects that are quite well known, whether it might be – of course there’s Tumblr, there’s the FanSee, there’s Polyvore, there’s Instagram and there’s a whole host of platforms. We don’t really talk specifically about the next platform that we will go to just yet, but we’ll be doing some pretty exciting stuff in the New Year and we’ll make sure you know about it.
TechFaster: What kind of engagement do you guys measure beyond just like pinning and re-pinning?
Apu Gupta: A lot of what we help brands understand is specifically what imagery is driving engagement. So really what we talk about are impressions and interactions with a specific piece of content. So the number of times it’s been shared, the number of times, what are people saying about a particular piece of imagery. But I think what’s so powerful about it isn’t just about measuring the engagement on Pinterest. It’s the implications for what that means.
So if I’m H&M and I know for example that I’ve got a pair of shoes in three different colors and that by default the color that I’m showing on my website is this neon yellow and that’s been shared 1900 times, but it turns out there’s this pinkish color that you have to click through to reveal that shoe, but that’s actually been shared 19,000 times.
Well, that has some really profound implications. It says well, first of all why am I displaying the shoe in yellow? Turns out that people really like the pink so maybe I should change my website and optimize the e-commerce part of my site to reflect what people really want. What our brands are also doing is they’re taking that same insight and they’re saying well, actually now I can optimize my display outs because it’s sort of the Ford Mustang to the Ford Focus.
Ford advertises the Mustang knowing full well that it’s going to drive people to the showroom to buy the Ford Focus. Not that many people end up buying the Mustang, but it captures eyeballs and it captures the imagination and it gets you into the shop. Well, it’s the same thing with imagery. Imagery drives emotion. Emotions drive discovery. Discovery drives people to want to click and clicks drive revenue.
So what you can do as a brand is take that information and use it as a basis of the hero image in the display ad and get people to engage with your brand. Our brands also use this imagery to optimize their broader social media presence. We know that pushing images to Facebook drives higher levels of engagement, but there’s this basic question of what image do I push out? With Curalate we help identify those images and you push those out to Facebook and you see your engagement soar.
So a lot of what we help brands understand is that it’s not just about the numbers as they’re reflected on Pinterest. It’s about taking that insight and making material business decisions across your business, whether that’s on social, whether that’s on e-commerce, whether that’s in advertising.
TechFaster: So this data that you guys are collecting, do you think that will help the people that you’re targeting increase their search engine optimization?
Apu Gupta: Yeah. I think it is helping them do that, although the one thing that we really go to great lengths to help brands understand is that unlike a Facebook environment where you have a brand page on Facebook and so much of your brands presence on Facebook is controlled by that brand page, on Pinterest you certainly can have a brand page and almost every one of the hundreds of paying brands that we have has one, but it turns out that something like 85% to 90% of a brand’s engagement actually happens off of their brand page.
So it’s people going to the retailer’s website, finding the sweater, the shoes, the jeans that they love and saving that to their own Pinterest page. So the reason that that’s so important is that once you start to recognize that it’s about that organic engagement, from an SEO perspective it says that the things you need to do from an SEO perspective actually start with your website and the way that the website pre-populates descriptions for example in a pin and less about what you do on your own brand page on Pinterest to drive SEO, because a lot of the SEO to be honest, isn’t in your control on Pinterest.
So you actually have to start all the way from the website. I’m not sure if that’s super clear, but it’s a completely different way of thinking about social than what we’ve been brought up with in the Facebook world.
TechFaster: Cool. Pinterest is kind of the Wild West I guess.
Apu Gupta: I think images are – it’s a different way of thinking. What makes images so powerful, which is their ability to drive an ability to drive an emotional connection, also makes them really challenging because so much of the context of image based engagements is implied. People when they engage with images, they don’t use a lot of words. So all of your traditional ways of understanding engagement used to center around the ability to understand text. That’s what search is, it’s about text. You’re now moving into a world where you have to completely think of things in a whole new way and we’re just the beginning of it. I think there’s a whole bunch of stuff that’s going to get done over the next several years.
TechFaster: Could you comment a little bit about successful Pinterest strategies that you guys have seen?
Apu Gupta: Yeah. I think the most successful Pinterest strategies start with this realization that consumer engagement on Pinterest is organic. It’s all about the earn media. So the best brands spend most of their time trying to understand what it is that consumers are engaging with organically and using that as a basis of making decisions on what they want to do on their own brand page and across their other social properties. So we see this with every brand that we’ve ever worked with.
One of the things that we see is that brands are hosting all of these items to their own Pinterest page and then we show them well, this is what consumers actually are posting to their Pinterest page about your brand and it turns out that the two are completely unrelated. 99% of the time there’s very little overlap between the two and what it says is that brands really don’t know what their consumers want do and what the first thing we have brands do is try to get that understanding, what is it that consumers really want to talk to you about and can you start being more in tune with that?
So that’s the first part of the strategy. I think the other parts of the strategy really get down to things like content marketing. For years brand marketers have talked about content marketing. Now and I think 2013, you’re going to see content marketing really become a much bigger deal. Brands are now having to change the way that they generate content to actually think about how that content gets shared.
So no longer, I now need to start creating imagery with the express intent of making it interesting enough that people want to save those images and share those images with people and I have to just accept the fact that those images are going to move well beyond my site. So that’s another big component that we see our successful brands do is they’re investing heavily in content marketing, but they’re specifically investing heavily in the image side of content marketing and then the rest of it I think comes down to some really basic like blocking and tackling it.
Has your brand made it easy for people to share content from your site? I cannot tell you the number of brands that still operate flash based sites. You can’t save imagery from a flash-based site. It just doesn’t work. When you think about your imagery, are you trying to tell a story? The most successful brands try to tell stories with their products and they make those stories easy to share.
So those are the other types of things that we see. Unfortunately it’s not prescriptive. We work with our brands very closely on trying to – the brands and their agencies to help them come up with ideas for how to engage with their audience, but it’s different for every brand.
TechFaster: Well, that about wraps everything up. Is there anything you’d like to leave us with?
Apu Gupta: No. it’s been a real pleasure to talk to you. I think we’re going to be doing a lot around Curalate just to help brands understand how to engage with consumers around images and we would really encourage brands to think about how images drive emotions and at the end of the day, for every marketer, the thing you most want to do is make an emotional connection with the consumer. The visual web is really going to allow you to do that. I think it’s a really powerful time in 2013 to get behind this.
TechFaster: Well, from all of us at TechFaster, I’d like to thank the Curalate team for joining us today and for any additional hangouts come join us right here on techfaster.com. Thank you.