Pinterest CMO: ‘Marketers are misunderstanding the value of insight’

The social media platform’s top marketer, Andréa Mallard, argues that insights and data should be used to inform ideas, not looked towards to provide answers.

PinterestWhen it comes to insights work, some marketers are missing the mark by gathering huge amounts of data and expecting to find a strategy within it, Pinterest’s CMO Andréa Mallard advised this week.

Instead, marketers should consider data as a tool to prove or disprove the validity of their own creative and strategic ideas.

“I think people misunderstand insights work,” Mallard said during this year’s annual MRS conference. “I always think of insights as something we use to inform our intuition or to inform an idea, but they can’t tell you what your business needs to become.”

To illustrate her point, Mallard drew on a well known quote attributed to Henry Ford, who founded the Ford Motor Company in 1903: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Mallard said: “I always tell people, the consumer told you exactly what they wanted. They said faster. They gave you a solution – a horse – but you shouldn’t listen to their solution. You should listen to what their need is and their need is faster.

“So for us, we try to listen very carefully to what consumers are asking for but not how they’re asking for it. There’s an outcome they want, but it’s our job to develop the best solution – we cant expect them to know what that solution is.”

Mallard has worked in marketing for over two decades, with senior roles at brands including Idea, Omada Health, and Forbes under her belt. She joined Pinterest as CMO in late 2018.

You should go spear fishing with data. You should not be throwing a net out into the ocean, pulling everything in and hoping your answer is in the net.

Andréa Mallard, Pinterest

Reflecting on her industry experience, Mallard claimed to have observed most companies as being either too “shoot from the hip”, ignoring what consumers ask from them, or they are looking to data to tell them what to do next.

“And those are both wrong,” she continued. “You should go spear fishing with data. You should not be throwing a net out into the ocean, pulling everything in and hoping your answer is in the net.

“You have to have an idea and then you go in to either disprove your thesis or to enhance your thesis somehow.”

Mallard added that Pinterest has a “really mature” insights group, which has defined how the business uses data to “move things forwards” without becoming blinded by it.

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The social media platform uses a blend of quantitative data pulled directly from the platform with qualitative data gathered through direct conversations with users to inform its product development and marketing strategy.

“We’re trying to always balance and marry those two in order to inform our intuition about what we need to do next,” Mallard said.

“But this idea of insights and having the user at the centre of our decision making feels very inherent to the Pinterest culture. I think we’ve got a really good balance of that massive quantitative layer with this really critical ‘why’ layer, this qualitative layer. We need to know the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ of what’s happening on our platform.”

Mallard went on to argue that the modern CMO needs to be data literate and must understand how to use data to prove the efficacy and integrity of their decisions. “But they need a creative vision too – they have to have an instinct,” she said.

For up and coming marketers, data literacy is “completely teachable”, Mallard continued, advising junior marketers to be curious and to make industry friends with differing skills and specialities.