May 8, 2013, 2:07 PM

How e-retailer Bourbon & Boots walks the line on Pinterest

An image of a Johnny Cash necklace leads to a social media campaign.

Lead Photo

Bourbon & Boots' Johnny Cash necklace

It was the Johnny Cash necklace that put start-up online retailer Bourbon & Boots on the Pinterest map. The merchant, which sells Southern-inspired, handmade gift items, launched in February of last year, and by July was already attracting around 15% of its traffic from Pinterest, says founder Matt Price.

That was partly because Bourbon & Boots had always focused on making its product photos beautiful and unique, he says. That strategy fits with the image-focused nature of Pinterest, where consumers can ‘pin’ their favorite pictures, products and brands. And there was something about the Johnny Cash necklace—a pewter gun charm with a brass oval stamped with the lyric “I keep a close watch on this heart of mine”—that resonated with Pinterest users, he says.

Back in July, a user unknown to Bourbon & Boots first pinned a photo of the necklace and it quickly attracted the attention of other Pinterest users. Within 24 hours, the image was shared on Pinterest 1,000 times, and in the eight months since, other consumers have pinned the item around 1.5 million times, Price says. “This was a natural, organic ‘virality’—it all happened without our doing anything. This really opened our eyes to the potential of Pinterest.”

That’s why earlier this year, when Bourbon & Boots wanted to expand its customer base and build its e-mail list, it decided to experiment with Pinterest to see what kind of response the merchant could get when it invested some money on the social network.

The e-retailer worked with Pinterest marketing firm HelloSociety, paying approximately $95,000 for two campaigns in what HelloSociety calls its Tastemaker program. That’s essentially sponsored pinning, as HelloSociety paired Bourbon & Boots with a handful of people from its network of some 250 influencers on Pinterest. Influencers, some of whom are bloggers, are Pinterest users with anywhere from 200,000 to 10 million followers. HelloSociety selected people that it concluded fit with Bourbon & Boots’ customer demographic and product category.

HelloSociety pays those “tastemakers” to browse around the Bourbon & Boots site and pin whichever products, and however many of them, they find appealing. The company would not disclose how much it pays tastemakers, but says they are paid according to the success of the campaign, and each campaign is measured differently. In the case of a retailer like Bourbon & Boots seeking to acquire e-mail addresses, the tastemaker would be paid a certain dollar amount per e-mail address gathered.

Bourbon & Boots designed the campaign so that when a Pinterest user clicked on one of the hired blogger’s pins, she was taken to the Bourbon & Boots e-commerce site and met with a pop-up that asked for her e-mail address.

Bourbon & Boots ran a three-day Pinterest campaign in February and another in March, and brought in 30,000 e-mail addresses over those six days. Moreover, site traffic from Pinterest increased 10-fold when these campaigns were running. Revenue from Pinterest went up 305% during the first campaign and 1,300% in the next campaign, compared to the days just prior running them. This is significant, Price says, because revenue from Pinterest represents 10% of total sales for the retailer.

Those campaigns generated a better return on investment than other marketing strategies like paid search campaigns or targeted ads on Facebook the merchant has tried, Price says.  Additionally, Bourbon & Boots has determined that shoppers who come to the site directly from Pinterest are 20% more valuable than those from other channels because they tend to spend more and buy more frequently. “We are reallocating our marketing dollars to Pinterest. We’ve taken 75% of our Facebook advertising dollars and moved it over to these types of campaigns.”

Bourbon & Boots launched in Feb. 2012 and brought in around $500,000 in total sales last year, Price says. Thanks in part to Pinterest, Price says, that number will go way up in 2013, as year to date, the merchant has already brought in around $900,000 in online sales. The merchant has more than 8,200 followers on Pinterest, ahead of many much larger retailers, such as Overstock.com, which generated $1.1 billion in 2012 web sales and has 7,700 Pinterest followers.

HelloSociety, founded in April 2012, is a Pinterest-only marketing firm that says it has worked with flash-sale retailers HauteLook, a unit of Nordstrom Inc., No. 28 in Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, One Kings Lane, No. 120 and JackThreads.com, No. 319, among other clients.

More than 77% of the merchants in the new Top 500 Guide are active on Pinterest.

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