MediaCom What’s the biggest challenge for your brand right now?
Gareth Jones At eBay, we have traditionally been very good at mining our first-party data, but we’ve not really understood why customers are doing what they do. So, we’re looking much more now about their behavioural motivations, and we’re seeing three things: first, in the UK, customers are becoming much more cautious about their purchasing – they are kicking large-priced, more considered purchases down the road; second, they’re much more promiscuous – with a bigger repertoire of shopping destinations; and third, they’re becoming much more demanding. A lot of that demand is coming from an expectation that things are going to be on discount or promotion. So, there’s a lot of price elasticity in the market. A big thing we’re thinking about is how we respond to that with a sharply-articulated value proposition.
MediaCom How are you measuring performance?
Gareth Jones Over the last four years, we’ve become more active in building fame and telling stories. So, the question we are increasingly asking is how we measure the impact of that activity in traditional brand-building channels. Part of our solution is that we passionately believe in selling more in the brand space and branding more in the selling space. We refer to that as collapsing the funnel. The glue that enables this is data. Two years ago, we would’ve carefully crafted one radio ad that would’ve been listened to by 14 million people in the UK. Now, through data and through listener ID tags we’ve got on the website, we are dynamically delivering 14 million radio ads to small segments and clusters of customers.
MediaCom Marketers are under increasing pressure to deliver fast sales – often at the expense of long-term brand building. Where does the right balance sit at eBay?
Gareth Jones When I first joined eBay, 90-95% of our budget went into digital performance-driving activities. If I think about the budget distribution for 2020, it’s likely going to be about 65% performance and 35% brand.
We’ve gone on that journey by applying the rigours that have gone into our performance marketing to try and understand the impact of offline media. A large part of that has been about A/B testing.
Our first TV test was run in the Midlands, across the ITV and C4 macro-regions, which overlap each other quite neatly. As you got closer to the epicentre of the test, we ran more and more media. So if you lived in the extremity of the TV macro-region you would have seen TV, but in Coventry, you would have seen TV and posters, and in Solihull, you would have seen TV and posters and heard radio. The closer you got to Birmingham, the more ‘layers of media’, and concentration of activity, you would have been exposed to.
We needed to test this region against a similar control. But no other part of the country behaves or looks like this region. So, we had to model it using a synthetic control. It’s internally and euphemistically referred to as a Frankenstein approach. We take a little bit of the site performance of Liverpool (think of it as the arm), a little bit of Bournemouth (the leg), Edinburgh (the torso) and so on, knit it together with machine learning models, and the aggregate of all those regional bits (and body parts), look like Birmingham. Then we build thousands of these Frankenstein models, all emulating what Birmingham would look like if we didn’t
do TV to get an A/B test. This helped us build the evidence to prove to stakeholders that TV and other traditional channels drive business performance.
MediaCom How are you using data to deliver more personalised experiences and drive loyalty?
Gareth Jones eBay in the UK has 26 million unique active buyers, which means that 26 million unique customers have bought on the UK platform in the last 52 weeks. That’s growing 7% year on year. What that gives us is a huge data pool of first-party insight into what customers are interested in, their digital body language and what they’re transacting. One of the foundational principles of marketing at eBay is what we call “programmatic personalisation at scale”. We typically send around 300 million emails a week in the UK, 70% of which are personalised and individually unique to the recipient based on our first-party data and some third-party data.
MediaCom The e-commerce industry is expected to make $4.5trn in sales by 2021, with 2.41 billion people shopping online. How can brands thrive in this environment?
Gareth Jones What’s important for brands in 2020 is having a strong culture of effectiveness in their business. That’s something we’ve been working hard on. It’s a combination of a few things. One is making sure that our business and key stakeholders are crystal clear about what we’re striving for, having a tight suite of KPIs and objectives, and having a clear vernacular about what they mean (to eradicate different interpretations). It’s important that you also have a tight suite of KPIs that drive business endeavour and energy. Too many things can become distracting.
We have two things at eBay that we’re goaled on. One is having a profitable top-line transactional volume; the second is the health of our customer base. Everybody in marketing is clear about how their contribution ladders up to that. The other thing that is important is strong working relationships with other teams like trading, merchandising and finance.